Basically what I'm saying is that listeners are assholes and that the acts we love are unquestionably screwed.
Okay, I'm just playin'. Sort of.
Still, I think we've all gotten frustrated in the past both by bands cashing in on the same sounds and concepts, "phoning it in" as the kids says, and with artists trying to reinvent themselves (sometimes even to the point of delegitimizing their own previous output) at every turn.
So what's the happy medium? Sometimes you have to break with the old for the sake of the new. Recently the Blue Bomber himself, Mega Ran, announced that he was abandoning that moniker as he moved forward.
Always one to be willing to talk about the long, hard walk of the independent artist, he took some time to answer my questions about this decision and to reflect on his own unique musical evolution.
It's been a while since we've talked, and in that time you've done–well, I'm afraid "a lot" is rather underselling it! Mega Ran 9, Forever Famicom, Black Materia, Mega Ran 10; all things considered you've dropped no fewer than eight releases in the past three years. Is being prolific more an art or a science, and what's your own secret for keeping your output fresh?
I don't know if I could call it a secret, but the only way for me to keep things fresh musically is to experience more. When something gets boring, I have to move away from it and try something else. Retraining your brain is important. I've read books and studies on it, and it really does help you to think differently. Drive a different way home from work... tie your shoes another way… I don't know… anything to keep your brain on its toes. One day a week, I watch TV, and when I do, I may watch documentaries, another day it's The Office or Walking Dead, most days I'm trying to experience life and write about it. Definitely a combination of arts and sciences to my approach.
It's been six years since your RAHM Nation debut The Call. A dozen albums later, how do you feel you've changed as a songwriter?
Wow, those numbers make me feel very old... 6 years, 12 albums, oh my. It's strange, because I look back and listen to albums like The Call and things I did while a part of RAHM Nation, and I don't even feel like I'm the same person... heck, I don't even agree with a lot of the things I said on some of those records anymore, ha. I really see the growth, and though it makes me somewhat ashamed of who I was, I'm also very proud of what we accomplished and how far I've come. I'm not where I want to be yet, but I'm better than I was last week, baby steps I guess, as some poet said. Wow, just wow.
In that time you've made a lot of interesting connections. Obviously you've toured with guys like MC Lars and mc chris, but, more importantly, you've managed to create some really amazing collaborations with cats like Lost Perception and K-Murdock. How do you feel these collabs have altered your creative process?
I love bringing someone else on board because it creates such a different type of energy that keeps me on my toes. Between K-Murdock, Lost Perception and DN3, these guys challenge me in unimaginable ways with what they're able to do with music. I just try my best to keep up. I love collaborating; in the early days, before Random was Mega Ran, I'd make tapes at home with my crew, and I would feature a different artist on each song, mainly because I hated the sound of my voice, and wanted it to be on a song as little as possible. Today, I still hate my voice, but I like to collaborate to help both of us bring something out of the other that may not have been there in the past. I'm so thankful for the times I get to sit down with great rappers and producers and craft songs, because they give me ideas for rhymes and subjects that I wouldn't have come up with had I been sitting alone. K-Murdock said his original plan for Forever Famicom was an all-instrumental album before I came along... I don't know if either of us would have been the same had it remained in beat-only form.
Speaking of Murdock, you two just recently returned from Japan as part of the More B.A.R.K. Less Bitin' tour. What was that experience like, especially for artists so rooted in eastern pop culture like video games and anime?
Man... As gamers, nerds and cartoon addicts, Japan is our Mecca, our motherland, where we have learned, borrowed and taken so much culture from. It's a place I never thought I would see in my lifetime and I'm thankful to the folks at JTB Travel Agency and Tomamaru Entertainment for making that happen. It all started as a great idea from emcee Substantial, who then got DJ Asu Rock and then K and myself involved in an epic trip where we not only got to enjoy the land of the Rising Sun, but to perform there, AND to bring fans who also had never been. I had a blast. Time flies in Japan faster than anywhere I've ever been, that's for sure. Great friendships were forged, and hopefully we'll be doing another More B.A.R.K. tour this year.
Mega Ran 10. Is this truly the last Mega Ran album?
It is. I hope the fans understand, but I feel like it was time to go out with a bang. Mega Ran 10 was an album to prove a point to myself, because it was probably my least favorite soundtrack of the Mega Man game series. I wanted to see if I could make something fresh that I enjoyed more than the original source material. It took about 2 years, but I managed to pull it off.
What motivated you to retire the Blue Bomber?
I think it's just time, man... I mean, all of the Capcom drama surrounding the character makes it pretty obvious that the Blue One doesn't seem to fit into their long term plans. The good news is just like we have countless Mega Man games we can pop in to relive the Bomber's heyday, we have 3 great Mega Man themed rap albums... I'd say that's more than enough. I thought a lot this past year about leaving a legacy, and though the title of "Mega Man rapper" tends to turn more than a few heads, I don't know if it fully encompasses what I have done and plan to do in the future.
Do you fear you'll always be associated with Mega Ran? Do you still plan to perform those fan-favorite tracks live?
