Fridays in the Key of Geek: Final Fantasy VII Remix Album ‘Black Materia’

Join us as we pick Mega Ran's brain, and then listen to Final Fantasy in a way you've never heard it before.

Raheem Jarbo is a man of many faces, many talents, and many aspirations. It is his penchant for the ‘many’, the wide and varied, that led him to call himself Random while he laid down rhymes behind the mic. He is also known as Random Beats, Big Ran, and a Teacher/Rapper/Hero. Like I said, he is a man of many faces. There is likely another face that those in the gaming community would know him by, if not by sight then likely by voice. You might have heard it on TV, read about it in a gaming magazine, or felt its reverberations at a gaming convention.

That face is Mega Ran. He took up this alter-ego because he was bored with cookie cutter hip-hop. He found inspiration in the games he’d played as a kid, and used it to carve out a new path and find a new sound based around those games. His efforts were so impressive that Capcom bestowed their blessing on him and officially licensed his Mega Ran series of albums. Not content to rest on that success, he’s put out a number of other albums, but delved back into video game infused raps earlier this year with his Final Fantasy VII remix album, Black Materia, which garnered widespread acclaim.

You’ll be able to hear Ran creating magic on tracks from the album in a moment, but we were also lucky enough to get him to slow down for a minute from breaking boundaries and making music to give us an interview, which you can take a look at below.

You’re a Philly native, and were local for quite some time before you moved to Phoenix. What about Phoenix called to you? Had you spent much time there before the move?

It was a snap decision… I was tired of the snow. One winter, it snowed for what seemed like forever. I decided to start actively seeking a teaching position in a warmer climate area. I had gotten calls from schools in Miami, North Carolina, Vegas… But there were 3 schools in Phoenix interested, so there it was. I had never been, and had no friends there. It was definitely gonna be the challenge of a lifetime.

On the Mega Ran website you have a list of achievements, which one is your favorite? [Feel free to include an unlisted one if you wish]

I’m most proud of the Nintendo Power feature, just because of what it means to me in terms of my childhood. I had a subscription to Nintendo Power, and read it faithfully as a kid. It’s a huge reason for my Mega Man fandom, and thus, a huge reason that I am where I am. It’s like collecting baseball cards and seeing yourself on a card… That’s something I’ll always remember and be grateful for, no matter how far this thing goes from here on.

You stopped teaching very recently, due to your feeling that juggling a music career kept you from being able to commit to being an educator full-time. First off, I think it’s a commendable that your decision was about the kids and not money. That said, do you see yourself returning to teaching at some point, or will music keep you busy for the foreseeable future?

Thank you. Music, at least for the time being, is keeping me more than busy enough… I just got back from the UK, then going to PAX, and then I’m heading out on a 2 month tour with mc chris, MC Lars and Adam Warrock this Fall.

It’s tough with Fall coming up, everywhere I go, I see “Back To School” sales, and want to buy pencils, paper and rulers, since I’ve been doing it for so long. Maybe I still will, and donate them to a needy school someplace.
I feel like I’m doing my duty– I really feel like I have a gift, and if I don’t use it to my full potential, it’d just be wrong. I’ve taught for many years, now I think it’s time to move into the next phase. My first album in 2006 was called “The Call,” and now I think I’m finally heeding that call that I was rapping about then, go figure.

When you were teaching, you taught English and Social Studies, correct? Did you spend any time teaching music as well? If not, were there any particular reasons why?

Correct. I have always enjoyed words, and as an English major in college (Penn State what up?!) I felt this was the best path to take. You can learn a lot about a subject, but that doesn’t mean you can teach it, ha.
I have co-taught hip hop classes a few times, but truthfully you have to be a great student to be a great teacher. I’m taking guitar lessons now and learning to read music for the first time in my life. I wouldn’t have been much use as a music teacher before now, haha.

You’ve shown yourself to be incredibly mindful of what’s going on in the world in your albums, and rapping about real concerns instead of the usual fare. How is your style perceived within the hip-hop community? Did it change much when Mega Ran became part of your persona?

I came up as a fan and student of hip hop culture. I don’t ever pretend to know much more than anyone else, I just speak on what I know. I’ve been fortunate to gain fan respect on a small corner of the Internet for what I do.
I’ve also been fortunate to be able to be myself at all times. My first album was considered “conscious hip-hop.” my next album was “nerdcore.” I don’t condone any one label any more than the other, because they’re all labels. Whatever I do, I try to represent the essence of hip-hop and gamer culture, because it’s what I am.. and to quote the mushroom, I’m a fun guy.

