SFCB: Explain for those who may not know, about your moniker of "Mega-Ran" and your relationship with CapCom who puts out the MegaMan games.
Mega Ran: Well, Mega Ran began when I hit a bit of a creative wall in my career, around late 2006. I had released my first album, The Call and felt like I had said all I had to say in the realm of underground hip hop. So I imposed a little hip-hop exodus and wound up coming back to video games, the ones I had played as a youth particularly, and Mega Man was the one I played the most.
The music inspired me to make an entire album using Mega Man tunes, and so I named the album Mega Ran. The name kind of stuck, and people started referring to me as Mega Ran, so much so, that now I've become Random, aka Mega Ran. I called up my favorite producers who had helped me on the previous album; DN3, Samik and Storyville, among others, and got to work.
Later, Capcom, the company that makes the games, heard of my music online and to my surprise, told me that they were fans of my music and wanted to officially back the project. Fast forward and I'm appearing in places I never thought I'd see myself; from Wired Magazine to Nintendo Power to Comic Con. Real talk, I used to draw ideas for Mega Man bosses in my sketch book in middle school. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this would be successful, let alone something I'd still be talking about 4 years later.
SFCB: I have noticed that a lot of the really good music that has come out, particularly in hip hop, has been of the indie variety. It seems that when you're on a major label, that the ability to be creative and think outside the box is curbed, out of fears of not succeeding.
An example I always use is Bubba Sparxxx's sophomore album Deliverance. An album I think is his finest, and one of my favorite albums of all time. I thought it was very creative and intelligent, and yet it only sold about 300 thousand copies. After that he was dropped from his label, and then he put out that atrocious single Ms. New Booty and the equally atrocious video for it, and yet that was a hit. On the Rock music side, George Michael put out his debut album Faith and it sold a ton of records. Then he came out with a more introspective and intelligent album of socially aware music which was nothing like his debut called "Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1", and it didn't sell as well, and as a result he ended up in a bitter back and forth with Sony.
It's the same with virtually any type of music. In the old days bands could put out 10 or 20 albums, nowadays if you have an album that doesn't sell a million or more copies, you're looked at as a liability, and the artist no longer has the luxury of time to grow and evolve their sound.
Why do you think the music industry has become like this?
Mega Ran: I know a million examples just like the Bubba Sparxxx one. I'd like to think that I'm a music fan first, to quote Eric Roberson's album title. I hate to sound like an old fuddy duddy, but the game has changed. I'm glad you brought up the George Michael example, to show people that it's not just hip hop. In general, being independent is so liberating, you get to create without someone looking over your shoulders. There's no major label in the world that would have let me make video game music, then conscious hip hop. They want you to find your audience, your lane, and stay in it until it ends. I can't do that. I have friends with deals, both major and indie, and the ones on majors never seem as happy, and quite frankly aren't making music as strong as those on independents.
You're right, there's no time these days. I had a rep at Def Jam tell me that she wanted a song that could go on the radio, TOMORROW. There's no time or money for artist development, these labels want a ready made star who can record themselves and motivate themselves. They're out there, on YouTube, mostly, haha. But if you intend on building a solid career, it's best to not worry about the major label approach. Its a trade-off that most true artists shouldn't have to make. Anytime you have to sacrifice your art, or integrity, it's a bad deal, no matter what they're offering.
SFCB: You put out a critically well received album with Panacea producer K-Murdock this year called Forever Famicom. Talk about the Forever Famicom project, and how your Kickstarter campaign went.
Mega Ran: The Forever Famicom project was an extension on the Mega Ran idea of rapping over video game beats, but this time around all production was done by K-Murdock of Panacea, and all of the beats were beyond Mega Man, including all NES and SNES samples. We took our time with the album, the promo was on point, we did some great shows including showcasing last year's SXSW festival, and I think everything was just done really well. I love the album and still listen to it today. The album has taken on a bit of a life of its own, as we're now working on a DVD movie and vinyl release of the album, thanks to our immense Kickstarter success.
Forever Famicom is an album created for people like myself-- gamers and hip-hop heads. It's an album combining 8-bit and 16-bit samples of videogames on the Nintendo and Super Nintendo consoles with hip hop beats. All rhyming is done by myself, all production by K-Murdock of Panacea. We worked on the album for almost 3 years--slow cooked to perfection, ha.
