While I don't consider myself an "interviewer" or whatever, I do like to get in touch with people who I respect and get their thoughts on various topics. A lot of interviews I see online seem to follow a standard format of questions, and they all seem cookie-cutter. I figured if I was going to do an interview I would only interview people who I know (to a certain degree) and/or I respect what they do. So I'm not going to interview some random "hot at the moment" rapper or singer. I'm not going to interview the flavor of the moment, just to get web hits or anything like that.
Because if I could care less about who they are, I'm not going to waste my time or the time of that person to just go through the motions. So if you see an interview on my site, it's because that person is someone I respect and truly like what they are doing.
Which brings me to the man of the hour, Random. This will be my second interview with him (and first repeat interview subject). The man is a jack of all trades, and a master of all. Rapper/Teacher/Hero, Random has had a fantastic last year releasing not only the critically acclaimed "Forever Famicom", with producer K-Murdock (Panacea), but also his own "Black Materia" which was a concept album based on the game Final Fantasy VII, also to wide acclaim.
Click here to check out my first interview with Random.
SFCB: First I wanted to talk about a topic you are a part of, and that's the Education system. In America we seem to lag behind other countries when it comes to Education. The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) recently released a report that has the United States rated as "average" in the evaluation of knowledge and skills of 15 year olds. Out of 34 nations, the US ranks #14 in Reading, 17th in Science and 25th in Math.
In your opinion why is it that America seems to fall behind other nations when it comes to their Educations? Is it a situation of other nations just doing something that we are not, or is it perhaps a societal issue here in America? What can we do, in your opinion, to improve our Educational system?
RANDOM: I really wish I could say for sure. We do rank number one in confidence though! As Bill Maher said, this just means we're proud of the fact that we don't know anything.. While funny, its sad and true.. I haven't been to many of these other countries, so I can only speak on what I see here. I don't think that we in America put enough value into education, and that goes from the television shows we watch, to everything we do here. We don't make education look sexy here in America. Add that in with all of our freedoms and choices, plus parents having to work two and three jobs to support families, kids learn very quickly that working hard is a sucker move. We have to somehow promote education in a way that will convince kids that it's not only cool to be intelligent, but that its necessary.
SFCB: We touched on this briefly in the last interview, but it seems that since then the move to defund the Education system in this country has picked up steam from many on the Republican side. I look at these people who are openly talking about removing money from schools and the education process and feel like I'm in a dream or something. I remember being in school in the late 80's and early 90's and thinking that the schools were really underfunded.
The computers we used were terribly outdated, the "office" type package we used was some random generic brand that I don't think anyone used, which in turn makes it that more difficult for kids graduating and going to work somewhere that has Microsoft or Corel's Word Perfect package, and you're at a loss. And I was at a school that was a middle-class type situation, I can only imagine the porous situation in the inner city schools.
Now these politicians are talking about removing even MORE money from schools, and it makes me wonder if they just aren't paying attention to the realities, or maybe they figure they have enough money to send their own kids to private schools, so it will never touch them.
RANDOM: I agree, it's like a bad dream or something. I'm far from a political propagandist but these Republicans are insane. How in the world can you think that teachers salaries are too high!? How is it okay to strip jobs from hard working people? It's enough to totally make you lose faith in this system. I can't say too much, as I'm currently employed, but I received two pay cuts this year. I'd love to see the stats on who on these boards have children that go to public schools. These are the kinds of things we should be taking a look at. The system is failing us, in my opinion.
SFCB: Recently, I think it was on Jon Stewart's show, they showed this steady montage of one politician after another talking about the teachers in Wisconsin and how much money they made, and saying "they only work til 2:30". That struck me as incredibly ignorant of the real world. I don't know about your schedule, but my mother was a teacher and her day didn't end at 2:30.
There's grading papers, creating lesson plans, often using your off hours to talk to students or parents, and it just strikes me that here we have a case, much like when they're trying to pull funding for low income housing, and heating assistance for the poor, that they're making real life-altering decisions on something they obviously have no real knowledge of, and something that doesn't affect their personal lives.
