Mega Ran has been in the game for the better part of two decades, and in that time he’s accomplished a lot - dropping albums that helped bridge the worlds of nerdcore and indie hip hop, touring internationally, getting into the Guiness Book of World Records. It’s been a long journey, though, and there have been a lot of ups and downs. He finally put all of these experiences into a book, Dream Master: A Memoir. He recently took the time to talk to us about the experience.
Scratched Vinyl: You just released a memoir, Dream Master.
Mega Ran: I did, I did. I’m super proud of it. A lot of people have hit me up being like, “Hey, isn’t it a little early to be writing a memoir?” But, no. I don’t think so. I think there’s been a lot going on in these last few years, especially, that a lot of people can learn from and hopefully be inspired by. I just wanted to take some time to share my story, as well as all the lessons I’ve learned. You know, it’s not just about the wins, but also the losses. And I think that’s an important story to tell.
SV: That was one of the things that hit me as I was reading it. I really appreciated that you got into the details of things like how college wasn’t just an easy four-year ride for you. You didn’t just pic up the mic and it was off to the races.
Mega Ran: No, not at all. I wish, but…nah, man. I always say I’m like the ten-year overnight success story. Yeah, dude. It wasn’t easy. To quote, I think it was the Rocky Balboa movie, “It’s not about getting hit, because we all get hit. It’s about what you do and how you get up from those hits that makes you who you are.”
SV: Going back to the beginning, did you have a specific inspiration or moment that put it into your head that you should write a memoir? Something that told you, “This needs to be written down and be book?”
Mega Ran: Just in general. I had so many wild stories. It might have been the Fresh Prince story in Jacksonville. Having crazy situations like that come up, and after the show, people would say, “This would make a great book,” or maybe a great story for a book. Having friends and fans tell me that so much, that led to me starting to jot things down. Initially, it was just a bunch of short stories. No context, just, “Here’s what is happening and how we dealt with it.” But in the process, I just wanted to keep building outside of that, and make something more out of these stories. And so we started extending them into full narratives, and next thing you know, there was enough for a book. So I was like, “Well, it’s time to really, really do this.” If it weren’t for the pandemic and the time away from the road that I had, this wouldn’t have gotten done. No question.
SV: It definitely gave you the time to reflect and think things through. One of the things that hit me, because you put it right up front, is that you open the book with W.E.B. Dubois’s quote about double-consciousness. Why did you feel the need to situate that quote up front?
Mega Ran: Because I knew that most of my readers would not be African American. And I think that…Us as African Americans, we know about it. We may not have even read the quote, but we understand it and we know it. I just thought it was very important. Before the gamer, before the rapper, before the teacher, it’s Ran, who is a Black man in America. That’s why. I just thought it was extremely important and it sets the stage for the sequence of events that have occurred for really the rest of my existence.
SV: Especially with someone like you has a crossover audience, and “You’re a nice guy, blah, blah, blah…” I’m sure a lot of people have a separation in their heads where they see this happening over here, but Mega Ran, Raheem, he’s over here. Surely that doesn’t affect my friend, Raheem. But it affects everyone.
Mega Ran: Absolutely. I’ve had a lot of conversations how it’s important for people to see me as Mega Ran, and understand what I’m trying to bring across, but most importantly, to understand me being Raheem and what has effected the decisions that I make.
SV: In the course of writing a memoir, you have to get into some personal stuff. And while you can refer to some people as just “a coworker” or “an ex-girlfriend,” if you’re writing a memoir you’re going to have to talk about your mom – she’s going to be a main character. Did you have to have a conversation with her, like “Hey, I’m putting this stuff in a book, it’s going to be out there?”
