Growing up in Philadelphia, I wonder if Raheem Jarbo could have possibly foreseen where his passion for video games and music would one day lead him. It’s a journey that would take him from educator, to studio engineer, to being one of the biggest stars in the sub genre of hip hop known as Nerdcore.
After receiving his bachelor of arts degree in African American studies and English from Penn State University, Jarbo began his career as an educator. He was a special education teacher in his hometown of Philadelphia and later taught middle school after making the move to Phoenix, AZ.
His love for music led him to moonlight as an emcee and producer, performing under the name Random. He released his debut album The Call in 2006, but it was his sophomore album, Mega Ran that really got peoples attention. It was a tribute to one of his favorite video games (Mega Man) and it launched his career in an exciting new direction. Capcom (developer of Mega Man) approached him about re-releasing the album with their full support and in 2009 he released the follow up, Mega Ran 9.
After the success of his next couple of albums, Forever Famicom and Black Materia: Final Fantasy VII it became clear that his future was in music. So he adopted the name Mega Ran and retired from teaching to focus full time on his music career. Since making the leap, that career has taken off. His songs have been featured in films, television and most recently he contributed the end credits theme for the game Mighty No.9.
Mega Ran was kind enough to take a few moments out of his busy schedule while on tour and answer a few questions for us about his music, life on the road, and where he finds his inspiration.
You started out as a school teacher, what was that experience like for you and was it difficult to leave that career behind to focus on your music?
The most difficult decision I’ve ever made… it was hard to step away from a career and people that I loved, in order to do something else I loved. But I knew it was only fair to the school and the students, because you can’t give 100% to something when your heart is elsewhere, even a little. I miss it like crazy but I have no regrets.
Your style of hip hop is described as “nerdcore” or “chip hop”. Was that always the type of music that you wanted to produce?
No, I didn’t even know it was possible until I heard Deltron 3030, or MF Doom’s Madvillainy, or Ytcracker’s NES albums. They inspired me to take a turn from the traditional and strive to create something new.
Your 2007 album Mega Ran (inspired by the Mega Man series) got the attention of developer Capcom and led to you partnering with them on a liscensed re-release. Were they receptive to what you were doing and what was that like working with them on the project?
Yes, they were receptive, which totally shocked me. I created not for that reason, but just to pay tribute to the things I loved growing up. As a hip hop kid, I’m used to working underground, beneath the law so to speak, so I just expected it to be a small, unknown thing that never would get to Capcom’s desk. When it did, they were pleased and honored, and super cool to work with. I have to thank the Capcom-Unity guys for that.
Your album Black Materia: Final Fantasy VII is an awesome tribute to one of the greatest RPGs of all time. What was it about that video game that inspired the album?
I loved the story, I loved the characters, the size of the quest, the humor. It was everything an epic journey should be. I still play it once a year.
Which other artists or games do you feel have inspired your music over the years?
Mostly retro games: Castlevania, River City Ransom; but recently current series like Bioshock, Destiny, and others, not particularly by name or storyline referencing, but the musical elements, or thematic elements, have inspired works of mine for sure.
You maintain a pretty rigorous tour schedule, bringing your music to fans all around the world. What is that like for you and how have you adjusted to life on the road?
It’s tough, but everyday I tell myself I’m blessed. Most people slave at a job they hate and I’m lucky enough to do what I love, a job I would do for free, and get to meet awesome people in awesome places and make ends meet with it…barely. So I try not to complain. Road life is tough, you have to balance contact with family, taking care of yourself, keeping the shows fun, and making new friends. But I’d rather deal with that than lesson planning on a Sunday night.
Which genre of games is your favorite and what have you been playing recently?
I enjoyed a lot of RPGs and platformers as a kid, but nowadays I prefer a pretty short, dynamic, fun journey. I’m just so busy that I can’t beat most games, so something under 10 hours used to irk me, but now it’s welcomed.
What projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to?