You might know of Hip-Hop artist Mega Ran if you’re a fan of video gaming, pro wrestling, podcasts, or if you’re just into rap music. The man born Raheem Jarbo can now add “author” to his already illustrious list of accomplishments. The nerdcore rapper ended 2020 with the release of a memoir called “Dream Master: From the Stoop to the Stage to the Stars.”
Dream Master tells the story of how Raheem became Mega Ran and how dreaming big and never giving up hope propelled him to a successful career in entertainment.
The Real Hip-Hop had the great pleasure of chatting with Mega Ran about the origins of his positive personality, why he decided to use his voice to speak out about social issues in his music, and his memoir, Dream Master.
TRHH: Why was now the right time to write your memoir?
Mega Ran: I’ve been writing for probably six or seven years. I think having this time at home with the pandemic and all that made me think of how fleeting time and opportunities are. It’s like, “I may not be on the road for some time” but I wasn’t thinking a year! How long can you afford to be off of the road? It makes me think about do I even want to be back on the road? And what’s the future of not just Mega Ran, but what does the future for Raheem look like? Is there going to be a transition point or a pivot point? I just started thinking about that and if it were to be that I’d like for it to be with me as an author or public speaker. That’s what made me do it. This is the time to think about the pivot. Just being here all the time sitting at home made me think about how much different I want to do things when things open back up.
TRHH: You wear a lot of hats; from rapping to writing to producing to deejaying to gaming. Is that from you just being a creative, or is that a financial thing?
Mega Ran: It’s definitely a creative thing. I get bored really quickly. I get to the point where I want to do something else and I want to learn new things. I don’t know any other speed besides full speed. I’m always like, “I gotta be moving, I gotta be doing something” and the moment I feel like I’ve gotten bored or stagnant then I’ve got to try something else to keep my mind moving. That’s just for me. A lot of it is financial, too. I feel like if I’m sitting still I’m obviously not making income. So, my biggest motivator is not wanting to return to my old life. I know that I was working as a teacher and I was enjoying that, but I was struggling financially. I was really having a hard time making ends meet. I don’t really want to go back to that. My mom worked 2-3 jobs as long as I was living under her roof. So, I’ve always been around hard workers and I always want to be a hard worker.
TRHH: While reading Dream Master there were so many experiences you had that reminded me of my own life. I’m about a year older than you, so, our experiences as black boys in the inner-city aren’t that different. One part that stood out was the violence that you experienced and witnessed. I feel as though this behavior is so common that it’s viewed as being normal where we’re from, when it’s not. Also, as a student and as an educator you point out that violence in school is not conducive to learning. This is kind of a big question, but what do you think it will take to change the culture of violence in our schools?
Mega Ran: Whew, yeah, that is a big one. How much time you got? I don’t know. As cliché as it sounds we need all hands on-deck. We need every person from the top to the bottom that is in a child’s life to be invested in keeping them safe. That means giving them the time that they need, the attention they need, the safety they need, and also the means and things that they need so they don’t have to want for anything that somebody else has. It’s all hands on-deck from the OG’s on the block, to the auntie’s, to the parents, to the cousins, to the teachers, to the lunchtime aides, to the principal. Everybody has to be invested and for that to happen everybody has to be in a better financial situation. I hate to say that it would come down to money, but everyone needs to be compensated for the amount of work that needs to be put in for them to be there for a kid.
I taught middle school and I lived through middle school and it was the same thing on both sides. My mom wasn’t able to come to conferences once I hit middle school. She was leaving me home by myself a lot. This is exactly what these kids are seeing. While they may not have the willpower or the OG around to say, “Oh no, you’re the smart kid, so, you’re not getting into this. I’m not letting you sell drugs or rob people because you have the potential to break this cycle” it starts in the neighborhood, but it should extend to the school staff. Maybe if they were getting paid better they would invest more time and energy into that. It’s literally an all hands on-deck. It probably takes ten people, at least, to keep a student on the straight and narrow path.
TRHH: Wow. That’s a lot.
Mega Ran: It’s a lot, man. It’s so much. It starts with the parents. Parents can only do so much. As a teacher, I was seeing their kids more than they were. I’m also seeing 33 other ones. How much individualized attention am I giving them when they need it?
