The Theory of Nothing – PHI-3PO: an academic hip-hop album

Sophia Gielniak debuts her first nontraditional hip-hop album that descends into the physics and philosophy of the meaning of life, how she perceives reality


Photo courtesy of Sophia Gielniak

THE THEORY OF NOTHING — Up-and-coming hip hop artist, Sophia Gielniak, recently released her album The Theory of Nothing – PHI-3PO on YouTube and Soundcloud delving into nontraditional hip hop that uses academic and philosophical language.

Madoline Plattenberg

Diving into physics and philosophy, Sophia Gielniak, a junior multimedia production major and up-and-coming artist recently released her album The Theory of Nothing – PHI-3PO on YouTube and Soundcloud.

A lot of hip hop is not academic whereas this album is very academic, so it covers a lot of physics and philosophy and whether life has a meaning,” Gielniak said.

The inspiration behind the entire album, Gielniak said, is understanding reality from everything learned prior in her life. She began reading books by Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene, delving into physics theories called “The Theory of Everything” and “The String Theory.”

At the beginning of her music journey, Gielniak was playing soccer in New York and came to the realization that she needed to study physics to get answers to her questions. Gielniak then transferred to NMU to pursue physics where she recognized she had been manifesting a future in music through her passion for writing songs about these topics.

“I was writing songs and I didn’t even really consider that an actual viable career,” Gielniak said. “I was just doing it and when I started to analyze my personality compared to others in the industry, I found that I have always been wired to do this and so that’s what I’m fully pursuing now.”

This is just the start for Gielniak, she said, and hopes to bring comfort to people of certain populations.

“Hip hop is honestly verbal poetry and it really gives a voice to people,” Gielniak said. “I think there’s a lot of people who are, especially in modern society, feeling lonely and are going through things within technology and there’s also just so much going on in the world with injustice and things like that.”

The first song on the album, “F – 01000110,” starts with a dystopian “Privet” (hello) “Bienvenido” (welcome) to the happiest place in the galaxy” because a lot of people are not happy here and a lot of people are struggling, Gielniak said. Giving an almost horror story effect, she utilized a variety of languages to show that language is just this human-made thing created to be better able to convey meaning.

“U – 01010101,” the second song begins with “they told me I’d be happy, but I swear I’m really not” building off this idea that Gielniak has entered a dystopia. The line “Physiology game, I’m a robot,” Gielniak said, explains her name and why each song title is also in binary code. 

“It embodies this philosophy that comes with an understanding of physics which is that if everything in the world is physical: our DNA is our code, our brains are neurally-wired, fractals are reality’s pixels; then we really are in a sense programmed machines, similar to the way in which robots would be,” Gielniak said.

The name PHI-3PO integrates and combines the Star Wars robot ‘C-3PO’ and the math phi/golden ratio part of Gielniak’s first name, Sophia, ‘phi’ to create PHI-3PO.

“I used a robot people were familiar with, C-3PO, so that they had the context to understand that I am in a sense a robot,” Gielniak said. “This would mean that in the mechanical sense if I were a robot I would perhaps think in binary (or machine code), which is why each song title is in English and in binary, so people know what song they are listening to, but also get the message.”

Later in the song, Gielniak says “nihilism at heart” which is the theme of the album: does anything have meaning? Each song is a letter, and the album spells out: “FUTILE OR NAH” which means, is life meaningless or not, which pairs with the title “The Theory of Nothing” to propose that the search for a theory of everything in physics to explain everything could just be nothing, Gielniak said.

“It would be almost comical that this grand search that means so much to us could be nothing and mean nothing to the universe, which plays on the philosophical concept of absurdism,” Gielniak said.

Gielniak continues with lyrics such as “the universe so stolid, I keep me going” indicating the universe may not be a sentient being looking out for us and everything could be arbitrary and meaningless. Gielniak said she would have to defy and protest this by creating technology to live forever, as Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty does, mentioning this on the last song of the album stating, “plan to create tech, plan to live forever.”

Additionally, in this first song the lyrics “push up my rock yeah, they tell me go faster” is a reference to the French philosopher Albert Camus, who wrote about the absurdity of life in one of his books “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Gielniak said. Meaning that life is absurd, and everything might mean nothing. We all just might be pushing up our rocks. 

The final track on the album, “H – 01001000,” is another dystopian skit bringing into question what reality is, but also tying in all the concepts the album has covered, Gielniak said. 

The skit is for buying processed water stating, “It’s the only water you can now purchase due to the degradation of our ecosystem,” building off this dystopian theme of a corrupt society, Gielniak said. She essentially is asking, will we just keep living these messy detrimental lives for profit and bombard consumers with propaganda and advertising?

“I took the physics concept, ‘The Theory of Everything,’ the attempt to understand the mind of God and explain all of the universes in a unified simple and elegant equation, and I pair that with philosophical nihilism and absurdism, to question why we don’t have answers,” Gielniak said. “What the nature of reality is, and if there is any meaning at all.” 

All of the songs in between, Gielniak said, depict her emotions about loneliness as a symptom of modern society, corruption, bias and connecting patterns between them all to understand who she is in the present and future.

Gielniak explores the idea of the only thing that makes life worth living is other people, with the lyrics “If life is futile can I spend it all with you, do the one thing we’re meant to do: reproduce” from her song “N – 01001110” and the lyrics “Grew up. Science I blame entropy. Telomeres end finna be the death of we. But at least I have you, my heaven next to me. In this life and the next forever, we will be. A thousand years and the next after that” from track “R – 01010010”.

For the hip hop artist, learning how to write stemmed from initially learning piano and continued with her hard work ethic and drive.

“Most of what I know has come from reading books on YouTube, and that’s how I taught myself and how I started learning piano,” Gielniak said. “What I realized is when you get information from multiple sources, eventually things start to click, make sense and you just gotta do your best. And if you have the work ethic, you can do it, that’s what I’m starting to realize.”

Students that are interested in following Gielniak’s music journey can on Instagram @phi3po and on TikTok @phi3po.