Interview: Mega Ran, Hip Hop & 8-Bit Democracy
[In this GameSetWatch-reprinted interview, originally published on our alt.gaming weblog, we sit down with Random and Mutherpluckin' B, a pair of musicians who take Mega Man video game themes and run with them in rather surprising ways.]
When Capcom first announced its intentions to return the Blue Bomber to his 8-bit roots, many questioned whether the stage music of Mega Man 9
would prove as influential as the NES originals.
Following our Rockman 9 Arranged Soundtrack
interview in Tokyo, we hear from two musicians working to keep the love of classic Mega Man
alive through the genres of hip hop and '70s funk rock.
is a Phoenix, Arizona based artist hailing from Philadelphia. In 2007 he released Mega Ran
, a collection of Mega Man
-themed rap music. After years of receiving requests for a sequel to the album, Random released Mega Ran 9
in March, a reimagining of the tunes of last year's downloadable retro-themed title.
Also featured on the album is Mutherpluckin' B
of Uppsala, Sweden. With three albums of NES-covers on his discography, he channels Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Yuukichan's Papa in turn.
Often depicted on album covers in bell-bottoms, shades and packing a zapper, Mutherpluckin' B first began arranging Mega Man
in 2004 with Sex, Drugs N' Nintendo
. His latest album, released this week, is called 8-Bit Democracy
For Mega Ran 9
, Random and Mutherpluckin' B offer a remix of Jewel Man's theme in which the diamond-mining robot and the game's protagonist spar with beats and rhymes. In this interview we hear from the two artists on their latest game-inspired musical creations.
Random and Mutherpluckin' B
Random, was there a primary motivation you could point to for embarking upon the first collection of Mega Ran songs?
Simply put, a love for Mega Man
. I had come across some mp3s of the old school tunes and got so nostalgic that I came up with the plan of comprising my own variations. I knew it had been done before through rock and dance music variations, but I had never seen it done with hip-hop, and so much of the hip-hop generation are '80s babies who remember the good ol' days of Super Mario
and Street Fighter II
Following your album debut, when you were invited to perform at Capcom's booth at Comic-Con, was this a very different environment from the venues you had been used to performing at previously?
It was unbelievable. I sat and signed autographs for about an hour, and it never really sunk in. I'd read about Comic-Con, but never dreamed of being a part of it. Performing is performing, whether it's in front of 5 or 5000, but I have to admit I was taken aback but the sheer size of everything there. It was different than a dark, smoky club.
You have stated that you had no intentions of making a sequel to the album prior to the release of Mega Man 9. What changed?
On top of the music for Mega Man 9
being phenomenal, my song "Grow Up" played in the Second Skin
movie. This was what helped to get the Capcom licensing deal rolling. The second thing was Nerdapalooza
. I had never experienced the kind of love and support that I had when I performed there.
As momentum picked up, people were asking me constantly: "When is Mega Ran 2 coming out?" I had a fear of being pigeonholed as the "Mega Man rapper," but I can honestly say that there's a possibility that as a side project between albums, I could see myself working on a Mega Ran album every year or two. They're just so much fun to do.
What extra content is on the album for those who purchase the Mega Ran 9 album through iTunes and Amazon?
There are three additional tracks on the full version: "Endless," "The Outro" and an acoustic remix of "Splash Woman." Also on the album are cutscenes from the Mega Man
videogames and cartoons that will add a bit more life, clarity and fun to the storyline.
Among the many supporting musicians that collaborated on Mega Ran 9, DN3, Storyville and Samik appear to have played a prominent role. Can you describe your working relationship with these three artists?
DN3 is my road DJ, as well as main producer and engineer, so we know each other's styles very well. He was like the right tackle on this album, making the key blocks to make sure it got done. Samik is a hard-working producer who helps me to create "the hit," so he was like the star running back. Storyville was the quarterback. He put his stamp on every single track, mixed the entire album, produced one and was featured on three. I was the guy blessed to be in their presence with a good idea. It was truly a team effort.
Mega Ran's song about his run-in with the armed and dangerous fembot "Splash Woman."
Mutherpluckin' B, on your two previous albums there are a number of '70s audio and visual references. Is there a particular film soundtrack from this era that has inspired you?
Curtis Mayfield's Superfly album is amazing. Since all NES music is a variety of soundtrack, it was relatively easy to adapt the songs to a '70s funk-rock style.
On "Sky Diver Inside Her" you have taken a poppier approach to your Mega Man covers. Can you describe the style of the song?
