PAX East Feature - Random aka Mega Ran Interview

Nerdcore is on the rise in North America. For the uninitiated, this is a sub-genre of hip hop music that uses themes, samples, and subject matter considered to be appealing to the nerdy crowd. Often there are allusions or tracks lifted directly from popular or classic video games. The term was originally coined by MC Frontalot, but the genre itself didn't start to hit its stride until around the time Raheem Jarbo aka Random aka Mega Ran released his 2007 tribute to the blue bomber, MegaRan. The album and its follow up made a huge impact and Capcom was so thrilled with his take on Mega Man that they offered him a special licensing agreement, calling on Ran to perform at Comic-Con and other special events.

Random aka Mega Ran has since become a mainstay in the Nerdcore genre; constantly producing new content and touring from clubs and lounges to packed comic and gaming conventions. RPGamers are probably already well versed with his beats due to the massive success of the LOST PERCEPTION produced Black Materia album, a Nerdcore LP chronicling of the events of Final Fantasy VII that sampled the game's timeless OST, but Raheem is also a classic 16-Bit and 8-Bit RPGamer. He's sampled tracks from Chrono Trigger, the Final Fantasy series, Super Mario RPG, Illusion of Gaia, Secret of Mana, and Earthbound — to name a only a few.

In the midst of his crazy performing schedule, and the chaos that was PAX East 2013, Raheem took some time to sit down with me and discuss his inspiration, career, and future plans.

Trent Seely (RPGamer): First off, thank you for taking the time out of your performance schedule to chat with us. For those unfamiliar with Random/Mega Ran, could you give us a quick rundown of what kind of music you produce?
Raheem Jarbo (Random aka Mega Ran): I'd say I produce hip hop, first and foremost. As Random, I create music that I think is inspirational. Some people say conscious. Hip hop music is very soul-based and positive. As Mega Ran I create music that's also soulful and full of lessons, but it's usually with a video game background or using video game music as the source material. So that's what I do.

Trent: What made you first interested in creating beats?
Random: Well, I made my first beat on the MTV Music Generator. I worked at EB Games and someone traded it in, so I bought it and took it home. I tried to make beats and my beats were terrible, but I learned the techniques to create tracks by emulating songs that I already knew and enjoyed. So, since the year 2000 I've been making beats. I eventually got off the MTV Music Generator and now most of the stuff I perform is usually created by other people (K-Murdock, DN3, LOST PERCEPTION, etc.). I think I make good beats, but I think they make great beats. My main love is with performing, writing, and MC-ing and not necessarily with production.

Trent: Before releasing 2007's Nerdcore album MegaRan you were known only as Random. Outside of incorporating video game music, do you feel as though the message of your music has changed much since releasing The Call as Random?
Random: I don't think so, but the music probably isn't as edgy. I try to be less abrasive and judgmental now. The Call was a very spiritually and politically based album, so a lot of my views were put on that record that haven't been in the rest of my music. I felt like it was a really heavy album. I said everything I wanted to say, so I wanted to lighten up the mood on the music, topics, beats, and styles. That's why the Mega Ran music is happier and full of hope and humor. That's what I felt like I needed after such a dark album.

Trent: I understand that you were once a fulltime teacher. What elements of that career have you carried into your music?
Random: All of them [laughing]. I think I've learned everything about live performing from my life as a teacher. Because if you can make thirty children in a classroom pay attention that don't want to be there, a hundred or two hundred in an audience is a breeze. The same tricks you learn to keep kids motivated, focused, and engaged I use on stage. The call and response, wait time, giving choices — I do that stuff all throughout my show and it works. Teaching has taught me everything I need to know to be a strong performer.

Trent: Nerdcore has become quite a sensation since your release of MegaRan. How weird is it for you to see the general public embracing the geek lifestyle?
Random: It is weird. I wrote a song about it called Now You Know, and in that I mention that nowadays it's so chic now to be nerdy and geeky. I think it's cool that being a nerd is being able to be embraced, but at the same time — and I don't know if it's fair — I hold a little bit of ment towards people who weren't there when it wasn't as cool. I don't know if you're a wrestling fan or not, but it's kind of like when D-Generation X was reborn with Badass Billy Gunn and Road Dogg and all them. Shawn Michaels came back and beat those guys up, saying "I was DX before DX was cool." I always remember that. That's kind of what I feel like doing to a lot of nerdy people today — kicking them in the face [laughing]. I was doing this in 2007, when I felt like I was risking my career by talking about nerdier things and not being taken seriously as a musician. That fear is gone now; people are able to fly now and do whatever they want to do. Songs on the top of the charts are about not being popular. It's totally okay now. So, I feel like it's cool and I like it, but I have much more respect for people who were noticeably nerdy when it wasn't easy.

