From an artist who’s always looking at new ways to reach and interact with his fans, Language Arts is the most ambitious project to date from Mega Ran. It’s a multi-platform release, with a video game and comic book being released alongside the album (which itself is the first of a three-volume set), all of which come together to tell the whole story. This opens up some really interesting doors, since the franchising of independent artists is something that hasn’t really been explored to any great extent. If you’re so inclined, I would encourage you to check out the game and the comic book to get the full experience, but for the sake of this review, we’re going to focus solely on the music itself. Don’t worry - there’s plenty to talk about.

Language Arts is a story based loosely on Raheem “Random” Jarbo’s own life, balancing a career as a teacher and a musician, while also having quixotic fantasies of being a super hero. With an introduction by Kyle Hebert, a voice you will instantly recognize if you’ve watched any anime, the scene is set for the album. This leads into “City of Angels,” which is a slight misnomer in that this isn’t a song about Los Angeles, but rather a song about the struggle to reach students while teaching in Philadelphia. It’s built on a slow R&B groove laid down by frequent collaborator EOM, and really allows for some quiet introspection. Things kick into gear on the next track, “Wake Up!” with MC Frontalot, an upbeat, handclapping, good time in which Mega Ran confronts the struggles ahead of him, but keeps his head up and seeks to make things better for himself. Th title track has a history going back to when Ran was still teaching, and I can only imagine how I’d feel if I was still in school and had a Language Arts teacher who could kick rhymes like that. I hope educators everywhere get a hold of this song, which manages to be fun and uplifting without getting being corny. “Buggin’ (The Metamorphosis),” also produced by EOM, is a fun re-imagining of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and again makes me wish this music was around while I was in school. “The Constant,” featuring Ariano and Punchline and produced by DN3, again gives us more room for introspection as Ran and company relate how hip hop gave them the inner strength to deal with the difficulties in their lives. “KillCount,” produced by Lost Perception, is one of the most interesting tracks on the album, in that it begins with a parody for a commercial for a violent video game that takes place in your neighborhood, but then gives way to a verse by Ran in which he relates how the line between violence in fantasy and real life can get blurred when you live in a rough neighborhood. It’s here the that the story opens up to new directions to be explored in the upcoming volumes. “Classroom Blues,” with Dr. Awkward, does a great job of relating the struggle of being a good teacher when the kids aren’t naturally motivated, and the administration is more concerned with test scores and attendance numbers than the actual effort being made by the teacher. Just when it feels like things are getting underway, the album is over, leaving us to wait for volume 2, but not before we get a really fun remix of “Language Arts” by EOM that makes use of some great swing horn samples and a really great laid back drum beat.

While there is a great concept and multimedia approach to Language Arts, what makes it really special is how the story behind everything carries great personal meaning to Mega Ran. There’s a lot of emotional investment and introspective rhymes on this record, which combined with the fun story telling and charisma of Ran’s delivery, make for an especially great time. I really hope this release finds it’s way to some educator’s ears, because I think they’ll really appreciate what he’s done with this project. I can’t wait to see where Volume 2 takes us.