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ENCORE: Nerdcore Duo GameBreax On "Leveling Up" And Bringing Pop Culture To Hip-Hop

Lynsey Marie 2.jpg
Lynsey Marie
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Omega Sparx (pictured here) and SWATS make up the nerdcore duo known as GameBreax.

The past few years have shown that nerd culture is the new cool, with "Black Panther" becoming the first comic book film to score a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, "Game of Thrones" becoming a cultural phenomenon and even Walt Disney World opening up its first official Star Wars-themed hotel in Florida. Which makes it the perfect time to be GameBreax, a North Carolina “nerdcore” duo who stand proudly at the intersection of geek culture and hip-hop.

"It’s an attitude of making pop culture and making what you loved as a kid growing up cool again, and being able to frame those pop culture references in a way where people are like, “Wow, I need to experience this myself.'"
– GameBreax artist Omega Sparx

Interview Highlights:

On playing nerdcore music:

Omega Sparx: We love to push the envelope of nerdcore. Across the world, nerdcore means a lot to a lot of different people depending on what culture or region they’re in. For us, nerdcore is infusing our love of hip-hop and rock and electronic music with the nostalgia of growing up, playing your favorite video games on your favorite video game systems or having your favorite comic book characters and able to show that appreciation in the format of music. That’s why we formed GameBreax.

Lynsey Marie.jpg
Lynsey Marie
SWATS is known as GameBreax's "Song Writing And Tactical Sounds" emcee.

SWATS: It’s pretty much talking about, chatting about, rapping about the stuff that we loved growing up. And it’s just a fun time.

Omega Sparx: Music for me, in general, is my therapy. I’m a better person when I’m able to get my thoughts out. And as a lyricist, there’s no greater ability than having the ability to write through somebody else’s lens. And then being able to study your favorite comic book and video game characters and being able to get into the lore of their world. That was always so attractive to me to see if I could capture how Super Mario would feel. I mean, he beats King Koopa, and as he’s about to rescue the princess, the little Toad guy says, “No, you must go to the next world to rescue the princess,” and then he has to repeat it eight different times. Psychologically, what are you thinking about if you are the hero in that lore?

On growing up with nerdcore and nerd culture:

Omega Sparx: Growing up, I was an MTV kid, back when MTV was playing music videos all day. And back in the day, you would see "(The) Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" songs about Mike Tyson and "(A) Nightmare on Elm Street." So hip-hop, in itself, has had those songs and gems in the '80s and '90s that referenced pop culture and weren’t about gang violence. So that’s nerdcore right there, even before the genre of nerdcore was even formed, you had those special artists that brought pop culture to hip-hop.

SWATS: It’s definitely something that’s evolved, and especially evolved with us. We grew up playing video games, reading comic books, loving these characters and being very much invested in that world. And as we grew up making music and being involved in music, we married the two together. We actually met in college over video games.

Omega Sparx: It was our first semester at UNC Greensboro, and I was walking by this awesome, handsome, young man, and he was playing a Dreamcast. And I had yet to get a Dreamcast; I was still on PlayStation 2. And I was like, “Oh my gosh. Can I please be your friend? Do you need another friend? Because I can be that friend if you need someone to play video games with.” Suffice to say, in between classes, I was always at his place playing great video games.

On SWATS' 2019 solo debut release ‘Reclamation:’

SWATS: "Reclamation" has been a really cool thing for me to evolve as an artist. I wrote three songs in two days, and it just started coming together. The single “Upside” is dedicated to "Stranger Things," which is coming out with Season 3. Shout-out to Netflix and "Stranger Things" for making this amazing world that is so nostalgic that takes us back to this cool era of being a kid and living with these sights and sounds and vibes. Thank you for that and inspiring this song that feels like being chased by the unknown.

On the future of GameBreax:

Omega Sparx: When you’ve created something that is bigger than yourself, you have to ask yourself what culture or brand do you want to let off into the universe. I want GameBreax in the future to be that hub where music artists, game developers, and pro gamers can link together to create art. I want the culture of GameBreax to be all-inclusive for amazing people.

To me, as a man of color with nerdcore, it’s about taking down stereotypes, taking down the narrative that you don’t belong, that you don’t have value, that you don’t have something of substance to add to the beautiful community of comic books and video games and nostalgia. We want to break that narrative. You can be a person of color, you have substance and value to add to the comic book and video game worlds, and your voice and creativity matters.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

GameBreax - “Rumble”
GameBreax - “Castlemania”
GameBreax - “Ready”
GameBreax - “Horror Show”
GameBreax - “Runnin’ Game”
GameBreax - “Hard Edge”
SWATS - “Upside”
SWATS - “Play”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).