TRHH: I could also relate to your story in Dream Master of falling out of love with Hip-Hop when B.I.G. and Pac passed. Gangsta Rap had taken over in the early 90s and it turned me off, so, I got into alternative music – Nirvana and Pearl Jam. What’s different about you today compared to 25 years ago that allows you to maintain a love for Hip-Hop?
Mega Ran: I think it’s just seeing the potential in it. Seeing how Hip-Hop has grown, even in that time, and seeing the power of it. How it’s literally the language of the world. I run into kids in Japan who said they learned how to speak English because of 2Pac or 50 Cent. That just shows me the power of this music. That’s what keeps me going and its untapped potential, even to this day, with education, through video games, and all types of things, Hip-Hop can penetrate and make better all these other types of art and culture. I think that’s it, it’s just me trying to look on the bright side. We still see our violence, but we haven’t seen anything at the level of a 2Pac and Biggie. Even today, for the most part, most artists are friends or they’re okay with collaborating and bigging each other up. That helps me a lot to see that the whole entire mood is different than it was in the 90s when it was every man for himself.
TRHH: You’re still very much Hip-Hop and this year you dropped Black Materia: The Remake, and you also helped to release the Touré Masters & Rocky White album, Winning Wars Everyday. How rewarding was it to drop both of those projects?
Mega Ran: Black Materia is so rewarding because it was a ten-year journey. A record that literally got me on the map for a lot of people, that I said I would never re-touch because it was just so special, but then realizing the album itself deserved better. So, I wanted to give it a fresh coat of paint just knowing what I know now about song structure, recording, sound quality, and things like that. I wanted to make sure it was the best representation of me, and a lot of artists don’t get a second chance. I was very blessed. We did a Kickstarter campaign and people wanted it. Things like that I only do if there is a demand for it. The only way to test the demand is to ask people to put some money up. Luckily people were willing to and they told me that “Black Materia changed my life” and “It’s the first Hip-Hop I’ve ever heard” “It got me into Hip-Hop” and “It’s my blueprint, I show it to everybody, I play it every road trip.” I never had something I created touch so many people. I knew it was something that was going to be appreciated, so, I didn’t mind going back to recreate it. We worked on it for over a year, so, I knew this was going to live up to the hype.
On top of that, with Touré and Rocky’s album, as a big wrestling fan me and Touré have been friends for a long time and I felt like more people needed to know who he was. I feel like with the success of the Black Materia it affords me and buys me a little time where I can use my platform to try to shine a light on someone else who maybe hasn’t been heard as much and that can buy me some time out of the spotlight. I don’t need to drop an album every 5-6 months to pay bills or maintain my visibility when I know very talented people who make music that’s very much along the lines of what I would make. When he told me the concept that it would be released in Black History Month as a tribute to black wrestlers, I said “This is extremely relevant to my interests.” We got started and I told him who to go to for the art and Notz41 killed the art and I thought, “This is special.” The way I brought it to him was “If you want my help I’m absolutely willing to give it to you and do what I can for this record.” He trusted me, so, I appreciate that.
TRHH: My perception of you is as a happy, positive person. Similar things happened to me that have happened to you in your life and have made me very negative and pessimistic. How were you able to become so positive?
Mega Ran: Yeah. I’ve had some of my mentors tell me “your test is somebody else’s testimony” or vice versa. The things you’ve gone through should make you stronger and should also make you a better person to be able to tell stories to the next person that you meet so they don’t go through these things. That’s how I felt. I want to be the hero that I wish I had at those times. I wish I had a homie that was like me the way I am now. Someone positive who is like, “Man, it’s going to be all right.” I didn’t have that. That’s what I do. The idea of being strong for someone else. I liken it to being the older brother who’s got to be strong when everybody is sad and crying and has got to hold it down. That’s me with Hip-Hop, the people I know, or the people who listen to me. I just feel like I want to be the older brother who is like, “Yo, we’re going to get through this. It’s all right.”
