Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Humor and Hope: Catching up with Random

When I interviewed Random a scant 10 months ago, he was riding high on the success of his Mega Ran concept album. But even as that project gained considerable momentum, Ran refused to rest on his laurels. Even then he spoke of collaborations, mixtapes, and a new full-length scheduled to “hit in August 2008.”

Fast-forward to the present and you’ll find Ran in a similar state; Mega Ran is still very much alive in the hearts of fans old and new, his recently released EP Patches & Glue has received widespread acclaim, and a staggering number of other creative contributions have kept Philadelphia’s finest proper busy in the time between.

Now we stand mere days away from the August 8th drop date of the album he prognosticated in our last interview: the appropriately entitled The 8th Day.

What can we expect from this album, and where will Random go from here? We touch on these questions and a number of others below.


When last we spoke, your Mega Ran concept album was a hot topic among nerdcore aficionados, gamers, and hip-hop heads. How is the album doing now? Is it still selling well and generating buzz a year after its initial release?

It's still doing well, to my surprise. It's always a treat to get an unexpected check in the mail! It's like I want to keep moving and get past it and push my newer stuff, but it keeps pulling me back. I get calls for interviews and shows, and it's usually about the Mega Ran album. Mega Ran isn't all I am, just one of the many sides of me. It's by far the most popular thing I've ever done, which puts me in a tough position because you want to do what people want... but every artist believes that their new stuff is better than the old stuff. I don't want to be pigeonholed and just known as “the Mega Man rapper,” but I was watching an interview with Richard Roundtree the other day (an actor whose most notable role was the 70's cop Shaft), and he was saying that his dad told him that most people go through life and live and die, and aren't known for anything... So I'm just thankful to be known for something.

Much to the surprise of everyone in the community - you, perhaps, most of all - Capcom elected to officially license that release. An international game publisher with a lengthy pedigree of top-shelf titles actively embraced the work of an underground rapper; has the weight of that sunk in yet?

It really hasn't. It’s pretty amazing when I think about it. I mean, I used to sit at home and play these games, and now years later I'm able to work with the people who make them... it's unbelievable. I used to read about Comic-Con, dreaming of going, and then I'm there. I never in a million years would've guessed that something like this would happen.

Recently, it was announced that Capcom's Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix would boast an alternate soundtrack by game music community Overclocked ReMix. What do instances like these mean in the grand scheme of videogame culture? Are publishers and developers realizing the untapped potential of independent music?

I hope so. Companies like Capcom are really good at keeping their ear to the 'net and staying on the cutting edge of what's bubbling out there. That's a huge accomplishment. I was just thinking that about a month ago when I visited OC Remix. They have some incredibly talented musicians over there, and I wondered how long it would be that this kind of talent would go unnoticed by the big guys. Fans are what keep these gaming franchises alive, so it's only right to enlist their help and recognize their talent. This could easily become the norm in the videogame industry.

The Mega Ran track “Grow Up” was recently used in the MMORPG documentary Second Skin. How were you approached with this offer? Was there any trepidation about lending the song to the film's soundtrack?

I got an email from Victor Pinero, co-director of the film, and he told me how much of a fan he was of my work. When he explained the premise of the film, I thought it was definitely something I'd like to be a part of. Upon watching the film, I was blown away. It’s a very powerful piece. I don't even play World of Warcraft much, but I can certainly relate to the characters and the problems they faced in the documentary. They flew me out to Austin for the premier screening at SXSW, and it was amazing. The theater was packed, the film got a standing ovation, and MY music was playing during the end credits! It was an amazing experience.

Because the song originally used Mega Man samples as the backing, you asked fans to remix it with original beats. Which mix found its way into the film?

That's a funny story, because originally, Peter (of Pure West) asked me to work on a remix because we didn't have any official paperwork stating that Capcom said it was OK to use the music. So I put the word out for a remix, and folks came through like gangbusters. I got some incredible submissions from folks, like Antisocial, Fingaz and Jonato7. I sent those submissions to Peter, and while he liked them, he was attached to the original, much like I was. So while I was collecting remixes, Peter was hounding and harassing Capcom for a license to use the original version in the film. Finally, they came through, and granted Mega Ran an exclusive licensing agreement allowing me to pretty much do what I want with the music and images. Before that agreement, it was pretty much a verbal OK that I was working on. They were fine with me selling the music and stuff, but they told me that an official license would take forever. I have to say thanks, because if it wasn't for Peter's persistence, I don't know if it would've gone through.

Since Mega Ran, you've released a number of other notable projects. What can you tell us about the American Gamer mixtape?

