When we last spoke with Phoenix-based/Philly born and raised rapper, producer, wrestling super-fan, and former teacher Raheem Jarbo AKA Mega Ran, he was preparing to unleash his DJ DN3 & Fresh Kils-produced Biggie tribute, Notorious R.A.N: Ready to Live. Ran's since "[taken] on a rigorous touring schedule, [hosted] a wrestling podcast Mat Mania, and [made] high-profile appearances on WWE television" and "returns to release the introspective and enlightening album, EXTRA CREDIT." His latest collection, EXTRA CREDIT—which even I had absolutely NO IDEA about until about 2-3 weeks prior to its release—is effectively a "greatest hits" collection made up of equal parts new tracks, old tracks, and re-imagined versions. Anchored by a few RNDM left-overs, EXTRA CREDIT features production work from K-Murdock (mixing & mastering,) The Rockit Scientist, Charlie Mumbles, ECID, Kaito Kobayashi, RandomBeats & Middle East Modern, DIBIA$E, Wann Sklobi, Yon.Li, D.R.O. and DJ Big Serg; features from fellow emcees and singers Sammus, Ceschi, Jermiside, J-Live, Homeboy Sandman, SisQó, Tina Estes, RND1, and Thaahum feat. Mega Ran, Mr. Miranda & M.P.R.E.S.S; as well as remixes from Willie Green, Emrls, Fingaz, and Scottie Royal. EXTRA CREDIT is now available for streaming or downloading from Mega Ran Music's Bandcamp in either digital or "Limited Edition Singed EXTRA CREDIT CD" with artwork by Daniel Hill and hand-written inscriptions by Mega Ran himself. Please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of EXTRA CREDIT, scroll down, and thoroughly enjoy The Witzard's latest interview with Mega Ran.
Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
I. Would you mind going through and breaking down your EXTRA CREDIT tracklist a bit? From what I understand, it sounds like equal parts new tracks, re-recordings of old ones, and remixes.
Indeed it is—we created about 1/3 of it in 2015, while working on RNDM, an album that I was super-proud of. We had some left-over tracks that I didn't know what to do with so then, I sought out remixes and recorded new jams to round out what became EXTRA CREDIT.
II. How exactly did you go about deciding which tracks to effectively re-visit, re-imagine, re-work, remix, and include EXTRA CREDIT?
I asked the people who know; I polled the fans of RNDM, who bought the original album, back me on Patreon, and enjoyed the songs, which songs they'd like to see fleshed out or re-imagined and then, I asked producers to work on those songs. I had at least 4-5 remixes for each song, so the hard part was choosing the best one.
III. How did you manage to get SisQó (of "Thong Song" fame) to sing background vocals on "Church, Pt. 2?"
Amazing, super-long story: SisQó and I are both big-time video game fans. He found out about me on the Kinda Funny [Games] podcast and one day, I was at E3, a game expo in LA, and saw him being interviewed on the red carpet—when he noticed me, he yelled for me to come to him and we met for the first time in the middle of his interview. Startled, I didn't know what to say, but we exchanged information and talked about making music, when a year later, I was back in LA for E3, and my friend Chandra played him "Church," which was brand new, at the time, off her phone. He loved it and almost demanded to be on the remix. That weekend, we recorded "Church, Pt. 2." Nowadays, we play games online against each other more than we talk music, but he's a super down-to-earth cat.
IV. What can you potentially tell me about the creation of EXTRA CREDIT's ECID-produced quasi-"lead single," "Old Enough" with featured guests Sammus & Ceschi?
It came together super-fast. ECID is a great beat-maker and he had sent me three [beats] I really loved (the other two could surface on the next project.) The album was almost done and I'd started writing, after I read the quote "Old Enough to Know Better, Young Enough to Do It Anyway" on one of those silly quote memes and started writing a verse. I knew I wanted others on the song, but I didn't know how available they'd be. I reached out to Ceschi & Sammus and they both delivered stellar verses within a week, which is crazy. It was the last song recorded for EXTRA CREDIT.
V. I know you were a teacher prior to deciding to take up rapping a producing full-time and I noticed Harper Lee-referencing "Mockingbird" included within EXTRA CREDIT; how does your passion for literature and teaching still inform your rapping and production styles?
