Interview: Random & K-Murdock (Pt. 1)

Interview: Random & K-Murdock (Pt. 1)

In anticipation of their new collaborative CD ‘Forever Famicom’, we sat down with Random (also known as MegaRan) and K-Murdock (of Panacea) to ask them some questions regarding this new project, dropping June 1st. In the mean time you can check out the double single ‘Dream Master/Epoch’, available for free on Bandcamp.

In anticipation of their new collaborative CD ‘Forever Famicom’, I sat down with Random (also known as MegaRan) and K-Murdock (of Panacea) to ask them some questions regarding this new project, dropping June 1st.  In the mean time you can check out the free double single ‘Dream Master/Epoch’, available here.

Let’s start off simple, can you guys give me some background information on the project and yourselves?

Random: The name is Raheem Jarbo, A.K.A. Random, A.K.A. MegaRan.  Emcee, Producer, Teacher and I do a couple other things but I can’t say them on the radio.  All around good guy.  Future rapper hero that’s what they call me.  That’s me, Random.

K-Murdock: My name is Kyle Murdock, I don’t have a cool alias, it’s just “K ‘dash’ Murdock” pretty much. My mom likes it that way.  I’m a producer, engineer, sound designer from Washington DC.  Ya’ll may know me or may not know me from my other group that I have been doing for the last 7 years called Panacea, now I’m  branching out and hooking up with my man Random and we’re bringing your ‘Forever Famicom’.

How did this project get started, who approached who?

Random:  Kyle you want to handle this one ,because I always get this one?

K-Murdock:  A’ight that’s cool.  Let me give you guys some back-story.   I worked for 8 years at XM Radio as a sound designer and engineer but I also hosted a Hip Hop show called SubSonic there which I still do now as a podcast.  But while I was doing Subsonic, I always got submissions from different artists, and being a producer it was kind of like a good way to A&R because I get people sending me stuff and I would get to listen and be like ‘OK, This is cool, I’ll hit up this guy.’ And sometimes I’d hit them up and be like ‘Yo, your project was dope, I’m going to play your stuff,’ and then if I really like them I’d hit them up and be like, ‘This stuff is dope, AND, I produce too, so what do you think of collaborating?’

When I had gotten Ran’s stuff he had sent me ‘The Call, and ‘MegaRan’.  Both were dope, but ‘MegaRan’ naturally just stood out to me, only because I had never heard anyone do anything like that.  So I hit him back, and found out he knew about my group too, and it was kind of a mutual admiration thing.  At the time I produced a track for him for his ‘Patches ‘n Glue EP’.  Then amidst that Ran invited me.

The first time I think he noticed I might have a real predilection for video games, like him, was when he invited me to participate in Jay-Z American Gamer remixes, which were video game spins on some of Jay-Z’s a cappellas from ‘American Gangster’.  I did about 3 remixes on the album, and Ran was digging them, and I kind of used that as an audition.  Amidst doing that I posed the idea to Ran about ‘What would you think about you and me doing some stuff over some Nintendo tracks?’  And I had in the back of my head to do ‘Forever Famicom for a long time.  It was going to be more of an instrumental project, but man I’m so glad I met Ran because I feel like the whole meshing of it together just took it to another level, and superseded all my expectation.

That is the history and here were are here today talking to you right now, this whole process took about 3 years.  So it has definitely been a labor of love.  Very happy that it’s about 2 weeks away from getting out to the ears of the rest of the world.

Photo: Random (by Hope McDowell)

It’s definitely turned out great by the way.  Let’s jump to the process now.  How did you guys actually work together?  Did you converge to a single point or did you do everything over the internet?

Random: Well everything’s been pretty much over the internet.  We ironically only, out of the 14 cuts, only recorded together for 1 of them, and that was for ‘Dream Master’ which was one of the first singles.  It just happened that way I was living in Philly, I was born and raised in Philly, and I had just happened to move out here, to Phoenix.  And I had met him a year after that.  So we just always communicated through text, through phone, through IM, through e-mail, and it was always an internet type of collaboration.  And it worked out.  This is my first time doing a fully long distance project like this, and I hear about it all the time about people meeting on message boards and doing songs online and doing stuff like that.  It’s my first time being a part of it.