Mega Ran: Well, yes, I had some conversations, but some I did not. I feel like with my mother, she’s such a private person, I don’t know that she’d even want her name to be mentioned in the book. I mean, naturally she has to be part of it, but I believe that, that she would have said, “Can you find a way to not mention me?” And like, I don’t that’s possible. Even just today, she was like, “Oh, you should have asked me about this, I could have told you more,” or “You should have asked me about this, I would have said, ‘Don’t say that.’” You know? So I feel like a conversation would have helped, but when it comes to private family matters, my mom has been a fairly closed book on that stuff. For a long time. So I don’t know if this would have even gotten off the ground if I had waited to ask permission for some of these things.
SV: There are a lot of expected check points in the book for those that have been following your career, but there’s a lot of stuff in here that a lot of people won’t know about. I’m going to imagine that only the most hardcore of hardcore Mega Ran fans knew about your brief career as a gospel rapper.
Mega Ran: Yeah, maybe a handful, if that. I may have mentioned it in some early raps, but I don’t think it was really known, unless they happened to be at one of these churches in Philly that we performed at.
SV: What was it like going back to this portion of your career, that maybe feels a little disconnected. Like you explain, you didn’t give up the church, but did give up pursuing hip hop in that vain.
Mega Ran: Well, again, I just don’t feel like I got any answers…if it was accomplishing the goal. And I just don’t feel like I got any answers on that. I tried asking mentors, and pastors, and friends, and…I was at a church that was very traditional at that time that was not into the idea of gospel rap. They just thought that rap was the devil. “Even rap that uplifts God?” “No, because it still creates those images, and makes people want to move their body in a certain way that’s not becoming.” And I was just like, “Well, this is a really antiquated way to look at things.” And rather than fall out with the church, I felt like I should express my thoughts in a way that I felt comfortable about.
SV: You eventually find a balance to discuss these things in more a traditional hip hop setting, with songs like “Church.”
Mega Ran: Well, it just didn’t have to be this or that. And I feel like this is what my entire story has been about. Everyone has been trying to tell me it’s either “hot” or “cold.” You’re this or you that, you can’t be both. You can’t be more than one thing, you can’t respect more than one thing…And I was really turned off by that. And literally my entire life, my entire career, people have tried to tell me, “You need to lean all the way this way. Or else.” And it’s like, “What if I like going to church and Jay-Z?” You know? Is that not possible? That I can respect the way that Jay-Z puts words together and also understand the gospel? There was a lot of that that I just couldn’t fight through. And so moving forward, it was “You can’t be nerdy and be hip hop.” “You can’t like and games and comics and raps.” You just can’t do all these things, and I’m like, “Why not?” As human beings, we’re all pretty complex. We’re not monoliths. I’ve fought against that for my entire life, and I felt like church and gospel rap was more of that. It was so ironic that we would go out and play churches, but my own church didn’t accept gospel rap. You know? Things like that. Or I tell the story about how we went to play a show, and it was a Free Will Offering, and nobody even gives us a ride. And it’s like, you can’t feed your family doing it. Maybe this shouldn’t be what I put my faith into. But the other side is the candle in the darkness situation. I feel like rapping in a church is like shining a light in the light. You’re literally preaching to the choir.
SV: I was just going to say!
Mega Ran: Right? These people know what’s up. I need to be going into these clubs. And they’re like, “What if people see you in these clubs? They’re going to judge you.” And I just didn’t think that was Christ-like at all. Rather than fall out of love with the Gospel, I fell out of love with the idea of what religion was trying to tell me, or at least their version of it. So it didn’t stop what I was doing, you know? I make sure – at this point, I hope that anyone who has listened to my albums knows that I’m a Christian. I try to make sure my stance is known on everything. And you gotta cast a wide net if the goal is spreading the Good News. I shouldn’t just tell it to the people who know the Good News. Like..I don’t understand – do those people on the corner not deserve to hear the Good News? That just didn’t make sense to me.
SV: Now, we don’t have to go into the specifics of any particular incident, but going back to write this book, you touch on a few moments of real actual trauma that you had to relive in putting this together. How did you mentally and emotionally work your way through dealing with these particular moments and putting them in the book?