When you do a remix album, do you recall big events in a game and have a feeling of ‘I know exactly how I’m rapping about this’ without even touching the controller? Or do you always spend time replaying the games?

I always replay the games, it’s just a ritual at this point. Though I’m very clear on some of my most memorable game moments, I feel like playing puts everything fresh in your mind, and that’s necessary to create a lush, deep background story. I wouldn’t write a report about Joe Montana without doing some research first.

What was the most intimidating track to remix on Black Materia? My money is on One Winged Angel, but maybe I’m wrong.

You’re right. OWA is widely considered one of the greatest video game themes ever, and for that reason I knew we couldn’t come weak. Lost Perception sent me like 6 different versions of the track, he’s a constant perfectionist, luckily. It’s tough because youre working with 2 different schools of thought: the hip hop community, who thrives on your ability to “flip” the samples, meaning to make them into something new; and the gaming community, which wants to hear the tunes exactly how they remember them. Always a challenge.

Who were/are your biggest influences in shaping how you approach hip-hop? Are there any artists outside of hip-hop who give you inspiration that may surprise folks?

My main influences are probably LL Cool J, KRS-ONE, Mozart, Marvin Gaye, Martin Luther King and Nolan Bushnell… Haha if you put all those guys together, you’d get a little bit of what Random is.

Your track ‘Raze the Bar’ on The Call had me nodding my head the entire time in agreement, and in the bonus track (After ‘One Winged Angel’) you said hip-hop was boring, and that’s why you went back to video games. Do you feel hip-hop has been ‘hijacked’ in a manner of speaking, or is it just a lack of social consciousness? Are there any popular artists you feel still represent what hip-hop is truly about?

I generally feel that hip hop has become very formulaic: and i probably would feel the same way about any musical genre if I had been involved with it for over 10 years. Today’s music just doesn’t have a lot of staying power. There are hundreds of new projects releasing every day, and so much of it shouldn’t ever see the light of day. I believe there are plenty of artists still making heartfelt, smart hip-hop, but you just have to dig for it. I’m a big fan of Lupe Fiasco, Homeboy Sandman, J-Live and others.
It’s not even about social commentary, you can bring something new and progressive to the art without quoting what you see on a newscast or conspiracy theorist’s book. It’s just about trying new things, experimenting with the sounds and pushing the artform forward. I feel like hip hop producers are experimenting, but rappers are kind of stuck in their ways.

So when can we expect a new album from you? Will it be game related or something closer to current events? And what else is in the future of Random/Megaran?

My next 2 albums are almost already done! K-Murdock and I have “Forever Famicom DLC 2,” a collection of fan commissions that will drop right before we hit the road for tour.

A new Mega Man based album, “Mega Ran 10” will be out right after this tour ends, 11.1.11.

Around that time, “The Memorandum,” an album with my friend and MC Mr Miranda, will be hitting shelves. Then my next album, Language Arts, will be a story and comic book loosely based on my own life as a teacher and rapper, with super hero elements within, dropping next year. Plenty on the horizon. Productivity has been at an all time high this year!

Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions.

Thanks for the time and opportunity! Take care!

Now, as promised, some tracks from the stellar FFVII remix, Black Materia. You definitely get to see Random’s range as an artist throughout this album, as he goes from fondly reminiscent storytelling in ‘Tifa’, to absolutely spitting fire during ‘One Winged Angel’. Below is just a sample, with his entire discography available to listen to and purchase on his bandcamp page,

[audio:|titles=Black Materia - Final Fantasy VII - Mako Reactor]
[audio:|titles=Black Materia - Final Fantasy VII - Cid]
[audio:|titles=Black Materia - Final Fantasy VII - Cry of the Planet]

Mega Ran has toured extensively in the US and United Kingdom, and is slated to hit the road again soon with the infamous mc chris. You can see him at one of 40+ shows during mc chris’s Race Wars Tour. You can also keep track of his happenings at:

Hope you enjoyed this today’s Fridays in the Key of Geek. See you next week!

Robert Hill-Williams
Robert Hill-Williams
Robert Hill-Williams

MASH Veteran

The only things Rob has been doing longer than gaming are breathing, sleeping, eating, and reading. RPGs were what made him view games as an experience instead of a distraction, but these days he likes and plays every genre gaming has to offer. Outside of his usual reviews and articles on MTB, you can find Rob on the weekly Mashcast and frequenting Twitter.

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