At the start of the year, Eugene Ahn was a twentysomething lawyer at a Washington, D.C., law firm. But now as 2010 nears its end, he finds himself touring comic book stores, pop culture conventions, and more traditional venues across the country as geek rapper Adam WarRock.
It seems like the kind of overnight transformation that usually only happens in comic books. But for Ahn, it's the end of a double life that led the Emory Law School grad to walk away from a decent-paying job and become a full-time MC.
"There's a lot of people who were genuinely confused and don't know how to respond," he says. "Because they're not quite sure if I've lost my mind."
For now, at least, WarRock can quiet those concerns with success. His nerdy hip-hop has become something of an Internet sensation in the comic book blogosphere, garnering the attention of NPR, the BBC and director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). His self-released debut album, The War for Infinity, was the third highest-selling album at the online music store Bandcamp, beating out Sufjan Stevens on the independent artist-friendly site.
But when WarRock came into existence just more than a year ago, it was one of his many after-hours creative pursuits. He co-hosted the weekly(ish) comic book podcast War Rocket Ajax and wrote for the "Fake AP Stylebook" on Twitter.
After recording a theme song for the podcast, he reignited the rap career that had ended after he graduated from Ohio State University. He started a blog where he would post soon-to-be-viral tracks about everything from the British sci-fi show "Doctor Who" to an ode to NPR commentator Ira Glass.
However, he couldn't reap the full fruits of his efforts because of his day job, so he quit. "I just had this moment when I had to look at my life and say, 'What do I like, what do I not like?' And I liked all the stuff I was doing and I disliked my job," he recalls.
With his newfound freedom from the daily grind, WarRock was able to record The War for Infinity, a surprisingly serious work of his passions and politics, steeped with subtle comic book references. The album is loosely based on The Infinity Gauntlet, a 1991 Marvel Comics saga about the mad space god Thanos' attempts to win the heart of Death by defeating all of the company's major superheroes, led by WarRock's comic book namesake Adam Warlock. "It's such a weird Shakespearian kind of story," he says. "It's just so bizarre I fell in love with it."
Much like his comic counterpart, WarRock teamed up with other geek-friendly artists on the album, including the Atlanta-based Tribe One, member of the hip-hop crew the Remnant and Gwinnett County librarian by day.
"Comic books are still a little bit taboo," says Tribe One. "You can tell since whenever there's mainstream press coverage, there's always a "Boom!" "Biff!" or "Pow!" in the article headline."
Unlike some other "nerdcore" artists, WarRock isn't built around name-dropping as many comics as possible. The album is certainly informed by an obsessive knowledge of comic books, but it's not defined by it. "It speaks to themes that aren't so specific that people would be like, 'What is this guy talking about?'" says WarRock. "It's not the equivalent of a Weird Al Yankovic song about comics."
That doesn't mean that he ignores his comic book roots. In August, he released the West Coast Avengers Mixtape, where he made a song for each member of the obscure 1980s Marvel Comics team using a famous West Coast beat. Even here, tracks about the Iraq War and California's Prop 8 made their way onto the record. "When you sit down with these characters, you can't make a joke out of all of that and it brings up a lot of stuff you want to say."
Adam WarRock stays busy touring and already has sequels to his mixtape and the album in the works, but he still admits that all of this might not work out in the long run. Even if it doesn't, he says, "It would've been nice to know that I tried."
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