Mega Ran: It was extremely difficult. Probably the hardest thing I ever had to do. But it was very therapeutic as well. I always say, “I write because it’s cheaper than therapy.” And it’s true in a sense, because I don’t think I was really working out the connections that these traumatic events had to my past, present, and future, until I wrote them all out on a timeline. You know? Once I saw these things and how they connected, I started learning in real time as I was writing. It was not easy, but it was definitely something that I needed – and I didn’t even know that I needed – to connect things, to figure out, “Why was I acting up here?” “Why did I distrust things here?” “Why was I in a slump here?” You know? And being able to connect them to events was important. Working it through, I’m sure it’s exactly what a therapist would have done with me. They would have had me write it out, and then I would have made that connection. So writing was there for me in that same way.
SV: Going back for a second, because we kind of jumped in here, let’s go back to the general process of writing a book, because writing rhymes is one thing and writing a whole memoir is another thing. How did you find your way into the different format, and making sure that it still had your voice? Because it definitely feels like your voice as I’m reading it, like I can literally hear you saying them out loud. How did you transition into the longform memoir?
Mega Ran: Writing it and having it be my own voice was very important to me. I think it’s definitely something I struggle with, too, because I’m thinking like I also want to write this for people who don’t know me. Maybe they’ve never heard a song, and maybe they’ll be able to pull something else out of it that they find interesting. So I ran it by three or four different editors, a bunch of different rewrites and ideas. I think it was maybe my first editor who told me, “You gotta keep this real. It has to be you.” And I was like, “There’s not enough really great vocabulary words,” you know? It’s not as verbose as I would like. And she was like, “A lot of your appeal to people is that you are a real person, so I don’t think it needs any of that pizazz. It just needs to be in your voice.” And I think that really hit me, and it altered the way I wrote the final draft, for sure.
SV: On a lighter note, one theme in this book is your long-standing frustration with the city of Los Angeles, and you’re inability to play a good show there.
Mega Ran: Ha! Well, you know, that’s one thing that when I went back, I don’t think I tied that up with a good ending. But I definitely had a few good shows in Los Angeles since then. But, you know, for effect, most of my first few shows there were pretty rough. My show with mc chris was great, but when I came back later by myself, I discovered what happens when you don’t have a booking agent in Los Angeles. Or when you don’t have the clout that the city may want. It can be tough. That’s really what it comes down to. As much as I chuckle at these stories, I feel like maybe I didn’t fully explain why. But that’s me coming into the city as a fresh-faced kid who’s thinking he’s ready to take the world by storm, and then the city is, “Who are you? Nope. We don’t care. Get out of here.” It can be tough. People who live there tell me they don’t play there very often. So I can understand that it’s a really tough town. And also I wanted it to be known that despite all the successes I’ve had, I still struggle. It’s something that every artist has to go through. It’s one thing when you’re supporting a huge act, you get an opportunity like I did with mc chris who was probably at the height of his career, you know, for a completely sold out tour – my job is easy at that point. People are just so excited to be there. But then it’s turning those people you wowed into fans and supporters who will come the next time you are in town. I thought it would be super easy, but it is not. Despite every one of them telling you how great you are, how awesome you are, that you should be headlining, when are you coming back to do your own show…so many of those people aren’t fans. They’re just caught up in that particular moment. And so, I’m thinking, “Man! There was a line of a hundred people buying my merch after that L.A. show!” I think I’m good in L.A. Then I do a show and no one is there. Or the promoter is like, “You have to pay to play here.” All the other sides of it. I thought it was just getting on stage and doing a good show. Because that was all I was asked to do, the first time I was on a big tour. But there’s so much more to it, and you learn the hard way in our situation.
SV: It’s one of those things where I think a lot of people get into their heads with big cities like New York or L.A. – these are two cities where hip hop came up and flourished, and all this. But the flip side is that they are huge cities where everyone is doing their own thing and there’s other shows and everyone is trying to get their piece of the pie…
Mega Ran: Oh yeah, every day, every moment, there’s like ten other shows going on. They have to make a decision with their time, about how they’re going to spend it. It’s not like when you’re playing in Omaha, and you’re the only gig in town. In New York, you’re literally competing with the biggest stars in the world. One night, when I was in L.A., Madonna was playing at the Staples Center. How do you compete with Madonna? So yeah, there’s a lot of those other factors that you don’t take into consideration at a time like that.