That was something I wanted to do for a while: a remix album. I decided to take the acapellas of Jay-Z's American Gangster album and put them to some beats sampling videogames. I got a lot of help from some great producers: Pac0naut, K-Murdock of Panacea, Ravage, Macross and more. It was a little scary because it was the first project I had done without DN3, my main mixing engineer and DJ. But it went well. We've gotten a few thousand downloads and a lot of good feedback. That opened the doors for some other projects as well.

What other projects?

Glad you asked. K-Murdock and I are working on a project called Forever Famicom, in which the Mega Ran character returns for some 8-bit goodness. K-Murdock on the beats, and me on the rhymes. We're a few tracks in and I have to say, I'm excited. Look for that next year sometime. Pac0naut and I are also in talks for some videogame influenced hip-hop in the near future.

There was also talk of a Marvin Gaye tribute. Did that album come to fruition?

Yes. In April of 2008, I released 4 tracks that were each Marvin Gaye tribute songs as free downloads. I am a huge fan of Marvin Gaye's music, but while working on this project, I learned a lot more about Marvin the man. He was a very complex man, but I think that comes with being a genius. When I decide to do a theme project, I have to become who I'm studying, so I immersed myself in Marvin's music, interviews, concert footage, everything. I think I'm going to do something like this every April. I chose April because that's the month he was born and died in.

Most recently, you released the eleven-song Patches & Glue. Was there a unifying theme or concept to that EP?

Yes, the Patches and Glue album was all about the way I grew up, and what inspired me to keep going. I grew up on a small, closely knit block called Woodstock; we affectionately called it “The 'Stock.” Everyone knew everyone and everything that went on there. The old saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child,” and I was certainly raised by a village. So the album reflects that mentality. It's all about humor and hope. I think if you have those 2 things, you can achieve great things in life.

You've announced that your newest release The 8th Day will be drop on August 8th of this year. What can we expect from this album?

It's by far the boldest, riskiest project I've ever done. And this is coming from an underground rapper who made a whole album about Mega Man. It's another theme project, centered around the meaning of the number 8, which is the number of new beginnings. God made the earth in 7 days, so on the 8th day life began. It's symbolic because I feel that the rest of your life is your “8th day.” My biggest pet peeve is complacency. I know a lot of people who are just... lazy. Laziness is what keeps our country behind the curve; it's what makes us eat so much fast food. I hope that this can inspire people to get out and live their lives to the fullest... to do, see and try something new. I say it's a risky project because it's very experimental musically. There are some tracks that have a more conventional Random sound, but many incorporate new instruments and production styles. There's some house, alternative rock, underground hip-hop, mainstream hip-hop... everything. It's like a ride in a rocket ship; it starts off really fast and scary, then once you get used to it, you get comfortable and enjoy it. Then you barf when it's over. There are plenty of guest artists, including MC Frontalot, LMNO of The Visionaries, Naledge of Kidz in the Hall, and many more.

Recently the track “Exhale” (featuring Naledge) was leaked over at Fake Shore Drive. Can we expect any other preview tracks in the weeks leading up to the album’s release?

Yes, you can. In fact, Z, for being such a great guy, I'd like to give you another track from the album to leak. I've leaked about 3 tracks so far to different websites and on my blog, just to see the reaction they'd get, and give people a small glimpse into the album. But believe me; no one song can totally capture the feel of this album, because it's all over the place. You have to sit and listen to it in its entirety to “get it.”

What an honor! Thanks so much, Ran! (NOTE: You can download said leak via the link at the end of this post.)

August 8th of this year also marks the first day of the Summer Olympics, so let’s do a little stretch for a related metaphor: If The 8th Day was an Olympic event, what sport would it be?

Wow… Good question! I'd say it's a decathlon, but instead of 10 events, its 8 events. Each one uses a different nerve, and at the end, you'll be worn out. Definitely not for the weak of heart. The first half of it is all speed and power, then it slows down and it's about technique and patience at the end.

An octathlon? Okay, I can dig that.

You're one of the few non-regional artists who appeared at both southeastern Nerdapaloozas. How did this year's event compare to last?

I had a blast at the 2007 'Palooza, but 2008 blew it away on so many fronts: the venue, the size, the presentation, the tater tots… everything was leveled up from last year. I can't even imagine what it'll be like next year. It’s really cool to be able to see the growth of something like this.

What were some of your favorite performances at this year's festival?

The best thing about it was that so many artists gained a fan in me at the festival. I'd heard some of the folks' music before, but it's a whole new thing to see them live. Shaffer the Darklord, Myf, and Dual Core were some of my favorites. Z1 always brings it, and I had the opportunity to catch Frontalot before. I'd have to nominate DJ Snyder as the MVP of the festival; he was so helpful with so many people. Great guy, too.

True. My pitch for next year is Snyder-Palooza: DJ Snyder cuttin’ over everyone’s sets! ;)

One of the unofficial “events” of Nerdapalooza '08 was the spontaneous VIP pass swap. Whose ID did you leave the festival with? Do you know who has yours?