RANDOM: I don't know any teacher whose day ends at 2:30. IF I go home at 4:15, then I'd have to take a pile of paperwork home with me to grade, I'm normally not out of the school parking lot until 6pm. My entire Sunday is spent making lesson plans. It's amazing how schools can cut pay and alter contracts of teachers in their favor, but a) they never seem to lessen the workload at all, and b) if teachers attempt to alter the contract by leaving early, schools can remove their certification, making it hard for them to make a living. Its really unbelievable what those teachers are going through in Wisconsin.
SFCB: Recently I read an article about Lupe Fiasco's new album Lasers, and how he went through this battle with the label over how they wanted it to be vs. how he wanted it to be. He talked about how he felt he had to sacrifice so much just to get the album out, because they held so many of the cards, so to speak.
It seems to me that as a kid growing up, 15-20 years ago, that was the dream of anyone who wanted to be a singer, rapper or were in a band. To get signed to a deal. That was looked at as the epitome of "making it". And yet as we grow older, and more and more of the industry's snake-like tactics are revealed, suddenly that shine is off. And with the introduction of the internet, and websites like Kickstarter and Bandcamp, which you have used to your advantage, suddenly the labels aren't quite as much of a "holy grail" of success as they once were.
Add to that the fact that people aren't willing to pay 15-20 dollars an album anymore, and you have record sales plummeting as opposed to what they were years back, and despite all that, the industry seems stuck in the same old model. Do you envision the labels ever truly adapting to the new age in order to survive, or do you think they're just going to keep riding this outdated model even after the wheels seemingly fell off, so to speak?
RANDOM: I don't know, but every year labels are reshuffling, firing and downsizing, and I'm just hoping that keeps happening until the whole structure doesn't exist anymore. Right now with 360 deals, labels are even trying to get a piece of an artists merchandise sales, because records don't sell as much. It's unreal.
I used to be one of those "keep it real" MCs in the 90s who dissed record labels just because, and had never even dealt with a label before. Now that I've got some years in the game, this would be the time to be anti-label. The fact is, that a label can't do anything for an artist with a good product and decent following that he or she can't do for themselves. It hurts my heart to see Lupe, one of my favorite MCs, making musical decisions that aren't his own, and releasing songs that he doesn't totally stand behind. That shouldn't happen in this day and age. But, I really can't say too much, because Lasers is selling like hotcakes, so maybe the industry knows what they're doing there. The story was there, the drama was there, now the people are emotionally invested, so they purchase. Great marketing.
SFCB: In addition to your more serious and straightforward hip hop releases, you also have a lot of releases under the Mega Ran moniker, and it's sort of classified as "Nerdcore". Explain for those who may not know exactly what Nerdcore is, what it's all about.
RANDOM: Well in speaking to the Godfather and creator of the term, MC Frontalot, nerdcore is generally hip hop that speaks about very nerdy and niche topics. I had never heard of the subgenre until the Mega Ran album in 07, but since then it has picked up some huge steam. Theres also some controversy in the name, as most of the artists who have made a name for themselves under the Nerdcore banner have decided to distance themselves from the term for fear of being pigeonholed. It's a very interesting dynamic. I make hip hop music, that much is evident. From conscious to nerdcore, people always want to label stuff. I prefer to let the audience call it what they want, and just hope that they enjoy it.
SFCB: Your recent release "Black Materia" has sold very well and has gotten a lot of high profile attention. Talk about how that project came about and how it's gone for you since the release.
RANDOM: Well, outside of Mega Man, by far my favorite and most influential game is one called Final Fantasy VII, which released in 1997 on Playstation. The game, which spanned 4 discs, is a role playing adventure about a kid who struggles with his past to find his identity and becomes a hero. The music was so memorable, and one day while playing it again, I got an idea to create an album about it. I hit up Phoenix based producer Lost Perception, and him and I worked for about a year on the album and released it in January of 2011.
It's already been my most successful project, charting on both Amazon and Bandcamp amazingly. I decided to retell the story of the game, and luckily lots of people have been able to relate to it and appreciate it. Its always a great feeling to have people respond positively to your work.
SFCB: I read a story several years back about how filmmaker Uwe Boll, who's known for his movies that are based from video games, was fed up with all the movie critics who were savaging his films and making quite personal comments about him. So he put out a challenge for any critic who wanted to fight him in the ring to do so, and a small handful of critics actually did so, with unfortunate results for them as Boll is quite a force in the ring.
