I was so grateful to run into the mighty Mega Ran at PAX East this past weekend, and he was more than happy to speak with BlackGirlNerds about gaming, hip hop, and the intersectionality therein. One of the busiest guys in the game (pun intended), his copious releases include the recent RNDM and 2015’s Soul Veggies featuring Storyville, with whom he performed on Saturday night.
Enjoy the interview, and wrestling fans might also be interested in his most recent release this year, Mat Mania: The Album. If you somehow haven’t heard of him yet, you have a lot of music to discover!
Leo: First of all, you’re in Phoenix, Arizona right now?
Mega Ran: Yes
Leo: What brought you to move to Phoenix?
Mega Ran: It seems pretty superficial and kind of a knee-jerk reaction, but it was probably the snow! Honestly! It was like 2006 or 2007 and we had a bunch of really bad snowstorms in Philly, and I was just like, I had enough of this man, the hell with it! I’m out! I was already teaching in Philly so I just spun the globe, so to speak, and was like “Where do I go that’s not going to have snow in April and May?” So it was between Phoenix, Miami, and Vegas, and I went to Phoenix. I didn’t know anyone there, I just did it.
Mega Ran: Yeah.
Leo: Just up and went?
Mega Ran: Just up and went! I knew that if I didn’t like it I could just come back, not the end of the world. But I wound up getting married there, getting my biggest start in music, some other things while I was there.
Leo: So that all kind of coalesced there. Is Phoenix relevant to that, in particular?
Mega Ran: No, I think it’s just me changing scenery, more so than just Phoenix. But Phoenix is a much more relaxed place than Philadelphia, much less pressure to produce or to sound a certain way, so I felt like I was able to be myself and relax a little bit.
Leo: What’s typically your relationship to the use of profanity in hip hop? Is your relationship to profanity carried over from teaching? Because I know you don’t typically use that language.
Mega Ran: Nope, I’m not a potty-mouth! [laughs] But that’s just my real life, I don’t use foul language in my speaking, for the most part. I just don’t do it. It may be part of my teaching, but honestly I just feel like it’s just me. I’ve made a commitment to that in myself, watching my language. I want this to be palatable for a lot of different people, and through education, educators have used my music in classrooms in different places, and I just wanted it to be approachable to everyone who just won’t turn it off. An older generation of person might turn it off if they hear an f-bomb, so I made that commitment to myself a long time ago, and I’ve just been able to stick to it.
Leo: Now in regards to that, would you guest on a song with profanity? Have you?
Mega Ran: I have, actually. Absolutely. It’s not like I don’t think anyone else should do it, it’s just me. But there are certain words where I’ve had issues. Certain words, the n-word, or the other f-word, I’ve had issues with those. So, in particular, I’ll ask people not to use those. But for the most part, no, I think that everybody should be able to paint with their paintbrush with whatever colors that they want to use. I wouldn’t stifle anyone’s creativity. But sometimes, I might edit it afterward if it’s on my own album. People expect a cleaner record from me, so if it’s not clean, they may be like “Woah, I was playing it in school, because I knew you were clean, and then BOOM!” So sometimes I’ll just edit it afterward, but I won’t ask anyone to censor themselves.
Leo: Yeah, I love a lot of hip hop that has awful language in it, admittedly. But the fact that your records are clean – I actually have to think about it, I’m like “Oh yeah, he didn’t curse on this album…”
Mega Ran: Right! I never wanted to make that a marketing point of the music that I create. Like “Look, it’s clean hip hop!” I never say that! [laughs] And I think that’s the biggest testament to it, it’s that, you didn’t notice it! You’re like “Wait a minute, I finished the whole record and I didn’t hear anything!” So that, to me, is the harder part, and that makes me more proud, that I don’t have to advertise it, it’s just something that people pick up, or maybe they don’t.
Leo: You were speaking before about indie games. Do you have special affection for independent gaming? Do you value indie games above triple-A releases?