SV: On the complete other end of the spectrum, one place that you keep coming back to and having positive experiences is Japan. When did you first realize that Japan was the source of a lot of culture that you were drawn to?
Mega Ran: For my entire existence, I think. Being into anime, way early, when we would call it “Japanimation.” And realizing, “Oh wow! All this stuff comes from Japan.” It wasn’t just the fact that it came from there, it was the fact that they are very proud of their heritage and the things that they’ve created. So much so that there’s still a part of society – you walk into a 7-11, and there’s a Sailor Moon cardboard cutout holding today’s sales paper, you know? Or Utraman is saying, “Buy a hot dog!” It’s very much ingrained into the culture there. And they’re very proud of what they’ve created. That part was the biggest surprise for me. It’s not just that I still value it, but they still value it, on a large scale. Seeing giant arcades and just thinking, “We don’t do that stuff here in The States.” Just seeing how much they value all the things that I value.
SV: What was your first moment like when you go over there, and you’re presenting this music that’s influenced by these Japanese cultural products, but then you’re filtering them through your own experiences as an African American man, and then coming to Japan and performing for a Japanese audience. What was that cultural exchange like for you, that first time?
Mega Ran: It was really great! Just talking to them – it’s kind of the reverse for them. They feel that way about American culture. They’re excited about the things that we bypass every day. They’re like super into it. So we’re able to exchange stories and have conversations about the tiniest things that each of us enjoy about each other’s culture. We enjoy putting Japanese writing on cool pieces of art or clothing – they don’t like that. They want English words on it. That’s cool to them. They want something that says, “New York City!” or “Los Angeles!” It’s really fun to have those conversations with them, and it helps me to kind of appreciate pieces of my culture that I may take for granted…it helps to make everything fresh and take it in through a different lens.
SV: The book is out now, and we’re not to the point where we can safely have shows yet, although hopefully the light is coming through the tunnel. Do you have any other projects, or online shows that people should be looking for?
Mega Ran: I’m doing an online show February 10, which will be the songs that inspired the book. The ones that created a lot of the stories. It won’t be required reading to have read the book first, but it will help you understand a lot of what I’m doing – what I’m talking about and performing. It’s going to be on Bandcamp – they’ve just enabled a live show mechanism, so we’re going to try that out. It’ll be $5, and it will be at least an hour show.
SV: And just for anyone who hasn’t yet read the book, you put little pieces of lyrics at the beginning of each chapter that relate to what you’re about to get into.
Mega Ran: Yeah, I felt with all the lyrics I’ve written, there was bound to be some connection, so I put a couplet at the beginning of each chapter that relates to that chapter.
SV: And then, what’s happening with Black Materia?
Mega Ran: Black Materia: The Remake is out now. With Game Chops Records. It’s been years in the making, there are like twenty artists that combined their powers to make it happen, and I think it’s phenomenal. I’m super proud of it, and I can’t wait until everybody hears it. I had big plans, I wanted to tour with it – make it a big stage show, have costume changes and everything, but that’s not going to happen. But it may in the future. So we’re going to keep hop alive on that. But for now, the album is out, and it’s truly an experience…so I can’t wait until everyone hears it.
SV: Finally, if there were three artists that you could work with, but you haven’t yet, who would that be?
Mega Ran: I would say Anamanaguchi, I would say MF DOOM (Rest in peace), and Redman.
To get a copy of Dream Master: A Memoir, visit: https://dreammasterbook.com/
To get tickets to Mega Ran’s Bandcamp show, visit: https://random.bandcamp.com/merch/dream-master-the-songs-that-made-the-book **
To listen to Black Materia: The Remake, visit: https://music.gamechops.com/album/black-materia-the-remake