Trent: One of the cooler aspects of your music is the pairing of introspective lyrics with nostalgic beats. Are you ever afraid of putting too much of yourself out there?
Random: I used to be. Dream Master has some of my more personal lyrics. There was stuff in there that I was afraid to put out to the public. But that song is what leads people to come up to me sometimes and tell me that they're glad it was there for them. For that reason, I feel like you can never give too much. There's someone out there that's going through the same thing and doesn't necessarily want to share it, but needs something to relate to. So, you can't really share too much.

Trent: So far, you have released three albums paying tribute to Final Fantasy VII in one manner or another (2011's Black Materia, 2012's Black Materia: The Remixes, and 2013's White Materia). What was it about that game that made you want to produce so much material? If I forced you to play a copy, would you put the sound on mute?
Random: Final Fantasy VII was the game that got me back into gaming. When I started college, which was about when the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 came about, I didn't have any time for video games so I stopped playing them. I didn't feel like I would be able to succeed in college if I was a video game head, and my mom didn't let me take the TV with me [laughing]. But I was home for a break and one of my friends brought over his PlayStation and he showed me Final Fantasy VII. I watched him play it for about an hour and my jaw was on the floor. The game was so colourful and awesome. That was the game that made me say, "Mom, I gotta get a PlayStation. Sorry." So, I did — I traded in all my old Super NES and Genesis games [laughing] to get a PlayStation from FuncoLand. Of course, I also got Final Fantasy VII. I had always been a big role-playing game fan, but taking the storylines I loved and putting it into a 3D world was such a big thing for me. The story was so gripping too. I haven't been pulled into a game much like that since then.

I'm still playing Final Fantasy VII on my PSP. I play it about once a year. Whenever I'm on the road I usually have that and Chrono Trigger on the go. Still play it with the music up. Occasionally, I'll even hum my own lyrics while I'm listening. I feel like it's timeless.

Trent: Which RPGs would you say are your favorites? Are there plans to sample their tracks if you haven't already? Ever afraid of running out?
Random: A lot of them I've already used. My favourites are Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, Dragon Warrior, Secret of Mana, and Illusion of Gaia — which I just sampled in the latest Time and Space EP. Right now I'm playing Ni no Kuni for PS3 and I haven't gotten much into it due to my travelling schedule, but I'm really enjoying that soundtrack. I use stuff that I like, for the most part.

You can never run out of tracks to sample. If you're a good producer, especially with hip hop, there are ways to recreate and repurpose what you use. I could probably make six songs using Aerith's Theme and make them sound completely different if I took enough time. 3 O'Clock High and Sock Hop from River City Random use the same sample and have totally different feels. So, I don't think you can ever run out of inspiration.

Trent: Which musicians, currently working in the business or otherwise, inspire you?
Random: One of my heroes is Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac, Cave Story 3D, etc.). Such a great guy and a rockstar, but you'd never know it cause he's such a down-to-earth, hard-working guy. He was a huge inspiration for me to quit my job [laughing]. Over the past few years I've been meeting a lot of composers and it's really inspired me to step up my sound. I think in the next year or so you'll see some really new creative changes in my music.

Trent: In January you released Time and Space, Deluxe Edition. In February, you released Time and Space: Eternalism. Earlier this month, you released Time and Space: Mach's Principle. So I guess what I'm getting at is: do you plan on releasing another Time and Space EP next month?
Random: No I don't, unfortunately. I've been on the road this entire month, so I haven't been able to record anything new. My challenge to myself was to create a new EP every month, but that was notwithstanding touring. So, unfortunately we have to take a break from Time and Space. I think I will come back to it, but this last Time and Space inspired my next video game project, which will be a Castlevania: Symphony of the Night EP — hopefully April or May.

Trent: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Random: I gotta thank everybody for reading this interview [laughing]. Keep listening. I never really know what I'm gonna do next. Thing's just pop up. I have a dream about something and then an album happens. So keep an eye out for new music.

RPGamer would like to thank Raheem Jarbo aka Random aka Mega Ran for participating in this interview. Random aka Mega Ran is currently on the Now, You're All Gonna Pay Tour with Louis Logic — check out his official website for further details and media.

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