The support for Forever Famicom has been amazing-- it's only been 5 months and it's been selling better and faster than my previous projects.
So since the support never died for the FF album, we wanted to extend the movement somehow. A sprite artist, Griff Morivan, came up with the idea to draw up sprite videos for each song, led by a storyline, and those have been hugely popular. We developed a Kickstarter campaign to get the funds to get the album onto vinyl and DVD and that worked out greater than anyone could've imagined. The vinyl and DVD will be ready before year's end. I'm just so blessed and thankful to have supporters who believe in what K and I did.. this album is special for a lot of reasons. It just showed me that when you have a great idea, and don't rush it, things can work itself out.
SFCB: You've had the honor of having your music being taught at several Universities, joining Tupac and the HBO series The Wire in that respect. How does it feel knowing college students are listening to your music and getting school credit for it?
Mega Ran: It's amazing. This summer I did some guest lecturing at a few of the schools the album is in, and it's such an incredible feeling to know that some young child is not only listening to, but studying my lyrics and message. One of those achievements that I'd never set out to accomplish, because I never thought it was possible. It's a trip. This has really encouraged me to write a book, and God willing, in 2011 I will get started on that.
SFCB: You were a teacher for several years, and I was wondering how the fact that you were also a rapper go over? Was there any reactions from other faculty members about this, or was it really a non factor?
It always went over well.. I don't expect my co-workers to become huge fans, but the kids love it. I performed for my school dance once and the principal said, "Now that was very...interesting!" my ex-coworkers hit me up about shows, come out and support, it's great.
SFCB: How did your students react to your music? Were they all trying to get early releases or free tickets to shows? Promising to do their homework if they get free tickets?
Mega Ran: I have always taught middle school, so they were too young to come to most shows. The kids would act like they were too cool when they saw or heard me, but during parent-teacher conferences the parents would come up to me and say "My kid plays your music videos all the time at home." Their motivation is the freestyle, which I only do if the class averages 90% for their reading for the week.
Also I do a weekly drawing for CDs. I've had some parents ask me to do private birthday parties for their students, which I can't do, but it's an honor that they even ask. I love the feedback I get from parents on my music, it's so awesome.
SFCB: Growing up it seemed that many of the teachers I had wanted to be there less than I did, and I often didn't wanna be there at all. I wondered if it was a situation of a teacher simply biding his time, having put in decades already, and simply riding his time out, or if it was a situation of the older teachers being unable (or unwilling) to adapt to the newer generation of students?
Mega Ran: I guess its a combination. When your time is almost up, its easier to just let those students be, than to take the time to learn what makes them tick. Kids are great in that they keep you on your toes. They're like a puzzle... in a blender, haha. You have to take the pieces out and try to put it together on the fly. Today's kids are different, and I'm not that far removed from 7th grade. These kids know so much these days, and are bigger, stronger and quicker mentally. We just have to find out how to use it for good and not evil.
SFCB: I don't suppose it was a coincidence that most of the "cool" teachers that were most able to get through to students and make learning fun, were the younger teachers.
Mega Ran: This is true. I try not to tell the kids my age, but I think just because of the fact that I REMEMBER these years and situations, I know how to address them better. Doesn't mean I don't freak out when one of my kids get a period for the first time (laughs) but I think for as much as kids may think they want a hip teacher, they probably would prefer getting away with murder with an older teacher, because I know all their silly slang words, so I catch them in the act.
SFCB: How did you go about making learning fun for the students, many of which probably would rather be somewhere else than school?
Mega Ran: Its draining, but I have to literally jump through hoops to keep them entertained and educated. They love moving around, so I try to incorporate things that'll allow movement. They love music so if I can turn them onto new music and get them to see things for more than what they are, I feel good. They want Lil Wayne, but I just want to open them up to something that'll make them think outside the box a bit. They never know what's coming next. I played them Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody last week, haha.
SFCB: I have the utmost respect for anyone who's able to be a Teacher. My mother has been in the education field for decades, first as a teacher and then as a professor, and now a Dean of Education at a University. My brother is also a teacher in the Virginia/DC area.