Oh of course. I didn't choose it, but at every show this fall with Lars and chris, I was on the marquee as "Mega Ran." Those fans will forever know me as such, and I'm okay with that. As a full-time musician now, I realize the importance of owning your catalog. And though Capcom was extremely helpful to me, if God forbid that relationship were to turn sour, I'd like to know that I can still make a living making music that I enjoy. Any Mega Ran song I write, no matter how personal, how awesome or how catchy, it is only half mine. But I love to perform those songs, and as long as I can help it, "Grow Up," "Splash Woman" and "Lookin' Up" will be a part of any Random live set moving forward.
I've mentioned before that "Lookin' Up" is, in my eyes, the quintessential Mega Ran joint. What song do you feel best captures the spirit of that and highly successful ongoing project?
Thank you. I think "Lookin' Up" as well, but many others tell me that "Sick!!" is the one they replay the most... which is awesome because I first released the song on Capcom-Unity in mid-2010. So 2 and a half years later, for that song to still be talked about and a reason people bought the album is amazing. People always complain about the lack of patience in today's fans, but my MegaManiacs—I'm trying to think of a cool name for my fans, still working on that—came through and showed out big time. For an album to be 2.5 years from conception to execution in this day and age, with the fans being updated on every step, and for the album to still hit #2 on Bandcamp in sales, is amazing. I also love "Now Hiring" a song I conceptualized in London while watching my email pile up... Though I'm happy to say that now, I DO have a manager! w00t!
Black Materia remix album. What manner of new hotness can fans of the original expect from this release?
We've been working hard on this, honestly, since about a month after the original released last January. The cool thing about Lost Perception is that he's a perfectionist when it comes to beats, so he'll send me 8 versions of the same beat to choose from... so although I only choose one, several of those may be very dope, so I thought, let's rework the tracks and use some of these alternate mixes you've sent. We're also outsourcing some production to some great producers to give the tracks their own spin. I wanted to create something that wasn't a cheap cash-in like these video game developers do, but more of a re-imagination of the tracks they loved... add-ons and bonuses for people who want more of the same but in a new package... almost like the music version of DLC. So for that reason, the Black Materia: The Remixes album will only be available digitally and will only cost $5. The first single "Ninja Girl" produced by DN3, will release soon.
As you look to the future, do you feel you'll continue to mine video games as a source of musical inspiration?
I think it'll always be a part of my thought process... as time goes on, I'd like to do a little less direct sampling and more original chiptune styled hip hop beats. I feel like we've got something really good here and though I don't want to end it, I just want to extend it. If I were doing the same thing I did 5 years ago, that wouldn't be very Random at all. I want to help create an additional lane for hip-hop as well as music in general, moving forward. So the next album will be highly game, anime and comic influenced, but won't involve 8-bit samples.
There seems to be this never-ending drama surrounding nerdcore, with some clinging tenaciously too it and still others seeking to actively distance themselves from the term. For the most part, however, you seem fairly indifferent. How concerned are you with the labels that others may associate with your music?
Not very. It's funny though, when people say to me "You're my favorite nerdcore rapper!" I'm very humbled and thankful for that, there's no time, or reason to say, "Well actually, I consider myself a neo-nerdy-soul-core-chip-hop artist!" As I learned from many of my forefathers in this subgenre, there's no use trying to run from what people will say about you. People will classify you however they want. In 2007 while I was begging for the support of my peers in the underground-soulful-backpack rap crowd, it was the nerdcore fans who embraced me like one of their own, invited me to play shows, into their homes, and into their families. And I don't know who said it, but when you have family, you have everything you ever need. Even a dumb dog knows to go where he's wanted.
Lastly, Ran, if you could tell your 2007 self, that guy who was just getting' ready to drop his first Mega Man-themed hip-hop album, one thing, what would it be?
DON'T DO IT!! Nah, that definitely wouldn't be it. I would tell him to relax, take off his cool a bit, and embrace his creative self. When I dropped that album, I was so afraid of it losing me whatever I had thought I had gained in the hip-hop world, and all it did was multiply it. I was so afraid of ridicule that I created a separate MySpace page for it, and I dismissed it as a "side project" in interviews and everything. I quickly worked on new albums and foolishly rushed releases out to dilute the effect that I thought Mega Ran was having on my "true school hip hop" credibility. I didn't think my fans would be comfortable with that experience, and I really shouldn't have cared! That's what an artist is supposed to do, bring you into his or her world for that 50 or so minutes that you have their attention. I don't have many regrets in my career, but one of them is releasing Patches and Glue and The 8th Day so close together. I feel that both of those are 2 classic album experiences that everyone should listen to… In fact, go listen to them now!
And you know what? I did.
After completing this interview I went back and listened The 8th Day and Patches, as well as The Call. And something interesting happened; I had just as enjoyable a listening experience as I did with Famicom or Mega Ran 10.
You see, as much as Ran has changed, as much as he grown and evolved and, yeah, occasionally misstepped, as much as his voice and his swagger and his flow have strengthened over the years, I was reminded by a quick look back down his artistic path that he has always been a dope-ass MC. And I can't help but believe he always will be.
As sad as a part of me is to hear, all official-like, that he's abandoning his old stage persona, I certainly understand. He's no more required to be the same rapper he was 6 years ago as I am to be the same writer. Age and experience mold us, and that is reflected both in what we do and in how we do it. Art changes you, and that in turn changes your art.
Whatever's next for Random, we cannot possibly know. And it's impossible for even the man himself to anticipate where inspiration will ultimately lead him, but the one thing I know is that I'll still be here. Listening.
Mega Ran is dead. Long live Mega Ran.