The first time I heard one of Mega Ran’s tracks was on my morning drive into work. I was aware of him, but I was ashamed to admit that I knew little about him or his music the first time we spoke. It was a track called “Dream Master”, inspired by Capcom’s NES game Little Nemo: The Dream Master. “This is a story of a boy who believed that whatever he dreamed he could grow to achieve,” Mega Ran rapped. The song had an unexpected impact on me. There isn’t a day that goes by someone doesn’t spend a moment wishing they were working their dream job or doing what they love. Mega Ran quit his day job as a teacher to make music full-time because it’s what he really wanted to do.
You might not recognize the name Raheem Jarbo. You’d likely know him better as the self-proclaimed teacher, rapper and hero Random, aka Mega Ran. The underground rapper, who hails from Philadelphia and now lives in Phoenix, has navigated the independent hip hop scene since releasing his first album The Call in 2006. He combined his love for hip hop and videogame culture and turned that into a full-time career, while ignoring the doubts of many, including himself. “I have no qualms or fears about being 100% me in any situation. I think that’s where this new music I’m working on is shining because its hip hop but there is some piece of gamer culture in it,” he says. “It reflects all of me, my nerdy side, my serious side, my angry side and my happy side.”
It was Mega Man-inspired nerdcore chiptune music that has garnered him the most recognition. Jarbo got Capcom’s attention, becoming the first (and only) licensed Capcom musician. He produced Mega Ran 9, a Mega Man tribute album. It was a dream come true for one of the biggest Mega Man fans.
Time marches on and relationships evolve, and in this case, evaporate. “The biggest thing I’ve never discussed is that I have little relationship with Capcom these days, and everyone there acts like they don’t know me,” Jarbo told me in an email.
“I went to E3 and walked around Capcom’s booth to hang out. I saw people I remember from back in the day, so I walked up and introduced myself and they were like, ‘Can I help you?’” The indifferent reaction wasn’t what Jarbo expected, but he doesn’t take it personally because it’s just business. Capcom is going in a different direction. The door is open if Capcom wants to call on Mega Ran, and he’ll come without hesitation. “You have to have faith it will turn around. I just don’t fit in their plans,” he says.
Jarbo learned how to adapt and overcome life’s difficulties. He had a rough childhood, growing up without a father. His mother was a disciplinarian who would make him read the dictionary front to back when he got in trouble. Rap artists like N.W.A. and Public Enemy influenced Jarbo, but he works hard to produce music displaying his anger, vulnerability and displeasure without comprising his beliefs. You won’t find foul language or vulgar lyrics in his music. That’s just not who he is. “My professor used to say N.W.A. and ‘Fuck Tha Police’ wouldn’t have the same effect if it was ‘Darn Tha Police’,” he says. “It wouldn’t have the same power and effect. We wouldn’t be talking about them today if they hadn’t done that.”
Still performing under the Mega Ran moniker, Jarbo is extending his reach even further into hip hop ventures as Random. All three identities are a means to an end. Random is who he feels he has to be. Mega Ran pays the bills. Raheem is the man, the source for content and inspiration. He finds himself in a “weird place” straddling the line between hip hop and the chiptune scenes. “I spent the first half of my career attempting to gain support from the hip hop crowd until realizing I was a little too different,” he says. “I’m not quite chip enough for the chiptune scene, so it puts me in limbo.” It became a resentment, but he says he’s learned to appreciate having fans in both genres.
Raheem Jarbo speaks with confidence and humility. He carries where he comes from with him and uses that as a teaching point in his music. With or without Capcom, there’s no Mega Ran or Random without the appreciation and support of his fans. The ideas are coming quicker and with more purpose. He remains confident that 2015 will be “1000% clearer and brighter.” The Soul Veggies album, a hip hop collaboration between Jarbo and Storyville, was released on February 13. The duo is on tour promoting the new album. Jarbo even took a big step in his personal life by proposing to his fiancé while performing a freestyle rap on-stage at MAGfest 2015. I should have seen that one coming since we cut our interview short to finish buying an engagement ring.
When he said to look out for “bigger, better and badder things” from Raheem, not just Random or Mega Ran, he wasn’t joking. She said yes, by the way.
Michael Martin is a freelance writer from Seattle who is hopelessly addicted to pop culture t-shirts. Send help on Twitter.