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Dallas' TekForce Brings Video Game Nostalgia to Life With Nerdcore Hip-Hop

Who says playing video games is a waste of time? They got TekForce through some hard times, and he even learned how to make beats on a Playstation. Besides, people respond to nostalgia. An Atari 2600 reference can take someone back to when he was a little kid. Some video games really allow you to showcase your skills. Maybe you can beat Super Mario Bros. with your toes. TekForce’s nerdcore hip-hop sounds like that feels.

The songs are about video games and they sound like video games. This music will remind you of being a kid with quarters in an old school arcade or playing 8- or 16-bit consoles at home. “Level Up,” in particular, is a song that sounds like one of those old school “let’s walk to the right and kill everyone” video games. Even the old cheat code for many games, “up up down down left right left right B A start” get a shout out. It’s one of TekForce's most requested tracks and he has a dance that accompanies it when he performs live.

TekForce remembers that at a Prophet Bar performance last year, one guy was so excited when he got off stage that it scared him: “Hey man, I remember that! Contra, right?” The guy remembered the code that gave him 30 extra lives and it spoke to him, taking him back to childhood. The song may be about a video game, but it was more specifically about a summer TekForce spent with one of his cousins. “We sat down and said, 'We are going to beat Contra,'” he says. “We set aside playing outside; none of that.”

But this video game music can be surprisingly deep in more ways than one and people can relate to it. “I’m a dad too and a boyfriend,” TekForce says. “Just because I talk about video games doesn’t mean the rent isn’t due on the first.” The closing track on his debut album, Tek Support, is called “Workplace Woes” and it’s a moving response to a particularly tough shift at his corporate day job.

TekForce was making nerdcore hip-hop, rapping about “nerdy” topics like video games and anime, for several years before he realized he was part of a genre in 2013. He cites Tron, the movie Ghostbusters, A Tribe Called Quest and Slum Village among his greatest influences. He has a song called “I Ain’t Afraid of No” about Ghostbusters and is currently working on a project entirely devoted to Tron.

TekForce even made his first beats on a Playstation — a PS1, to be specific. He bought a game called MTV Music Generator and used it as a precursor to beat-making software like Fruity Loops. “It was a revolution,” TekForce says. “It would give you the kicks, the snares and vocal samples. You had a grid where you could layer these tracks on.” He recalls buying the biggest memory cards available at the time, 256 megabytes, to save 30 seconds of music. “I damn near went broke on memory cards,” he says, laughing. The music wasn’t transferable to a disc or hard drive.

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Things really started coming together when he met beat battle producer Big Hub in the summer of 2014. “He sent me this beat,” TekForce says. “It sampled a video game but the way he did it was crazy because it was a mash up of hip-hop and nerdcore with Cash Money sensibilities.” Big Hub has a military background and was stationed in Tokyo for years. The beat battles he participated in over there shifted between hip-hop, house, smooth jazz, R&B and ambient beats — sometimes depending on the flip of a coin.

TekForce reminded Big Hub of Kraftwerk, who he greatly admires. One of the two tracks Big Hub produced for Tek Support, “Ode to Retro,” is a highlight. The song has a great beat and the production is a dazzling mix of Dirty South bass, boom bamp, glitch, down tempo and, of course, samples from video game scores. Big Hub is a versatile producer who can cater to specific artists and create sounds that bear no resemblance to his previous work.

TekForce really knew he was onto something when someone found his music online and traveled from Houston to see him perform at Retrofest in Arlington. For TekForce, conventions for nerds are perfect crowds. After an enthusiastically received performance, he sold more merch than ever before and his fan from Houston presented him with a beaded Tron logo he had glued together.

The song, “New Game Plus,” proved especially moving for his fan. “He said when he heard that song it took him through the darkest times of his life and really helped him,” TekForce says. “In the song I talk about music getting me through the hard times in my life, like when I didn’t have any friends and all I had was my games. When he told me that I teared up. I never had anybody tell me that my video game music helped them in their life. It let me know I need to keep doing it.”

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