While I'm sure you've never gotten so angry at negative feedback that you've challenged someone to fight, how do you deal with negative criticism?
RANDOM: That's funny, I just fought a critic the other day! Haha, no but negative criticism is a part of the game. Of course since Black Materia has been my most successful project, it's brought the biggest amount of negative feedback too. I read it all, and I've learned from one of my old Sunday school teachers to take whatever might be true about a negative comment, and use it to better yourself, then throw the rest away, and dont sweat it. Sad thing about most online critics is that theyll only say "this sucks" or "WTF is this" or even "OMG this is epic" without even saying why it's good or bad. If it's not constructive, it's almost worthless. So I can't build off it. Most people don't know why they dislike stuff, because they don't even give enough time to it to listen to it.
SFCB: Over the course of the past 10 or 20 years it seems that the movies that have been made from video games have suffered critically. Movies like the Resident Evil series have been slammed by the critics, and many fans as well. To date there have been very few movies based off of video games that have been successful to the point of getting both critical and fan acclaim. Why do you think these games are so hard to translate to the big screen?
RANDOM: I'm not sure, this is a great question. I loved the first Resident Evil movie. They did progressively get worse though. I think that once the story is out and known, it's just harder to surprise true fans of the game. Luckily Black Materia is 14 years after the release of the game so many people may have forgotten how much they enjoyed it. So maybe game movies need to wait longer to come out. Wait, that didn't help Doom, so that's not the answer. I think Metal Gear or Splinter Cell would make great movies, for example. But they just have to focus on capturing the feel of the game, even if it means being a little campy. Nowadays they just throw millions into special effects and call it a blockbuster.
Then you had Grape Ape, and Kidd Video and other shows like this. Nowadays it seems the shows are just not even close to being on that level. Do you think that's true, or is it just a case of us being older now and having viewed them through the rose colored glasses of childhood? And what was your favorite Saturday Morning Cartoon?
RANDOM: I don't know man, have you tried to watch any of those cartoons lately? Most of them from the 80s didn't age well at all. I tried to watch Voltron on Netflix and I couldn't get through an episode. I do agree that this stuff was amazing for the time, and that it was a huge cultural ritual of the times and kids today don't have that. Even during the week, I used to literally run home after school to catch Bravestarr and Thundercats and stuff like that. Kids today don't have those kinds of rituals like we did in the 80s. Not to say it's better or worse, but it's just...different.
My favorite on Saturdays was Captain N, I loved that. I loved Starcom, Mighty Orbots, Bionic Six, Turbo Teen...Man you're taking me back now, I'm gonna have to go find some of these.
SFCB: Finally, before we let you go, I just wanted to bring up the Kickstarter program. You and Kyle had a successful campaign with Kickstarter in putting out your critically acclaimed Forever Famicom project. I've followed both yours and Kyle's campaigns, along with a couple other people I know and their campaign, and one thing that I think has surprised all of the people who have done this, that I've spoken with, are the things that you never think about beforehand. There are things that were never planned for, such as shipping expenses, and fees from Kickstarter and Amazon. What is some advice you would have for people who are looking at doing Kickstarter to help finance their first album, or putting a DVD or a book out? What are things that looking back you would have liked to have had someone tell you beforehand, which would have made things easier?
RANDOM: I always say, set the bar high. It's not worth doing if you don't get anything out of it. We got almost double what we asked for and STILL had to put our own money into it to get everything we needed to fulfill the orders. I think I just tried to do a bit too much, so that was my own fault. Our project probably could have been 2 separate campaigns, with us doing a DVD and vinyl. I definitely have learned so much, and I'm recharged and ready to tackle the next endeavor!
Thank you very much for the interview Random, and I wish you nothing but success in the future. Where are your next tour dates and appearances?
RANDOM: I'll be back east for the next few weeks, playing Pittsburgh 4/1 and 4/3, and 4/8 in Kutztown, right around my hometown Philly. After that, gotta finish strong in the classroom, standardized tests are coming up!
Thanks so much for the time and platform for a little old teacher-rapper. Peace!