I started out being inspired by artists like Van Halen and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and I wanted to do something more "rock 'n' roll". The drum loop I picked forced me to change the rhythm and the melody, which gave it a bit of a "pop" sound with the vibraphone and ska-like guitars.
How did it come about that you became involved in the Mega Ran 9 album?
Random posted a thread on the OverClocked ReMix
forum in which he asked if anyone was interested in doing a rock-rap collaboration for his hip hop album. I loved his stuff, both the previous Mega Ran album and his non-videogame music.
I was surprised that no one else had replied, especially since his last Mega Man
covers had been so successful that Capcom chose to promote him. I already had my Jewel Man remix nearly finished, and Random dug it, so we went with that song right away. I'd love to be involved in more collaborations in the future.
What is it about the Jewel Man stage music that appeals to you?
The melody is great and the rhythms caught my ears immediately with their heavy progressive rock feel. It made me think of Led Zeppelin's Presence-era stuff that I love so much. The song would sound wicked with John Bonham on drums! I love most of the Mega Man 9
soundtrack, but no one else seemed to care about Jewel Man, so I wanted to be the first to cover it.
What factors would you say account for the tremendous amount of time and effort that go into each of your albums of Nintendo covers?
My new album has taken so much time to create that I'm calling it "8-Bit Democracy," as a nod to Guns 'n' Roses' last record. There are several reasons, though. I'm playing all the instruments myself, I'm a near-perfectionist and I arrange the songs as I record them, which makes for a lot of re-recording, cutting, editing, etc.
Previously I only used looped drum samples from other songs, but now I'm playing drum soundfonts myself on the keyboard, which gives a lot more variation but also takes ages to nail. 8-Bit Democracy includes stuff from Commodore 64 ("SID") games, lesser known game music, and tons of stuff inspired by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Yes. There's hopefully enough Mega Man
and Super Mario Bros
to please most NES fans.
Mutherpluckin' B's homemade Sky Diver Inside Her music video
On previous albums you have had audio clips from ‘70s movies. On this one you have a clip of someone saying, “You work a typewriter, you work an Atari game, but you don't work a guitar. You play it.”
The source is an interview with David Lee Roth
of Van Halen. He is talking about how many businessmen there are on stage "nowadays." There is another part with him in track number 11, and it’s even better because he is talking about how you steal things to make new music. That’s kind of a political stance.
Is this quote relevant to you in terms of your creating rock covers of NES games? You don’t go into a dark room and wait for a flash of inspiration?
When I make my songs, it’s basically how he says. I’m the kind of guy that loves to listen to records and play the music of my idols. I've never thought of myself as a songwriter, so my way of music involves some “stealing,” or “borrowing,” "covering" or whatever you want to call it. You mix it with something else, and in the process you come up with something of your own.
The free download version of your album is dubbed the "Socialist Edition.” How many additional songs are on the $7 Capitalist one?
Two additional songs are on the Capitalist Edition. "Napalm on the Dancefloor" is Napalm Man of Mega Man 5
, plus a bit of DuckTales
. Then there's the Godzilla
tune "Godzilla's Head Soup".
You’re including a cover of the Godzilla ending theme? That’s a great song. Is someone working with you on the photo shoots this time around?
For Nintendosploitation I was taking all the photos myself. I had a timer on a camera and a stand, so I dressed up and went out, posing in different places. It was never really consciously a concept. Rather it was more of a spontaneous idea.
This time I’ve got a friend helping me by taking photos. There are these old photos of a classy Swedish hotel from 1943 that I found in a magazine. We took some photos and put myself in these pictures and there’s an NES on the floor. The pictures I'm working with are from several decades, from the '40s to the '70s, but mainly the 1960's.
It’s interesting because it’s similarly anachronistic to have songs that were created in the ‘80s, including these NES sound effects that crop up, appear as if they were first played in the ‘70s or ‘60s.
Yeah, exactly. There’s this Led Zeppelin album called “Presence” from 1976, and there's a phallic symbol in all the pictures on the sleeve. There’s a family at a table and then you see this phallic sculpture there with them. There’s a woman sitting by a pool, and the sculpture is in the pool. There's two guys in a factory, a woman in a field of flowers, a captain steering a boat... It all looks really old-fashioned, and I was inspired by that. My idea is to do kind of the same thing, but I put an NES console in all the pictures.
Random tells the story of Mega Ran 9