The things I’ve experienced could have easily turned me negative, turned my heart cold, turned me into who knows what? I also have to thank my upbringing. My mom is extremely positive. She’s never been broken down. I didn’t see my mother cry until my uncle died. She’s been super-solid and strong non-stop. She’s always been like “the world don’t stop.” She also said “Just because the world might have been cruel to you doesn’t mean you need to put that on somebody else.” She told me that at a young age. I was dating a girl and I wasn’t really doing her right and my mom was like, “Everybody’s been through something. We’ve all had bad things happen, but that’s no excuse for you to go out and do bad things to someone else.” It hit me and I wanted to try to do better. That’s why I try to do every day.
I ain’t always positive. I get pushed. Me and my wife were talking and I’m like, “I’m so mad!” and she’s like “Why?” and I told her and she said, “That’s not really something you should be mad about.” Maybe it’s me taking something small and blowing it up because I don’t get mad? It’s always me being, “But I’m so nice to people!” That’s the thing that makes me mad, when people don’t reciprocate that. I’m like, “I’m so good to people. I’ll give my last to somebody. How could they do that to me!?!?” and she’s like “Yo, relax.” Everybody is not going to take your life as the example. People are people. I tried to learn that.
TRHH: You named a few names in the book of people who were less than ideal to work with. How do you manage dealing with a difficult person in Hip-Hop at this stage of your career?
Mega Ran: I just don’t work with them. I can say “no” now. It’s so much easier to not do it. I’ve had some situations. I’ll give everybody a chance, or maybe even two, especially if they’re talented. I don’t believe in having to work with somebody just because their name is bigger than mine. If they don’t respect what I bring to the table I won’t work with them. I’ve literally had that happen. I worked with Joell Ortiz and it was the most awesome time in my life to be able to work with a guy I really respected. But at the end of the day his management didn’t respect me. They were like, “Man, you ain’t nobody.” Basically, they were looking at me like I was nobody and maybe I am nobody in your world, but I’m a human being! That’s the way I’m looking at it – I’m a human being who is literally asking you to do a service and compensating you for that service and yet you’re constantly pushing the price up, pushing the due date back, or making me late on my thing. Ultimately, he gave me a verse that he gave to somebody else! He didn’t respect my time, my ability, my talent, or my intelligence to know that I would find out.
So, it’s a terrible situation, but I’m not going to write a diss record [laughs]. I’m just going to be like, “never again.” And if somebody wants to ask me about working with him, which they have, I’m just going to be like, “I wouldn’t.” That’s it. I just move on. I’m not going to make it a point in my life to try to get revenge in any way. You live and learn. I realized that I work really, really hard to grow this thing that I’ve gotten and every day I’m scratching and clawing for this little thing. I don’t have a management team or an agent working for me. It’s literally me. I can’t let somebody not acknowledge that and if they don’t want to respect that, that’s fine, but I also have the right to not work with them. So, now I’m at the point where I’m just not going to work with you. I learned the hard way that getting big rappers to feature on your record, if they don’t actually like you it doesn’t mean anything. They aren’t going to share it, they’re not going to tell anybody about it, they’re going to pretend like you don’t exist. I had to learn that the hard way.
TRHH: In the book you talk about the reaction or lack thereof, of the audience in Seattle after the news of George Zimmerman being found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. So many of us can’t fathom having empathy for someone we don’t know. It made me wonder if their reaction was racial or just simply American. Or do you believe it was both?
Mega Ran: Good question. I think it was both. I don’t want to think that a crowd of people who comes to see me perform whether white, black or whatever, is racist. I don’t want to ever believe that. I want to believe that these are the smart people. These people read up and they know what’s going on, but I do believe that they are very sheltered, insulated, and aren’t affected by things that aren’t in their immediate bubble. It’s a little bit of both. If I’m a white dude in middle-class Seattle maybe I don’t know what’s happening all the way in Florida. Like you said, a lot of us do have trouble fitting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. I assumed that a trial and an event like that, that was so big would be newsworthy everywhere, and maybe it was just big in my world and these people don’t listen to or watch the same things that I do. There is a lot of news coming at us from a lot of angles. So, I do understand that somebody could not just know about it.
