For over a decade, the alter ego of Nathan Conrad has been releasing polished and quality hip hop as Spoken Nerd. For those who might have only encountered the guy in passing, it might be easy to write him off as a “fun” nerdcore act and nothing more. But, that couldn’t be further from the true.
While Spoken Nerd is known for his rhymes about how “being a big guy ain’t all that bad” and how your local grocery store has the workings of a horror film, he waxes poetic and seems to get better with age. Magical Powers is his latest, which is chock full of creative and badass production that ought to hold up with the best of his peers.
Magical Powers is a coming-of-age album and a homage to hip hop in general. Nathan Conrad and producer Nathan Zensen first laid the foundation for this project during the early days of the pandemic, and like so many other musicians, this isolation resulted in unfiltered imagination from both men. You might view this as a redemptive part of Conrad’s personal story arc, which counters a childhood diagnosis of an overactive imagination (the album’s title, Magical Powers, is inspired by a moment in which Conrad announced having such a gift as a little kid in class). The refrain of “Work Work Work” functions as a sort of personal mission statement – declaring “life is not a curse curse curse / I go to church every time I write a verse.”
Moments of pure entertainment permeate the record. Spoken Nerd loves to interject lighthearted references to pop culture into songs with otherwise serious themes. “Trying Beer for the First Time” is a song that seems downright silly on the surface but upon further listening hints at being a tongue in cheek exploration of navigating being a libation-enjoyer in a Western Evangelicalism paradigm. Another memorable line is in “SUPREME” in which Conrad says he’s a Foo Fighter and a Rubik’s Cube. I don’t have any exegesis on that line – I just found it memorable.
Beyond the lyrical content, the production, samples and beats in the songs communicate an “everyman” feeling that makes Spoken Nerd a likeable character. These beats are certainly club-worthy, but that isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. The album as a whole has a feeling of hanging out with your misfit pals at your local hipster coffee shop, or even at a Starbucks. Remember folks, it’s “cool to be unusual” (as is proclaimed in “Lunchtime Blues”) even in contexts that seem “basic.” Also, impressive flow pops up in satisfying moments throughout.
This album was one that surprised me, in spite of knowing Nathan for years at this point. Perhaps it will surprise you too. Magical Powers ought to be approachable enough for both the casual and the serious hip hop listener.
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