I wound up with you, Z. and it's still hanging on my wall as we speak. I have a collection of lanyards from gigs, and it's quite extensive, but yours is right on the top.

About a week after the event, Maja told me he has mine.

I feel honored! Do you have any other gigs lined up for the foreseeable future?

I do: 8/1/08: Los Angeles, CA, The Airliner
8/2/08: Los Angeles, CA, The Warp Zone with IllGill and Zealous1
8/14/08: Tucson, AZ: Sports on Congress

I also want to say that Johnie of Cartoon Mogul says that my video for “Fly” should be done very soon, and we'll probably put together a video viewing party of some sort... should be fun. Goodness knows I've been waiting for this for a long time.

With the summer winding down, are you again looking forward to another school year behind the teacher's desk?

I am... I usually have an action packed summer at the start, and then once it starts to wind down, I get really bored. I need something to do to keep me excited, so I usually start working on more music. But, I've promised myself that The 8th Day is my last full-on solo project for a while. Hopefully I can stick with that. But this year, school should be different as well; my school had to change locations this past year because of some size and funding issues. So, it's only fitting that after I finish an album about new beginnings, I have to embark on my own new journey. It's the way of the world, I guess. But like any good hero, I never back down from a challenge.


I had the pleasure of meeting Random at Nerdapalooza, and I have to say that the demeanor he projects in verse – that of a good-natured, optimistic nurturer – is exactly how he comes across face-to-face. Whether he was peppering his tight (but never inflexible) set with audience interaction, relaxing at the bar with fans, or freestyling with the bill’s other heavy-hitters, Ran always conducted himself as if where he was just so happened to be the best place in the world. In a manner that seemed to say that whatever he was doing was simply what he was meant to do. There’s a certain calm about him, an otherworldly solemnity tempered with wit and approachable affability.

We like to talk about the rapper’s rapper, the musician’s musician, but what I witnessed in Random was truly the artist’s artist. Everyone in that cramped venue, from the cats crowding the stage to the folks working the bar, felt Ran’s set. Even the guys gearing up for their own were moved by the power of Random Beats.

That strength of character, that artistic integrity that has so defined his career, is surely just as evident in The 8th Day as it is in earlier works like The Call.

As promised, here is a clip from that soon-to-be-released EP. It’s called “Reset Button” featuring our own MC Frontalot and produced by Samik. And while I can’t promise it’ll encapsulate the raw power of the live experience, I can tell you that it will give you another taste of what Random really is all about.

Download: Random - “Reset Button (feat. MC Frontalot)”


Anthony said...

So Random has my Z Lanyard! Mystery solved!

Great interview Z! some good questions too.

pac0naut said...

Man, I'm so proud to be working with Random. Trust me, when the 8th day drops, you shall NOT be disappointed!

MisterB said...

cracking interview indeed. You know who started the laminate swap? I wish I did. I bet one was super handsome and could handle his drink, and the other was a super talented human emoticon. I bet you $100million.

Big Ran said...

thanks a million, Z. Great interview as always... hey you, reading, go get The 8th Day!! now! :-)

Church said...

I've finally figured out the secret behind Z's great interviews. The trick is to find really cool people to interview. Then you just ask them questions and put it on the net.

The Ranger said...

great interview...ran's one of my favourite people involved in nerdy music and i'm honoured that i get to work with him on occasion...certainly does wonders for my "6 degrees of separation" to pretty much any rapper ever :)

Brenden said...

"I've finally figured out the secret behind Z's great interviews. The trick is to find really cool people to interview. Then you just ask them questions and put it on the net."

That, and he smears peanut butter all over hi-

Nevermind. :)

Great interview!

Rob said...

I pre-ordered the 8th day and got it early (which is good--I'm about to take a bit of a vacation), and I heartily endorse this selection of fantastic rappery.

Z. said...

Thanks, Ant, and I'm glad we solved the lanyard mystery.

Thanks for reading pac0naut, and I can't wait to hear your contribution.

I actually do remember seeing you wearing :P's badge first. But I hear myf and DJ Snyder actually started off with each other's name tags.

As always, Ran, I really enjoyed talking with you. Can't wait to hear the album!

That's really the trick to it, Church; I just interview people whom I respect and whose music I enjoy, and the piece pretty much writes itself. Brenden's peanut butter thing is just insurance. ;)

It's true, Ranger, Ran's pretty much worked with everybody who's anybody in hip-hop.

Glad to know you took advantage of the pre-order, Rob. Have a nice vacation.

Antisoc said...


Good stuff, and I love the track. I must buy that CD now :)

Antisoc said...

NTHGTHDGDCRTDRNDM <- 20 points if you catch the reference here, 100 if that's a song on his new album

Anonymous said...

^^^ my eyes hurt :-)