I was in a Clubhouse room started by Lupe Fiasco called “Assault rifles should be banned.” The first thing he said was “I own an AR-15 legally, but they should be banned. Until they fix the law I’m going to own one, but I don’t think that people should have it. Now let’s talk about it.” There were people in there giving their points of view and you start hearing from people from all different walks of life and I thought that was really interesting. Lupe is a guy who I respect a whole lot and he always speaks his mind and never sugarcoats anything. I love to hear from guys like that when there is a big issue like this. He’s like, “I’ve been around guns my whole life, I just chose not to rap about it.” It really just showed people a whole ‘nother side. You don’t know somebody, you just know what they choose to give you. Somebody brought up Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend who shot back at the cops. Half the people who were all about justice for Breonna Taylor didn’t even know her boyfriend’s name. I was like, “Whoa, really?” That’s such a big part to this story and most of them didn’t know anything about him. I said that to say, so many people are insulated to how they get their news. Maybe they’re just reading the headlines?
TRHH: I love that you spoke about using your voice as an artist and detailed the instances of cops hassling you in Dream Master. How hard was it to make the decision to use your voice to speak up, despite risking losing part of your fan-base?
Mega Ran: In the beginning that was all I was thinking about. Like I said, I’m in a very survivalist mode. I’m walking this path that I haven’t walked before, I’m an independent artist, I don’t have health care. My meal is directly correlated to the amount of people who like me at a particular moment. And so, it’s a really tough time to say. “I’m going to say something that’s going to make some people mad.” It makes me want to protect what I have. But, if your brand is built on integrity and being opinionated, you don’t have to worry about that. For me, I feel like a lot of my brand was built on being a nice guy. Being a nice guy meant my whole life I’ve been a people pleaser and I don’t want to ruffle feathers. I think about that a lot – maybe too much – and maybe in the past that has prevented me from saying things. I feel like enough is enough. I’m a grown man. What could somebody do to me? What can somebody take from me that hasn’t already been taken from my people? And, if you’re going to go down for something I think it should be for the truth.
That was a come to Jesus moment for me. I was like, “I really need to do this for myself.” I got to the point where close friends of mine and family were like, “When you’re around us you’re real opinionated. How come in your music you don’t say these things?” I’m like, “Well, I don’t wanna ruffle any feathers.” And they’re like, “Oh, come on!” So, it really made me think that if I’m ashamed of it that’s something that I need to fix. So, I did. I made a pact with myself to be like alright, I don’t ever want someone to come up to me and be like, “When I see you I don’t see color!” That would be the worst thing somebody could ever say to me. I had to make sure that when you’re listening to this you’re going to know that you’re dealing with a black man. You’re going to absolutely know that through what I’m saying, how I say it, through the point of view that I’m coming from, you’re going to absolute know and understand that this is coming from a black man. So, that’s just become very important to me. I can’t not do it anymore.
TRHH: It’s very important, man. So many guys that we grew up listening to did that, regardless of the repercussions. This has been an unusual time with social media and all of that stuff. I applaud you, man. It’s not an easy decision.
Mega Ran: No, it’s not at all, man! Like I said, if I’m going to go down for something I think it should be for the truth. Not for a lie or me not trying to rock the boat. All of my heroes rocked the boat. Imagine Chuck D being scared to say “Burn Hollywood Burn” or “By the Time I Get to Arizona.” I might not even be here, that’s real.
TRHH: Why should people go out and get a copy of Dream Master?
Mega Ran: Well, if they ever wanted to know the story of an independent artist coming of age, trying to come up against all odds, or if they’ve ever been told they shouldn’t do something this way or that way, or it will never work out, they will pull something from this. Literally, my entire story has been me trying to do it the hard way and that’s really what it’s about. It’s me choosing my own path, being dedicated to sticking with it, and seeing it through. It can work out. We hear so many times about how it will work out and if you try to do things too differently people will shut you down and bla, bla, bla. We live in a limitless world where anything is possible if you just want to get out there and really make it happen. That was me, man. I’ve been able to forge this interesting path and I feel like it’s something anybody could pull something from, whether you’re a Hip-Hop fan, a wrestling fan, a gamer, a black person, a white person, no matter where you’re from you can pull something out of this story. I’m a regular guy and at the end of the day I feel like when regular people put their mind to something the sky is the limit. That’s really the message that I wanted to send out.