When he started performing in his University days in the Boston area, rapper and comedian Zach Sherwin had branded himself MC Mr. Napkins. Sporting some trademark wild hair and attire, MC Mr. Napkins had built himself a solid following, appearing on E!, VH1, Just For Laughs and has been featured in several videos online over the years. At the tail-end of 2010, after re-locating to Los Angeles, he released MC Mr. Napkins: The Album on Comedy Central Records. Not long after that, Sherwin made his first appearance on the hugely popular Epic Rap Battles of History series on YouTube, portraying a furious Albert Einstein, and would soon join the team as a writer and recurring performer. We would also continue to see new MC Mr. Napkins music videos appear on his own YouTube page right up until the end of 2012.
But its no more Mr. Napkins for Sherwin now (although I’m sure still Mr. Nice Guy). He has recently dropped his long-time moniker and is now pushing forward eponymously. The wild hair has been traded for a shorter, more stylish do. The funky attire has been toned down. What is not gone, though, is Sherwin’s signature wordplay and grammatical riffs in his rhymes.
I had the pleasure of talking to Zach about his career and recent re-branding, or rather, un-branding, and a few points in between:
(GREG) How did you first get into rapping?
(ZACH) I’ve been rapping since I was ten years old. My uncle bought me two rap albums for Hanukkah: “Peaceful Journey” by Heavy D. and the Boyz and “Naughty by Nature” by Naughty by Nature (fun to say out loud). Pretty soon, I tried it myself. I rapped with my friends in junior high and high school, dropped off when I got to college, and then started getting back into it after I rapped with no less than Naughty by Nature themselves, at a concert at Tufts University in Boston.
Your website coined the term “Quip-Hop”, can you help define that a bit for us?
Sure! I’m honored that anyone thinks of it as a term that’s coined. Quips are jokes, and hip-hop is rap, and since my act includes both, it seemed like a nifty thing to call what I do. Gotta say…hasn’t exactly caught on like wildfire. YET. And when it does tip, I’m glad we’ll have this on the record so people will know they heard it here first.
Where did the MC Mr. Napkins moniker come from?
MC Mr. Napkins was the last in a succession of embarrassing-to-admit rap names I had in high school, a list which also included “Z-Stylz,” “Zach the Ripper,” and even “Rippah Don” (during a brief dancehall reggae period). There’s no specifically good story about it, but deep, deep Napkins fans will remember a very early track called “How Did Mr. Napkins Happen” in which I explained the origins. “I was standin’ in the kitchen washin’ dishes, water sloshin’ slishin’, got a premonition of an astonishin’ awesome vision.” Basically, I thought of it while I was washing dishes on spring break and I just liked it. Unique, memorable, showed some self-awareness that I was not a typical rapper from the streets, and let people know that I wasn’t trying to pull over on them that I was.
How would you say your music has grown over the course of things?
Hmm….I’m trying to do fewer songs where the central joke is “Who would ever write a rap about this?!?!?” A good example of this is my song “Sphygmomanometer” – a fun tune that served me well for a long time, but not one I’d necessarily write today, although who knows. I’m trying to do more songs where I express something that I genuinely think or feel or have observed. I also really like songs that have a stunt or a trick, like “Pro/Con” or “Switchitup” or “Grit & Grin.”
Of course, very notably, you’re both a writer and performer for the Epic Rap Battles of History series on YouTube. How did that all come about?
There’s lots of stuff already online about this, but in a nutshell: Lloyd & I have been friends for a million years, we re-connected when I moved to LA in 2010, we put up a freestyle comedy show called “Check One Two,” Pete helped out on the show, and the seeds of the idea for Epic Rap Battles of History got planted in that whole mix. When the two of them went off and fleshed it out more fully for Pete’s YouTube channel, they were cool enough to bring me along soon after as a writer and performer. It’s been one of the most exciting and fun things in my career, and it’s opened a lot of doors. I’m very grateful to those dudes.
You’ve played some very iconic characters in Epic Rap Battles of History with Albert Einstein, Doc Brown and Sherlock Holmes. Who did you have the most fun playing?
Einstein was awesome. It was relatively early on and I had no idea how big the video was eventually going to be. I had zero awareness of the gigantic subscriber base that is inevitably part of the writing process these days, at least for me. Being Holmes was great because I loved the lyrics I wrote for it, especially my closing verse.
What character did you find the most fun to write for?
Moses, because Snoop played him. I couldn’t believe that I was watching someone I had been listening to for literally twenty years rapping rhymes that I wrote. Exhilarating.
On July 1st, you announced via music video that you were dropping your stage name MC Mr. Napkins in favor of using your real name. What prompted that decision?
Yes! Big personal moment for me, and July 1 is my birthday, so ya know. It was a cool occasion. I have nothing to say in answer to your question that’s not already in the video…If you’re reading this, and you’re interested, a) thanks! and b) I encourage you to check out that video.
Who am I to argue? Here it is:
With the name change, are you also going to be changing your approach to your music at all?
Nah, or not anymore than I would change normally. I’m always hoping and trying to write better and smarter and more honest stuff. Progress is incremental, but hopefully, like the stock market, the general trend is upward, despite the occasional dip. But nothing too drastic: I’ll still be doing raps about things I think are funny and telling personal stories and having fun with words and commenting on other rap music. My usual topics.
Does this mean we be seeing a new Zach Sherwin album soon?
Yes. On November 1st, I hope. Don’t hold me to it. But in 2013 for sure.
Any parting thoughts, rhymes, puns or palindromes?
Haha – someone’s been on my twitter feed. Here’s all of the above:
If you wanna catch a kitty in a little mesh trap
And you also have a dried-out octopus, you can bet
That the way to catch the puss AND moisturize the ‘pus is a
Tentacle gel cat net.
And there you have it! Changes like this can definitely be freeing and re-invigorating for an artist. I have no doubts that we will continue to see Zach Sherwin find unique methods to give us a little wisdom all while making us laugh along the way.
Also #QuipHop… make it a thing people!