My favorite scene in Doctor Who is when the Eleventh Doctor, facing regeneration into the Twelfth Doctor, tells his grieving companion (Clara),

We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.

Like the Doctor, rapper Raheem Jarbo has shifted identities in public. He started his career with The Call, an astonishing indie rap album, under the name Random, but he shifted his focus to what he terms “chip-hop” in his the concept albums Mega Ran and Mega Ran 9. The latter albums used music and sound effects from the Mega Man franchise of video games and established him in the nerdcore subgenre of hip-hop. His music since has vacillated between indie hip-hop (The 8th Day, TRAP, Soul Veggies) and nerdcore (Forever Famicon, concept albums about Mega Man 10Final Fantasy VII, and Castlevania). He has switched between the names “Random,” “Random aka Mega Ran,” and “Mega Ran” on different releases until last year, in which he decided on the latter. RNDM is Mega Ran’s attempt to remember all the people he has been while establishing who he intends to be from now on.

One face shown in RNDM is that of a frustrated artist–not quite gaining traction, but unwilling to compromise his principles to gain a bigger audience. He expresses the difficulty–both in time and money–in keeping up the momentum of his indie career. He also notes the weight of expectations from a diversity of audiences, all of whom want him to stick with nerdcore or political/cultural criticism.

All you can, for the movement,
But the further you get, it’s just more confusing.
Feel like we had it on lock back in 06,
Now the old dogs still expect the old tricks.
Music’s the only thing you can’t grow with…

Finally did it–got me a spot on Billboard
Looked at my bank account yesterday–still poor… (“Same as it Ever Was”)

RNDM represents a grudging acceptance of this contradiction, and two songs in particular illustrate where he has arrived: “A Poet” and “The Meeting.” The former song is a monologue of a father telling his son what art has cost him; the latter is a rap battle/argument between the Random and Mega Ran personas. In “A Poet,” he argues that audiences are too preoccupied with demanding content that adheres to prespecified forms. “A Poet” argues that there is no practical way to avoid the awful intersection of consumerism and the law of cool, and artists who think they can do so without self-sacrifice are deluded. The song also points out that consumerism drives people to be less vulnerable, which may be why they are such demanding customers. Yes, it’s a dense track, e.g.:

For poets no longer are makers of songs,
Chanters of the gold and purple harvest,
Sayers of the glories of earth and sky,
Of the sweet pain of love
And the keen joy of living,
No longer dreamers of the essential dreams
And interpreters of the eternal truth
Through the eternal beauty.
Poets these days are unfortunate fellows,
Baffled in trying to say old things in a new way
Or new things in an old language.

They talk abracadabra
In an unknown tongue,
Each one fashioning for himself
A wordy world of shadow problems
And as a self-imagined Atlas
Struggling under it with puny legs and arms
Groaning out incoherent complaints at his load.

My son, this is no time nor place for a poet;
Grow up and join the big, busy crowd
That scrambles for what it thinks it wants
Out of this old world
which is—as it is—
And, probably, will be.

image“The Meeting” makes some of the same points in a more straightforward manner. The song is a dialogue between Random, i.e., the persona from his early career, and Mega Ran, as he is now. While “A Poet” expresses the dangers of artistic vulnerability, “The Meeting” expresses how Mega Ran has resolved his inner conflicts. Random accuses him of abandoning the principles from his early work, while Mega Ran answers with reality and a promise to integrate his social/political commentary into his nerdcore tracks. Mega Ran contrasts the ease of the self-righteous, pure indie rapper with the rough-and-tumble of making a living while entertaining and hopefully inspiring his audience.

Random: Remember when we polly’d it on the block
And you said you’d never change, no matter how awesome it got…
You should be out in Ferguson speaking against injustice
But it seems you got better things to do than to discuss it…
You said you’d come back for me, that musta been a lie.
So I came to holler at you and give a final goodbye.
Nothing personal bro, I still consider you a friend,
But we’re way too different, so you’ll never see me again…

Mega Ran: You were about the spitting and trying to make a difference,
And I was too, but how was I to make a living?
I watched you spend 11 months making the first record,
Rehearsing and perfecting it, hoping to be respected,
But ultimately neglected press outlets, you were starting to doubt it.
I recovered the fumble and did something about it…
But you don’t understand the pressure and the demands
It was easy as Random, it’s hard as Mega Ran
And what’s the joy in being the broke dude who kept it real?
Can’t change the community when you can’t pay your bills.

But I promise to make sure they see a piece of you
Cause you’re the inspiration in every single piece I do.

The conflict and struggle, both inner and with critics and fellow artists, has clarified rather than confused Mega Ran’s perspective. “A Poet” remains true on some fundamental level, but I would argue that the unexpectedly raucous and religious “Believe” expresses Mega Ran’s deepest hopes for his music’s influence. He starts with the hopefulness instilled in him by his mother after his father abandoned his home. This early formative experience informs Mega Ran’s present state, caught between demanding audiences and financially stressed from the lack of institutional patronage enjoyed by major label artists:

How we get to this? It’s kinda ridiculous.
To keep the lights on, momma work triple shifts.
Then she wonder why we not close;
I see the babysitter more than I see my folks.
Is this the American Dream?
Then send me to Mexico.
Can we go? No?
Schedule’s not flexible.
Everyday my momma got up to leave,
I cried, but she told me you gotta believe.

So I (BELIEVE) it’ll get better
(BELIEVE) We gonna get through it (BELIEVE)
God’s real busy (BELIEVE)
But He gonna get to it (BELIEVE)
First you pray for it (BELIEVE)
Then you wait for it (BELIEVE)
Gotta have faith for it,
That’s what I believe in.


“Believe” expresses not only religious faith and the confidence that accompanies reliance in the grace of God—it also taps into Mega Ran’s years-long project to build up, rather than tear down, the lives of his audience. Though much of his music is devoted to criticizing mainstream and even popular indie rap, he often encourages his listeners in sincere tracks with positive messages. The positivity is never cheap, though, because Mega Ran never pretends that he has life figured out. You can contrast his “Believe!” with the yech! song of the same name by Josh Groban, in which the singer makes a vague pronouncement to believe in something, because [insert smart aleck remark making fun of Josh Groban].

Mega Ran has experienced poverty, and he wants to encourage listeners in their struggles. The belief that God’s “gonna get to it” has a cost that vague, happy-clappy, Grobanesque belief does not. And of course, belief in this sense is not the BS law-of-attraction drivel one hears on certain unnamed daytime talk shows. Belief often gives one perserverance to advance, but–as shown by Mega Ran’s continued, plainly stated difficulties–may not be rewarded fully or at all.

I listen to Mega Ran more than any other artist, because his perspective on difficulties–past, present, and anticipated in the future–is genuinely uplifting. He does emphasize hard work, but he doesn’t point to his own perfect life, present or future, and thereby shame me by comparison. I love me a morose LP–Pink Floyd between Syd Barrett and The Wall, politically inspired hula, every song by Blue October–but I also need honest, heartfelt encouragement. In his own way, Mega Ran is preaching faith and hope to his audience, both converted and unconverted, no matter what face he regenerates into next.

Image credits: Featured image from, LP covers from Top image from the BBC ONE trailer for the episode in question.