I really feel like this came together very, very well.  I always felt like I was kind of against it because I always thought you would never have the full chemistry not being with the person.  But we actually did, I felt that the chemistry was awesome, we’ve even performed together.  We finally met up and got to hang out at South by Southwest, this past March and we rocked a couple shows together and had an awesome time.

I guess since you guys didn’t spend TOO much time together in the studio, the question of how much time was spent playing games over actually working on the project is kind of moot, but let’s tackle it anyway.

Random: It’s funny that you say that, because that’s the reason I started getting into video game themed hip hop.  It’s because I got to a point where I got tired of hip hop.  I had finished my first album, ‘The Call’ in 2006, and I really just didn’t know where to go as far as inspiration for another project.  And I talk about this a little bit in the ‘Dream Master’ song, and I really just felt it was time for me to just step away from music.

So I put the mic down, I stopped making beats and went back to playing video games.  Got some old emulators and played some old NES joints again.  I ran through Mega Man 1 and 2 and games like that and that’s what gave me the idea to go back to childhood where these games were all that mattered, and that got me out of some tough situations and things like that.  The music was so memorable and it just made me want to step back into music, but to pay a little bit of a homage to video games.  And that’s how the MegaRan persona was born.

When I got my hands on the second album I was hooked.  As soon as I heard about this, being a fan of Panacea, I had to jump on it.  And it turned out great, so I’ve been trying to spread it all over!

K-Murdock: Please do brother!  For me, honestly, every time I talk to Ran I get like a giddy little kid.  I’m probably the same way I was when Panacea first got signed to Rawkus, or when I just found out we were going to get stuff out nationally.  I just feel that fervor.  Of course this time it’s all independent, which is great because you know you don’t get a screw job in the end.  But that’s a whole ‘nother podcast.  Anyway, whenever I talk to Ran about this record, I’m like really excited, almost like being a kid again when my mom, or grandmother, would buy me a new NES game.

I just hope it gets out there man.  I’m not looking to become like super famous per se off this, it was more or less like me and Ran’s way of saying thank you to Mr. Miyamoto, and all the people who games and everyone behind Nintendo.  As well as paying homage to hip hop.  It’s just as much a hip hop record as it is something for people who like Nintendo and video games.  If this music can help take me places I’ve never seen before and perform, and rock whatever people feel the same me and Ran do, then I’m good man.  That’s all I want to do, if I could just have this record bring me places I’ve never seen before, and perform with like minded people, and I’ll be good.  You won’t hear me complaining.

As far as your teaching process, how has it affected how you wrote for this album?

Random: Ah man, I feel like Hip Hop has taught me so much about teaching.  And teaching has taught me so much about Hip Hop.  The two are almost like so married and you feel like you’re doing the same thing in both careers.  Being a musician you’re standing up in front of a crowd and you’re trying to get a group of people to believe in you, even if it’s just for that 30 minutes.  Same thing with me and these kids when I’m teaching.  I’m just standing up in front of them and I want them to believe in something.  That’s exactly what it comes down to.

I was talking to the kids the other day, and it’s funny they have a talent show coming up, and they were like scared to get into the talent show.  They didn’t want to like sing and stuff like that.  And I said ‘Come on, I do it all the time!’ and they’re like, ‘Oh but, it’s different, you’re a teacher and you sing and stuff.’  Well what about when I teach?  Everybody’s staring at me.  Right?  There’s 30 kids eyes on me, you know?  Like my fly could be open, anything embarrassing could happen.  And it’s really similar, I try to explain that to them.  I’ve learned so much.  from both.

I’ve started to bring, into the classroom, the call and response things I do on stage; I use that in the classroom to get their attention.  I play music for them, every Thursday we have a song of the day.  And it’s not always Hip Hop, I try to expand their mind a little bit.  I mean they want Lil’ Wayne and Soulja Boy every week, but I play them some new stuff.  Last week I played them Tim McGraw – ‘Live Like You Were Dying.  I try to give them some music with some substance, that they would have never heard before.  Just to try to build a little bit of appreciation.  And… What was your question again?

