Glass Popcorn: Is This High School Rapper "Destroying Hip-Hop?"
In this week's issue of Phoenix New Times, we profiled 10 new(ish) bands we expect to dominate Phoenix iPods and boomboxes this long, hot summer. We'll be focusing more deeply on those artists over the next couple of days on Up on the Sun.
See the entire list: 10 Phoenix Bands You Should Be Listening to This Summer
Correction: We mistakenly reported that Clams Casino "approved" of Glass Popcorn, when in fact the track "Glass Like Me" is simply a remixed version of "She's Hot," which appeared on a free mixtape from Clams Casino. We regret implying that Casino has approved or endorsed Glass Popcorn, and Neibergall has not stated so in our interviews.
Will Neibergall, a junior at McClintock High in Tempe, talks a lot about brand alignment. Onstage, when he repeatedly chants over club synths, "I go hard in my Ed Hardy," it starts to sound less like a simple diss on the bro-clad and more like a meditation on Madison Avenue masculinity.
Neibergall has been working with a number of producers on a forthcoming EP called Deal With It, which will be available for free in mid-June. Also coming soon is a video for his brand-new single, "Going Hamburger."
Neibergall says Glass Popcorn began when he was 13, making elementary beats on Garage Band recording software and eventually deciding to start composing rhymes. He says he first started using social media when he was only 12, even though the major networks prohibit registration by anyone younger than 13. "I've been lying about my age on the Internet since AIM," he says (that's short for America Online Instant Messenger, grandpa).
He eventually found his way into what he calls "new media art communities" on the Internet, esoteric playgrounds where artists and web-trend early adopters share content, some of which rises to the shallow meme surface. Neibergall was most active on the .gif-heavy image-based chat website Dump.fm, where he was by far the youngest member on the site.
His music, which he was now sharing online, got the attention of site's founder, Internet artist Ryder Ripps, who eventually booked Glass Popcorn to play a showcase last year at the Museum of Modern Art PS1 Gallery in New York. Avant multi-media art website DIS Magazine hosted the party, where Neibergall chanted his song "Ed Hardy" next to a voluptuous grinding dancer and a Cadillac SUV. The performance was covered by the New York Times and CBS News.
One of his live staples is a track called "Monster Energy," a trill ode to the neon-green taurine swill. "I'm obsessively discussing this whole brand that is completely associated with crazy competitive masculinity, where the design theme is really forward and intense," he says. "It's almost intentionally off-putting in its lurid masculinity."
The conventional hip-hop persona is right in line with the values of this brand, he argues. "Some people look at hip-hop musicians as these people that associate really closely with masculine things, filled with testosterone and really exclusive of other lifestyles. It's questionable that brands like that equate energy and activity with competitive, masculine things."
Glass Popcorn is just one product of the Internet generation's obsessive social media use combining with the realms of dissociative art and old-fashioned cult of celebrity. Comparisons could be made to explicit teen-rapper Kitty Pryde (of "Okay Cupid" notoriety) or the post-ironic vapidity of fashionista Bebe Zeva. However, Neibergall said a better example of a peer would be 16-year-old fashion blogger turned couture sensation Tavi Gevinson, who founded the feminist fashion-culture website Rookie Magazine.
Even though the music is informed and disseminated by Internet culture, Glass Popcorn is not YouTube parody rap, nor does it resemble the nerd culture celebration of MC Chris or MC Frontalot. "Those people are off-putting to mainstream radio listeners. It's fueled by reference to exclusive things or communities, or it's just snarky against the mainstream. I hope the music I create is both appealing to those people as well as mainstream rap listeners, and that it's presented in some form that will make consumers of content question the structure of the art that they bear witness to."
Neibergall says hip-hop in 2012 is very conflicted, filled with opposing ideas and heavily-mediated personalities. He is inspired by the absurdity of Lil B, the former member of Oakland rap crew The Pack whose Internet persona manifested into a mainstream presence. Lil B is notorious for his bizarre self-deifying (anointing himself The Based God) and the dubious sincerity of his opposition to rap misogyny and homophobia (titling a recent mixtape I'm Gay).
"If you look at the contradictions in Lil B's music, he raps about guns and women and stuff," Neibergall says, "while at the same time, his Twitter page always has things about positive language and treatment of women."
Glass Popcorn is also informed by sheer hypnotic power of certain kinds of party rap and dance craze music, culminating in what he considers "profoundly meaningless content."
"I'm inspired by music that means nothing, like Soulja Boy, that people get really transfixed by and that doesn't actually communicate anything to them," he says.
Toying with these opposing forces inherent in today's rap landscape is the basis of the project. "That conflict is something I play off of," he says, "searching for an outcome and trying to enrich pop music to make it something valuable."
Ultimately, he sees Glass Popcorn as an institutional critique, one that aims to start a conversation about brand identity, hip-hop's trajectory, and cognitive pop dissonance. Criticism is the goal: Neibergall always leaves the door open to haters, as long as it results in an engaging comment thread.
"I saw someone comment on YouTube that I was destroying hip-hop, and that's okay," he says, "as long as it leads to a conversation about what hip-hop is and how it's destroyed."
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