Mega Ran: I do, mainly because I know a lot of people who make independent games, and I’ve gotten a lot closer to those people. I’d say that I recognize their plight a bit more than others. I think I relate to their situation more, as an independent musician. I think that the indies work harder, to put it blank! That’s what I like about it, you have to work harder to get someone to listen, or to rock, or to play, and the independent releases have a lesser budget than a triple-A title would. That makes me tend to skew my interest towards indie games.
Leo: Let’s talk about the interview with Open Mike Eagle. In that interview, you spoke to Mike about code-switching, in terms of like “I go do my nerdy hip hop show, then I go do my hip hop show, some people come to that, then the other one, and occasionally people come to both”. Have you encountered any significant challenges in terms of code-switching, and is it different now than it was?
Mega Ran: Yeah, I think what’s different is that I don’t have to code-switch anymore. I used to worry about that a lot, I’d go to a rap show and say “Well, I can’t do this type of music” and then go to a con and be like “Well, I can’t talk about the black community.” But then I started thinking about it like, “Wait, maybe I can.”
I think I was playing a convention show, and it was the same day that George Zimmerman got off for killing Trayvon Martin. I was at a video game convention, and I’m sure that they had no idea about this case, and so I stopped my set to talk about it, to explain to them why I was upset. People looked at me like they did not know what I was talking about! I think that was great, because I was able to insert myself in a space, and insert my cause into my set. So I think that day showed me that it’s okay to be your full self in any situation. From then on, I stopped fearing or even worrying about prepping the set for certain people.
Last night, MC Frontalot did a very subtle Prince tribute, by doing one of his songs, the Penny Arcade Theme, over a Prince track. Half the crowd didn’t get what he was doing, maybe this is just a cultural difference because not as many people were connected to Prince. He didn’t come out and say “This is for Prince,” but I caught it and I thought, wow, this is awesome, he made a really cool artistic statement without being overt about it. I think that this is what I try to do with a lot of my music.
Long story short: going to rap shows, now I realize that I can be the nerd rapper at the rap show as well as being the nerd rapper at the convention, and still be who I am. I exhibit every piece of me: the gamer, the sports fan, the African-American male; I can explore all those parts of me and give them to the crowd. If you give your all and, most importantly, if you’re dope, you can get what you need from the crowd, you can get the desired response, the cheers, and people will approach you afterward at both shows and be like “Man, I never heard anything like that!”
That’s the best thing about it, I go to traditional rap shows, and people be like “Dude, you’re just so conversational, it’s just so, it’s just so…” and they can’t even think of a word. It’s like, you mean “Fun?” Yeah, fun! [laughs] It’s not serious, it’s not beating you over the head.
So I think that, while taking myself seriously, I’m able to not take myself too seriously, so I can have fun, and be myself. I can be that uncool guy at a rap show, and still get a great response from the crowd, because I’m comfortable with it and not playing a role. That’s what makes it easier.
So yeah, when I said that to Mike, I used the example of a Sean Price show that I was at, and I was about to start rapping and I was like “Man, I can’t do Megaman stuff here!” And then, as soon as I got on stage, this guy in the front row was like “DO THE MEGAMAN @$#%!” And so I was like “Oh, alright, guess I better do the Megaman!” So, here we are!
So stuff like that showed me that there’s a lot more overlap than I give credit to. Nerds listen to hip hop, hiphop-heads read comics. There’s so much crossover, that it makes for a beautiful world, and I’m just a small piece of that that’s trying to bring those two worlds together, and let kids know that it’s okay to be versatile.
Leo: Rest in peace Sean Price.
Mega Ran: Rest in peace Sean Price.
Leo: Okay, last question: what have you been playing?
Leo: Awesome, I was one of the people on twitter bugging you to play that!
Mega Ran: It’s kicking my butt!
Leonardo Faierman is ¼ of the #BlackComicsChat podcast, writer/co-creator of the comic “Snow Daze”, and a Jewish Latino caught at the intersection of white privilege and “What ARE you exactly?”