I love literature and I always try to include something from one of my favorite books into an album, either in title or entire concept. "Mockingbird" was written originally for a scholastic program, but they'd asked for specific changes to wording and scope, until it had become a totally new song and I wasn't fully comfortable with it. So, we decided to keep it as it were, and Jermiside is a consummate pro, who always brings it.
VI. How do you suggest fans approach EXTRA CREDIT and its previously-released counterparts... for example, should new-comers first, fully digest "Church" (2016) before listening to SisQó-aided revision "Church, Pt. 2" or vice versa?
I went back through some notes and I realized that "Church" was a 2017 release. It grew so quickly, becoming my second most popular Spotify single and more, but it's only six months old. To expand on that record the way I wanted to—to reflect on what the idea of "Church" is to someone without religion—I had to literally change the focus of the song halfway through from braggadocio to reflection. Because of changes like that, I would suggest EXTRA CREDIT, listening after RNDM then, our Patreon songs, for sure; then, everyone would know exactly where I stand and nothing should be too surprising. I'm super-proud of how it came together and I think anyone, who is a fan of Mega Ran will find several things they like on the album.
Here's a few choice selections from as Mega Ran simply put it, "a Spotify playlist of songs I listened to while putting this album together." Ran hand-picked a few of his favorite selections from his EXTRA CREDIT: The Inspiration Spotify playlist and briefly outlined their connection to his latest retrospective album, EXTRA CREDIT.
De La Soul - "En Focus" (1993)
A slept-on album cut on De La's Buhloone Mindstate album, which was so over my 16-year-old head, at the time, and even now. I loved the beats, though and when Pos started his line off with "ichi, ni, san, shi," I searched high and low to translate it ["one, two, three, four"] and that was when I learned my first Japanese and THAT began my fascination with Japanese culture—not the cartoons and toys I'd loved. I used that and the bridge of this song to build "Eyes On Your Own Paper." I knew that J-Live was just as influenced by De La Soul as I was, so it was a perfect fit to top off a great song.
Gnarls Barkley - "Feng Shui" (2006)
"Forgive me, Father; I was forced out of Feng Shui." On a superb album, "Feng Shui" is so short and almost ends, before it can make an impact, but when Cee-Lo spits those words (shoot, this might actually be the last time Cee-Lo raps on a record, ha) it hit me. Using the metaphor of "Feng Shui" and extending it into social, emotional issues, even paralleling it with a dysfunctional relationship, helped me to flesh out the song that became "Form School of Feng Shui." I loved it a lot.
SisQó - "Incomplete" (1999)
This song didn't particularly inspire any one song, but when I did have a moment to build with SisQó, while working on "Church, Pt. 2," he said a lot of things... but what hit me hardest was when he mentioned that no matter how much everyone associates him with the mega-hit "Thong Song," the biggest song he created was actually "Incomplete," a classic R&B ballad. SisQó actually wrote, arranged, and completely conceptualized that song. That made me go back to it and study the words and the notes he hit within it, so that when we got in the lab to make "Church," I knew exactly what he was fully capable of and he truly took over in the studio and made that song POP. That's a session I'll never forget.
Daft Punk - "Something About Us" (2001)
I could have picked 20 different Daft Punk songs to make this playlist, but this one was definitely in mind, when I created "Pursuant Hearts." I feel like this song talked to younger me, who was out breaking hearts, playing games, and doing all kinds of foolishness. I've had this talk with women in the past about it not being the right time or situation, when in reality I'd just had my eyes on someone or something else. The relationship I wrote about in "Pursuant" was one in which the circumstances of how we'd met (a sheer coincidence) had us so convinced that we were meant to be that we both ignored the obvious signs that we were a mismatch.
Malibu Shark Attack - "Internal Organs" (2014)
Tribe One is a masterful lyricist and this song is probably my favorite of his. It's so great for so many reasons, but I love the fact that it juxtaposes probably the two strongest feelings a human can have: love and death. I lost a few people that were close to me during the creation of this album, my Uncle Jim, rapper and friend Thaahum, and Rustin [Luther], bass player for URIZEN, a band I'd toured with for many years. I'm probably not at my best, when conveying loss in songs, so I listen to tracks like this to keep me inspired to 1.) properly grieve and 2.) to maintain creativity and top-tier conceptual stuff, at the same time.