Arts Desk

Comic-Book Rapper Adam WarRock on Living the GUG Life

Hip-hop has been populated by superhero (and supervillain) obsessives since its infancy, but few rappers indulge their love of comic books like Adam WarRock. For last week's Washington City Paper, I reviewed You Dare Call That Thing Human?!?, the second full-length from the artist born Eugene Ahn. Recently, I also interviewed him about how he got into nerd rap, why he quit his job at a D.C. law firm, and why he loves Infinity Gauntlet.

On becoming a full-time rapper:

After I graduated college, I decided to go to Emory University Law School because I thought it was the responsible thing to do. My musical career was completely dormant throughout law school. I practiced for three years at a small union-side labor law firm in D.C.

I was depressed and horribly unhappy back then. I was in a new city and didn’t know what I was doing. A friend of mine who makes beats convinced me to start making music again. I hadn’t rapped since I was an undergraduate at the Ohio State University. My stage name back then was Sofistakit. What a terrible name.

In mid-2009, I bought a microphone and recorded “Ira Glass” in my Takoma, D.C., apartment. I basically used his name as a symbol for following what you want to do in life. In February 2010, Alisa Miller, Public Radio International president, posted “Ira Glass” on her blog and the song created a buzz on the Internet.

I started making more songs about pop culture that I was into, mainly comic books, and soon began getting offers to perform at comic conventions. I began making plans to leave the law firm in April 2010, but impulsively quit on June 30, 2010. My parents knew I was going to quit. They were concerned but very supportive. I’ve had other Asian-Americans come up to me and ask me “What’s the secret?”

On the name Adam WarRock and its inspiration:

One of my favorite comic-book stories of all time is The Inifinity Gauntlet, a Marvel limited series from 1991. What I like about it is that Thanos, the main character, kills billions of beings just to impress a girl, who was the embodiment of death. However, she gives him no love. One of my favorite characters from that series was Adam Warlock.

I was doing this blog called War Rocket Ajax with Chris Sims of the ComicsAlliance website, and he suggested the name Adam WarRock because of the blog name and the fact that I was a fan of Adam Warlock. I can’t stand the name, but I had to stick with it because I had some initial success with it. I think a lot of MCs are unhappy with their names.

On his demographic:

I write songs about the pop culture that I’m into. My generation was one of the first for which comic books and video games were not stigmatized. And that same generation grew up on hip-hop. Now, you’ve got people in their 30s and 40s who are very into comic books, sci-fi, and video games, but have grown-up lives. Grown-up geeks, or GUGs.  (Ed.: And thus, GUG Life was born.)

On collecting comic books:

As a child, I used to collect baseball and basketball cards. And when I discovered comic books, I was amazed that there was something I could collect and had a story. I’m a bit of a Marvel Zombie because, when I started getting into comics in 1989, Marvel had characters like Cable, who is a cyborg with a glowing eye and a giant laser gun. Superman just seemed lame by comparison back then. There is an emotional impact with comic books that I can’t get from other media. I remember reading The New Warriors in 1989 and being devastated when Marvel Boy was abused by his dad.

Even recently, in Marvel’s Fear Itself event—say what you will about it—I was so pumped up at that moment when Captain America picks up Thor’s hammer.

Another reason I love Marvel is that the current crop of writers—Jonathan Hickman, Rick Remender, and Matt Fraction—understand the online community and met on the forum for Warren Ellis’ site in the '90s. They are very accessible, nice, and encouraging. I haven’t gone to digital comics yet, because I don’t have a tablet and still like to have the physical issue. I like going to the local comic store every Wednesday. It’s hard to find a comic store when I’m touring. Last year, I did 44 dates in two months with MC Chris and it was hard to find a comic store.

This year, I am doing a ComicsAlliance Rap-Up every two weeks, where I summarize recent events in comics. I hope I can keep it up all year and maybe it will force me to stay current on my comics.

On why he won't write his own comic books:

I think I know too much about the sausage-making process of comics. Also, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I was doing this just to get a career writing comics.

On profanity:

I have a horrible sailor’s mouth. Although, with my songs, I’ve learned that profanity becomes a lot more effective when you don’t say it every line.

I partially blame my mom for that. She’s from South Korea and really related to American mobster movies because they reminded her of the ethical code from the samurai movies she grew up with. So I watched Goodfellas at 11 and John Woo movies at 14.

Someday, though, I’d like to make a children’s album. I’m thinking of doing a hip-hop take on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.

On television:

I’m a gigantic TV nerd, just as much as I’m into comics. For the Parks & Recreation EP, I was sitting around with a friend and starting thinking about writing a song about Ron Swanson. I looked around for a Waka Flaka beat and “Waka Flaka Swanson” was born. I expected some reaction, but I didn’t expect it to get as big as it got.

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