[Everyone laughing]

Basically, how has teaching your students has influenced your writing?

Random: Well I don’t think it has.  I was rapping before I was teaching and, I told another interviewer this, but I was never big into the f-bombs and foul language, and the crazy, out there themes, and things like that.  I was never like that.  Because that’s not the type of person I am, and that’s what I like to promote, and my Mom would kill me if she heard me talking some of this crazy stuff.

So it doesn’t make me say like ‘Oh well I can’t say this now,’ but I do want music that kids can listen to and appreciate, as well as adults.  I give them the MegaRan stuff and they love it.  And these kids weren’t even a memory when Mega Man was in its heyday.  Yet they can still appreciate it and that’s what touches me the most.  It’s the fact that these guys can get into it, and actually vibe to it, when it’s based on source material that predates their existence.

Artwork: ‘Forever Famicom’

Haha, well then I guess the ultimate question would be: how many of your students have been like, ‘Now I got to play some Mega Man’?

Random: Some of them say like, ‘Oh I’ve seen this guy before!  I’ve heard of Mega Man before!’  Or something like that.  But they probably just get it confused with something else and think it’s Astroboy or something like that.  But a lot of them say, ‘Ya, I’ve seen that character before,’ and stuff like that.  So I don’t know.  It’s what made that whole Capcom co-signing such a blessing, and I’m not trying to give myself any type of credit for the whole Mega Man thing.  And them, you know, redoing the old titles and anything like that, I’m not saying they did that for me, but it just seems that at the same time, I’m able to bring in a new audience that might not have been able to, or might not have been down with Mega Man, to actually go back and listen!

When I do these gamer events, and Kyle would tell you too, hopefully I’ll get a lot of people who will come up to me and say, ‘You know, I don’t like Rap, but I like your stuff.’  And I’m saying, good, now I can be that bridge to bring you into hip hop.  The first thing I tell them is, look, don’t listen to what’s on the radio and think that’s Hip Hop, you know that’s not all there is.  Go get yourself some old LL Cool J, Run DMC, Slick Rick, Doug E Fresh, and Beastie Boys and things like that, and bring yourself into hip hop, the right way, and I think you will enjoy it.

That’s been the blessing is that I can go into audiences who are totally one sided, it’s like a strictly gamer audience.  They say, ‘I don’t like hip hop, but I like your stuff,’ and I can go to a strictly hip hop audience and they’re like, ‘Well I’m not really into the games like that, but I appreciate your stuff.’  And being able to bridge that gap. That’s what I hope ‘Forever Famicom’ does, and builds to in the future.

Oh, and it definitely does.  And now you can start telling your students to start getting their hands on some Panacea of course!

K-Murdock: I won’t complain!

[General agreement and chuckles.]

So how would you (Kyle) describe the feeling of seeing completely new fans of your production?  And now your old fans get to experience a whole new style of rap ON TOP of it?

K-Murdock: I feel like anyone who has ever listened to Panacea, will notice, that I’ve teased the fact that both myself and Raw Poetic, are big video game fans.  Ironically when ‘Final Fantasty 13′ came out, he got it before me and I was mad because I’m like, to anyone who talks to me, I’m the RPG-head.  Anything that comes out, RPG wise, I got it, I usually beat it first, and I’m usually the cat who gets all the achievements on the Role Playing Games.  I have like this weird fixation with just having to do it.  It’s like a challenge to me.  So like when Raw P. got Final Fantasy 13 I got mad, and it was like a bad snow storm over here and wot not too, right when it was dropping, so he was snowed in, like off work doing it.

While I was tending some other stuff and he got a few days jump on me.  He wound up actually giving up on it.  He just got fed up.  That’s just something within the group, you know?  Video games are like second nature to us.  They go hand-in-hand with Hip Hop.  There was a song on the Panacea record, ‘A Mind on a Ship Through Time’, the title of the song is ‘Chrono Trigger, and to this day I still have fans hitting me up like, ‘Yo, why is it called Chrono Trigger?’  And just to, kind of, break it down for those who may be Panacea fans [listening] now, and always wanted to know: basically if you listen to that particular song, the way it opens up, it’s a tick-tock, actually I even have hi-hats pan so it sounds like a tick and a tock going back and forth and it’s supposed to be like the intro to ‘Chrono Trigger’ where the Mode 7 graphics are zooming in and you see the clock and you hear the pianos come in.  It was a little bit like paying homage to that.