One thing that I always would be nervous about is how you read seemingly all the time about students making false allegations against teachers, sometimes for no other reason than they just wanted to see if they'd be believed. Or the teacher punished them for something they did, so they lie about something and get them in trouble. In some instances, such as allegations of sexual misconduct, the teacher's reputation would be ruined no matter if they were exonerated or not, just based on the accusations.
Having been a teacher, have you seen that type of thing where you have taught, or is it something that you feel perhaps is blown out of proportion? And how do you protect yourself against things like that?
Mega Ran: No I've never seen it firsthand, since I teach the younger grades. I've heard stories of kids making up stories, getting behind each other to get a staff member fired, and I've seen it work. I can't say it's blown out of proportion, because it seems like it's happening every few months in the schools.
I was taught from a young age that as a teacher, especially a male, you are to never be alone with a female, or even a male student. Never have one kid in the room with you, and avoid situations that would look suspect to a passerby. So, knock on wood, I've been fortunate to avoid that type of drama.
SFCB: In recent months there's been many instances of teenagers committing suicide after being bullied. How do you deal with that in school? I remember being in school and seeing this, and sometimes dealing with others doing that to me, and it sometimes feels like there's nothing that you can do to stop it, at least from a student perspective. From the teachers angle, is there really anyway to put a stop to that, or is it something that is going to happen no matter what?
Mega Ran: I've seen it in school and it disgusted me as a student and even more as a teacher. I don't know if there is any way to stop it as a teacher, but we have to be vigilant and stop it when we see it. I have actually gone to students' houses when I couldn't get a response from parents, of bullying victims and bullies. I want them to realize the severity. Many people think you shouldn't stop kids from being kids, and I agree, but no one wants the worst case scenario on their hands. Better safe than sorry I say.
SFCB: In a recent poll the United States ranks 21st in Science and 25th in Math (for 15 year olds) compared to their peers the world over. The education system has been in the news a lot in recent months, with many politicians from the Tea Party openly suggesting that the Public School system idea be abolished, and everything go back to the way it was prior to the government running and funding the schools.
Then you have those on the Texas School Board removing anything that conflicts with their political and/or religious views from the textbooks that are used nationwide.
What are your thoughts on these? The School system can definitely use some repairs, whether it's getting responsible and qualified teachers, to making sure the history being taught is the ACTUAL history, but what would be your ideas for fixing the Education system in this country?
Mega Ran: Man, I wouldn't know where to begin on education reform, but one thing we have to do is add teacher accountability WITHOUT stressing standardized test scores. Teachers literally break down at the thought that if their students have a bad a test day, their job is on the line. And don't get me started on the pay. It'd be a lot more of a motivator if I knew that the guy making my coffee in the morning wasn't making more than I am. It's the most overworked and underpaid position ever, but no one gets into education for the money, but nowadays they're pulling non-education majors who just need a job and putting them into 2 month crash courses and making them teacher.
Not sure how you can expect great results. People with education get out of the classroom as soon as they can and jump into administration or higher ed, there just needs to be some motivating factor for teachers to stay in the classrooms and excel. It's that simple. You listening, Obama? haha.
SFCB: What's your current gen console of choice? 360 or Ps3, and why do you prefer it over the other?
Mega Ran: I'm a 360 gamer tried and true. I can't say I prefer one over the other, the games are the same these days....but the price of the PS3 intitially turned me off. I've been anti-Sony for a long time, but that's only because I was so pro-Dreamcast. But, I've been an Xbox gamer since day one. and Xbox Live vs. Playstation Network?? come on son, no comparison.
SFCB: This might be a bit obvious, but what's your favorite video game soundtrack? Old School AND Current Gen?
Mega Ran: By far, Mega Man 2. I used to record the tunes on my tape recorder and play them on my walkman, sandwiched between Public Enemy, Chubb Rock and Big Daddy Kane. Final Fantasy II has some super memorable music, as does Sonic 2.
Current gen soundtracks aren't what they used to be, but I really loved the soundtrack to Bionic Commando, Rearmed. However to avoid sounding like a total Capcom company guy, I also dig the Bioshock soundscapes as well.. I've even sampled a few into some beats, haha.
SFCB: What's your favorite studio (aside from Capcom lol) that is making games today?
