Random a/k/a Mega Ran is one of the most prolific artists in underground hip-hop today. The former teacher turned rapper with a hero alter ego is always doing one of three things: writing, recording, or touring. I sometimes think he’s doing all three at the same time. How else could he release a new EP every month of 2013? His announcement of this plan feels more like formalizing something he was already doing in 2012 without saying so. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, perhaps not, but none of his devoted followers mind his prodigious output one bit. Random is all about keeping listeners happy, and the more they demand, the more he creates. The simple fact is Ran found an untapped vein merging hip-hop and gaming, and mined it to a depth no rapper or compilation ever had before. Ran’s followers are true believers in this cross-pollination.
“Time and Space,” as much or more than any Random album before, is a testament to just how loyal Mega Ran’s fans really are. Every song was fan-funded via Kickstarter, meaning specific amounts were donated in return for fulfilling specific requests. The services of a professional rapper shouldn’t come cheap, though if you clicked the link in this paragraph and got an initial case of sticker shock, I don’t blame ya. A custom song is anywhere from a $100-$250 commitment. That might be hard to wrap your head around – paying 100 times more for one track than you would for one Amazon.com song feels steep. This is special though. Would you pay a painter less for a portrait made to spec with easel and canvas? Ran’s Kickstarter funders weren’t buying A song, they were buying THEIR OWN song. Try getting Shawn Carter to record a song for you for that price.
Here’s the upshot – while the Kickstarter funders forked out beaucoup bucks to get their one-off songs, the end result was a complete album. “Time and Space” compiles all of these original tracks together for the value price of just $5, which garners you 9 songs and 8 instrumentals. Curiously the one I would have wanted the beat for most, the Mega Man X inspired “Storm Eagle (Mike Dodd),” is the only one with no accompanying instrumental track. On the plus side though it’s the most personalized out of all the songs on this album, one which may actually make a few of Ran’s fans jealous, when they realize that Ran gave one of his listeners a tribute so in depth he even talks about sharing a hotel room with him and his wife at a con in the song’s outro.
“Flyer than the flyest but don’t call me your highness
Learned from my mistakes and applied it like a science
Battled with the tyrants, destroyed who designed it
The plus with the minus, the worst with the finest
We first met at PAX East in Boston Mass.
Told me that he thought I had some awesome raps
I told him ’bout my Kickstarter plans and such
And he happily agreed, to toss some cash
Who wouldn’t want to have they very own song
that’s off the hook like unanswered phone calls?”
Who indeed? Now the results are a bit variable on this album, because Ran is faithfully answering the fan requests, no matter how easy or hard the video game beat in question is to rap over. “Outta Sight” is acceptable when Ran and guest Phill Harmonix are flowing to it, but when you hear the Battletoads beat as an instrumental, Phill’s words that he’s rapping “over a beat that’s quite +Rare+” become abundantly clear. In fact as much as I enjoyed this game in childhood, listening to the beat alone for more than 30 seconds becomes maddening. On the other hand, much love to the fan who paid Ran to rap to Earthworm Jim, who addresses one of my biggest pet peeves over the beat – “There, Their & They’re.” The lines “you don’t have to lose your street cred to be literate/there’s a thin line between gangster and idiot” really say it all. Maybe I’ll commission him to do a song explaining why “your” and “you’re” aren’t the same thing.
Some video games lend themselves better to epic rap lyrics than others, which is one reason “Black Materia” was such a massive success. As such hearing songs like “The Beat Goes On” set to Chrono Trigger and “Not Alone” set to Final Fantasy IX may feel like a bit of a cocktease – you really want Ran to do a whole album of songs from these soundtracks instead of one-shots. And for sheer creativity, I give it up to the fan who paid up to get Ran to rap over Ms. Pac-Man, and he stepped up to the challenge in a way not seen since Lil’ Flip did on “Game Over.” It worked 9 years ago, and it still works now, but Ran’s definitely not copying the steelo – after all this is Ms. not Mr. On the whole “Time and Space” is a winner, and the title is quite literal – the fan funding gave Ran the “time and space” to pursue his full-time rap career. While this album is a thank you to the donors, his modern era catalogue is essentially the same – fan-funded rap music for the gamers.