Final Fantasy VII as Hip Hop: The Man Behind Black Materia
Random AKA Mega Ran loves to see what people have to say about his latest album. Black Materia, based on Final Fantasy VII, adds lyrics and a hip hop twist to some of the most recognizable tunes in the game. A handful fans were not too pleased with this interpretation of their favorite game.
One guy commented on a YouTube video saying the album took something that was once beautiful, and then crapped on it. Mega Ran was undeterred.
“I really enjoy reading them so I can get an idea of what people expected,” he said.
Based in Philadelphia, Mega Ran has been making a name for himself with his hip hop takes on classic games. A Mega Man album drew the attention of Capcom, who partnered with the artist. Another concept album featured a number of Nintendo and Super Nintendo games (Duck Tales and Faxanadu, for starters). Black Materia, co-produced by Lost Perception, is his most ambitious project yet.
With the exception of one song, Black Materia’s lyrics talk specifically about the plot from the game. Barrett Wallace appears (See you gotta understand son, I don’t have the answer/ I just keep my faith and I always keep a hand gun), as does Cid (Even though my dream of touching the sky amongst the stars/ Has died, I’m still alive, cigarette in the jaws). A romantic piece about Tifa and Cloud is one of the highlights. So is the take on One-Winged Angel.
In this interview, Mega Ran talks about his album being like kettle corn, what other hip hop artists think of his work and the unease he feels about Square Enix not getting in touch with him yet.
A lot of gamers regard Final Fantasy VII as one of their all-time favorites. What made you want to revisit the game with a hip hop album?
It’s also one of my all-time favorite games and is the game that got me back into console gaming after a hiatus due to college. I thought the music was outstanding and extremely inspiring. So, this was myself and Lost Perception paying tribute in the best way we knew how. Some people draw art, some people replay the themes and I rap.
The plot for Final Fantasy VII is complex, some would say incomprehensible. Was it difficult reworking the storyline into Black Materia?
Very difficult, this is why I brought in so many different artists, to take a role of a character that I hadn’t and put a new spin on the album. I could have just written the parts, but it’s more fun to share the load.
Another hard thing was chronologically lining up the events– some songs had story elements that connect them to other songs, and it was tough. I did my best in that regard. It was extremely challenging, but that made it more fun.
How much time - from the initial concept to the release - did it take to put out Black Materia?
Concept to conception was about 12 years… and conception to completion was about 9 months. It’s by far the quickest album I completed, ever. Lost’s beats were so inspiring, so it made it easy to rock with them. I was playing the game at the time of writing and recording, so the moments were pretty fresh in my mind.
Capcom was supportive of your take on Mega Man and even gave you a licensing agreement to use their music, but you haven’t heard anything from Square Enix yet. Are you hoping they’ll get in touch with you?
I’m scared, but I’d rather them get in touch with me, rather than me feeling I’ve snuck around them. I’ve reached out, and I can only hope they’ll consider the effort to be a worthy tribute. Maybe the Capcom cosign would encourage them to go easy on us… hopefully.
So what do fellow hip hop artists – particularly the ones that aren’t gamers – think of your work?
I don’t know. Most of my fellow hip hop artists I know happen to be gamers, but at varying levels. By varying I mean, Madden, Call of Duty, or both. I cared about that when I did the first Mega Ran album in 2007, but nowadays, I’ve learned not to worry too much about what anyone thinks of what I do. Artists don’t buy music anyway.
The non-gamer, strictly hip hop community is very tricky…most might be gamers, but might still feel like it’s taboo, and just plain lame to talk about video games in hip hop songs, and I’m okay with that. For that reason, I have just as much hip hop music in my catalog as I have video game stuff. I’m hip hop to the core. I used to be afraid to perform video game tracks at traditional hip hop events, but I’ve learned not to expect or be surprised by anything. That way, everything is a bonus. Conceptually, lyrically and performance-wise, I’m proud to say that my material stands up with the best in any subgenre of hip hop. As I say in a song, you don’t have to like it, but you gotta respect it.
What have you been hearing from Final Fantasy VII fans about your album? Are they supportive or do they feel like you’re messing with something precious?
It’s probably 75/25 percent, with most being amazed and supportive of the effort and energy required to not only do something like this, but to do it well, having it not come off corny or contrived. Diehards are diehards for a reason, so I expected them to either love it a lot or hate it a lot, and they haven’t disappointed, haha. I can understand both sides of the argument. No one could have ever imagined Final Fantasy music with hip hop lyrics on it, so it’s very shocking to the ears. I understand that. It’s like tasting kettle corn for the first time, haha. But once you realize that salty and sweet is the greatest idea that anyone could’ve thought of, you really enjoy it. Black Materia = Kettle Corn.
You have a panel lined up for Pax East in March where you talk about the intertwined rises of the video game industry and hop hop. What do these industries have in common?
Well you’re just gonna have to come to my panel for that. But briefly I can tell you that video game culture and hip hop have so much more in common than anyone would like to think. Respect to Kool Herc and Nolan Bushnell, two visionaries who have managed to father something bigger than themselves, which have changed millions of lives, made millions of people rich, and have been blamed for millions of peoples’ shortcomings.
So you’ve done Final Fantasy VII and Mega Man. Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
Game-wise, not sure. I think I’m gonna chill out on game stuff for the rest of the year, and come back recharged…. then I’ll do what all game developers do, and think sequel! But really, Random decisions come pretty sporadically, so there’s no telling what’s next. All I can say is stay tuned.