Mega Ran: I'm a big 2K games fan.. these guys don't seem to make any junk. I like pretty much everything they drop.
SFCB: What do you view as the most complete video game ever made? Where the graphics, story, voice acting, etc is just the best you've ever seen? For me, that has to be Uncharted 2 with God of War III just a tad bit behind. I can't see anything topping that.
Mega Ran: I've never played Uncharted, but I'd agree on God of War 3. If there was any one game worth buying a system for, that'd be it. That game is about as close to perfection as one could get. God of War 2 was incredible as well. To me, the greatest game playing experiences I've had were playing Metal Gear Solid, Shenmue and Final Fantasy 7. I'd call those pretty complete games.
SFCB: Have you played Megaman 10? What are your thoughts on how the game has progressed over the years?
Mega Ran: I played it, and I'm one of those conflicting, angry fans who complained about how hard Mega Man 9 was, and then complained that they put in an easy mode. I love the game, but I started to feel like I felt around Mega Man 5, like they were milking the franchise and running out of ideas, so I loved the new gameplay innovations, with different playable characters and such. I loved the game, the soundtrack didn't move me as much as MM9 did, but I thought they did a great job. Retro done right, I'd say.
SFCB: So how long before we see a MegaMan game with a complete soundtrack done by Mega Ran?
Mega Ran: Haha! Man I get asked that one so much. I wish I knew. I just would be happy with ONE song, or being a hidden character... I can dream, at least. I DO however have some great stuff planned involving Capcom that I can't speak on, but in the meantime, please ask your friendly neighborhood Capcom representative that same question...often!
RANDOM QUESTIONS FOR RANDOM
SFCB: What's your favorite album that was deemed "commercially unsuccessful"?
Mega Ran: La The Darkman, Heist of the Century. I think I was the only person I knew who had that album.
SFCB: What's your favorite out of the mainstream comic book?
Mega Ran: Not sure if it's out of the mainstream, but X-Force. Honesty moment: I never was a big X-Men fan, but I loved all the smaller spinoffs.
SFCB: Favorite hip hop remix?
Mega Ran: Tie: Shut Em Down, then Flava in Your Ear.
SFCB: Favorite NES or SNES game?
Mega Ran: NES - Super Mario 3. SNES - Super Metroid
SFCB: Favorite Mainstream Rapper or Group?
Mega Ran: Jay-Z, then Nas.
SFCB: Favorite Non-Mainstream Rapper or Group?
Mega Ran: KRS-ONE..does he count? If not then I'd say Murs.
SFCB: Favorite Non-Hip Hop Album?
Mega Ran: Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
SFCB: Favorite Movie?
Mega Ran: Casino.
SFCB: Favorite Hip Hop Sample?
Mega Ran: Bob James "Nautilus," James Brown "Funky Drummer," Skull Snaps "It's a New Day"
SFCB: Favorite Instrumental?
Mega Ran: Nas' "Represent," Marley Marl "The Symphony," Fabolous "Breathe," A Tribe Called Quest "Verses From The Abstract"
SFCB: Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview! Before we go, please let everyone know what you have planned for the 2011?
Mega Ran: Glad you asked! Myself and K-Murdock are heading out on tour in November, make sure you catch us, the live show is UNREAL!
Nov 11, 2010 @ Headhunters, 720 Red River St, Austin, TX, w/Crew 54 and more, FREE 21+
Nov 12+13, 2010 Yule Con @ American Airlines Training Center, Ft Worth, TX w/Brentalfloss and more! $15-25
Nov 14, 2010 @The Highball, 1120 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX $7 21+
Nov 16, 2010 8PM @ Super Happy Fun Land 3801 Polk St Houston, TX $7 all ages w/MC Router and more
Nov 17, 2010 2PM @ Bedrock City Comics 4602 Washington Ave, Houston, TX all ages (performance & signing)
Nov 18, 2010 9PM @ Smoke And Barrel Tavern 324 W Dickson St, Fayetteville, AR w/The One Ups FREE 21+
Nov 19, 2010 8PM @ 331 Nightlife Cafe, 331 W Forsyth St Jacksonville, FL $5 21+
Nov 20 @ A Comic Shop 114 South Semoran Blvd. $10 all ages