Then the fact that, I think that Raw Poetic referenced the idea of going back in time, using the ‘Chrono Trigger’ and going back in time, and we just kept the title because it sounded fresh.  But anyway, there’s definitely been hints, for anyone that’s peeped the Panacea catalog.  Now to really be linked up with Ran, and really see the audience he brings in, I mean he has a Hip Hop fan base but then he has the nerdcore fan base too, is really opening me up to how many people are out there that are like us.  People who are around the same age who grew up with just as much appreciation, and passion, and love, for hip hop as they did for video games…

In the last interview, I said: I want this album to be a bridge, for hip hoppers and for video gamers.  For video-gamers who never thought they were cool enough to like hip hop, and for hip hoppers who thought they were TOO cool to acknowledge video games that aren’t called ‘Madden’ and ‘Call of Duty’.  To me that’s really the extent, and to me, personally, down the line, if I had my dream, I’d score the next ‘Final Fantasy’.  You’d hear the sounds, with sounds like a Panacea album, but it’d be a ‘Final Fantasy’ game.  Just because I think that’d be fresh.  That’s one of my dreams, I want to win a Grammy, and I want to score a ‘Final Fantasy’, and I’m good!

You want to work with [Nobuo] Uematsu then!

K-Murdock: Yeah, man, I’m sure I could learn a lot, dude I would love to.  Particularly if I could create the soundscapes at home using samplers and stuff like that and take it and have him orchestrally tweak it, oh man, I’d be good!   You would literally, you wouldn’t need to talk to me anymore, I’d be good!

How did it feel to switch from pure hip hop production to the 8-bit and 16-bit samples.  Did it feel limiting?

K-Murdock: Not really, it was a challenge though, man, and I know Ran will attest to the same thing, when it gets to a point when it starts becoming easy, then it’s time to change it up.  Any album you do, whether it’s a solo album, or Panacea or whatever, I feel like as an artist it should be a bit of a challenge.  Because that’s what makes it that much fun in the end when you accomplish it.  Because if it’s just like second nature, then it’s just going to end up sounding like your last record anyway.  So I always just try to challenge myself, so this was definitely a bit of a tangent for me.

At the same time, being that I play video games a lot, to the point that when I was playing Blue Dragon and Lost odyssey on the XBox 360 I had my beats playing in the background.  The point that I made a playlist of when I’m in battles I had beats that sounded like music I’d be playing because I was tired of that J-Pop/Rock stuff, it’s so annoying after a while.  And then I’d have music when I was just walking around exploring towns.  One day I had a friend of mine over and he was like, ‘Yo, this game Lost Odyssey, is crazy!  Damn I didn’t know the score was so Hip-Hop,’ And I just started laughing and was like, ‘Knucklehead, that’s my beats!’  He was like, ‘You should do that!’

I wish, like it’s not like that was an epiphany, I’m just waiting for the opportunity to present itself.  In a lot of ways I feel that this album could be a good platform for that.  Even beyond that, the main goal for this album was to salute and pay homage as a fan of hip hop and Nintendo and whatever else comes out of it, subsequently, will be a blessing.   Ironically the thing about Panacea, one of the quotes we got was that ‘Panacea is what happens when A Tribe Called Quest meets Final Fantasy,’ and I started laughing.  Like, ‘Holy Shit!’,  that’s like my two favorite things.  I’m a big A Tribe Called Quest fan, anyone that’s ever seen me, I have the A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Midnight Marauders’ tattoo on my arm, and I’m a big Final Fantasy fan.  To me that was the biggest compliment ever.


After the release of ‘Forever Famicom’ we’ll publish the second half of this interview. Stay tuned!

Be sure to check out ‘Forever Famicom’ in stores and online at Big Cartel and Kunaki, June 1st!  Preorder, and receive heaps of goodies.