Today is the three year anniversary of Kotowari, so I wanted to do something special to celebrate. Something fun for me, relevant to the site’s roots, and something that would also involve you, fair reader. I think I nailed it.
I managed to set up an interview with Mega Ran and Lost Perception concerning their recent hip hop album, Black Materia: Final Fantasy VII. The album takes the original music from Final Fantasy VII and mixes it with the duo’s own beats and lyrics to form something altogether new and unique. If you are a fan of Final Fantasy VII you should definitely check it out, which you can do for free here. A limited sample is available online; purchasing the album however is the only way to get all the tracks.
As you may know, Final Fantasy VII is a big part of who I am today. Spending my middle school days in the basement playing that game on repeat was the incubation process which led to the writer and gamer you see before you. That is why this album is especially dear to me. I want it to be dear to you as well. I will pick three random commentors from this post, and send them each a signed copy of Black Materia: Final Fantasy VII (cue video of frenzied Oprah audience). Also, I don’t care what country you’re in (I sent some dude in Australia a Junpei hat), so if you live in Madagascar, I can get a copy to you — it just may take a while.
There is one important thing to note to be entered into this contest: be sure to give your real e-mail address or I will have no way to get your address from you if you win. I will announce the winners in one week.
Now, on with the interview:
1. The lyrics for Black Materia: Final Fantasy VII do a great job summing up not only specifics of the story, but the emotions that fuel the events in the game. What can you tell us about the research that went into the lyrics? Was it hard to compress so much into the album?
MR: Extremely. I had originally planned to only make 7 songs, but after playing through the game again, I came across more and more moments that just had to be included in the game. Research was simply playing the game again, exploring every nook and cranny and totally immersing myself back into the characters and story.
2. Final Fantasy VII was probably one of the most important games to me growing up, and I think a lot of people would say the same thing. Was it daunting to tackle a game which so many people hold in such high esteem?
MR: Absolutely. That was my biggest fear, to complete the project and have ‘true’ fans complain that it didn’t accurately reflect the game or the feeling of playing it again. I have to apologize to fans of Yuffie and Cait Sith particularly, because those guys didn’t make the cut, haha. I would’ve wound up with a 4 disc album if I had included every scene, event and theme song that I wanted to include. I hope the fans of the game can appreciate the effort that went into attempting to recreate something in a new and daring way.
3. It’s clear that you really got into the minds of each character to write and compose their respective songs. What characters from Final Fantasy VII do you each identify with the most? Who did you use in your party?
MR: I really felt like Cloud’s story was one that anyone could relate to, being a kid who thinks he knows everything, then finding out that you really know nothing. I tried my best to stick with Cloud, Tifa and Barret most of the way, but I have a fondness for Cid as well.
4. One of our crew at Kotowari is a real audiophile, so naturally he is interested in the process of mixing the original music of Final Fantasy 7 as well as creating your own. What can you tell us about this process? Be as specific as you would like!
LP: Well my main thing here was that I wanted to make a record that a non final fantasy fan could enjoy, but at the same time keep it true to the music of the game. So for the majority of the the songs I opted to use parts of the actual songs from the soundtrack and layer my own synths on top of it and give everything a fresh new feel. Some of the original composistions were so fast BPM wise that I could not manipulate the sample how I wanted so thats when I would go back and recreate the song from scratch. Thats when I turned to FFVII sheet music. “Cloud Strife” is the perfect example of this. “Cloud Strife” is an interpolation of “Still More Fighting”. I wanted to make all the beats sound like you would hear them on a normal Hip-Hop record. I used FL Studio 9, Native Instruments Maschine, Native Instrumentals Komplete, Adobe Audition, Ableton Live 8.1. Fl Studio and Maschine I used for the creation of the actual beats. Audition I use to cut up a lot of my samples. I’ve been using that for years and I know it like the back of my hand. Ableton Live is use for the manipulation and warping of my samples. I also used Ableton for the major pitch change that occurrs between “The Turks” and “On That Day 5 Years Ago.”
5. What can we expect from you both in the future? Will you be working together on another project or do you have individual plans?
MR: We have individual plans, but I have a feeling you’ll be seeing more of Random and Lost Perception in the near future. There are so many tracks from FF7 that we didn’t get to use, so hopefully one day we can revisit the franchise…but for now I need to step away to make sure it remains fresh. So my next project will be an original concept record called “Language Arts,” loosely based on my own life, but continuing the storytelling aspect of “Black Materia.”
LP: Yeah like Random said, you will definately be seeing more from us. Random is one of my favorite artists to work with ever. He just needs to tell me when he is ready to give it another go.
As far as my own projects, I’m working on compilation project called “All That Is LOST.” Its something that Ive been taking my time with and hold close to my heart. Just keep an eye out for it. I also just wrapped up a project with Judgement (of The Society of Invisbles), entitled “Joseph Stalin Stories.” That will be out later this year. If you like raw hip-hop, I would keep checking for this record. I also started work on a new video game based project but I dont want to give out too many details on that yet. Keep checking bandcamp for updates!
6. The artwork from Rodrigo Pradel nicely complements the album. How did you hook up with Rodrigo and does he have any plans to release Black Materia art?
MR: Rodrigo is an amazing artist from Canada who did work on (frequent collaborator K-Murdock’s group) Panacea’s album cover.. when I saw what he had done on their “12 Step Program” album:
I was floored. I said “I want that guy.” but not like that… and K hooked us up, I gave him a few ideas, and he let it rip, without even hearing the album.
7. A lot of people are featured in different tracks on the album. Was it hard to have so many minds working toward the same goal?
MR: Yes, it was difficult, but since most were huge FF7 nuts, it wasn’t hard to have them help. I gave them each a theme or character, and they let it rip. I thought about doing it all myself, adjusting voices like I did on “Avalanche,” but Cloud couldn’t save the Planet alone, he needed a team.. so I put together a team of artists who not only were talented, but who knew the story and wanted to contribute. We had a few close calls on people that I feared wouldn’t make the album because of the deadline (the album released on 1/31 which is 14 years to the date of FF7′s Japan release), but somehow, they made it happen.
8. Mega Ran, as a middle school teacher, how do you feel about parental concerns regarding violence in video games and hip hop? Has your career as a hip hop artist caused any conflicts at school? Has your love of gaming helped connect you with your students?
MR: Wow, that’s a doozy! I really feel that it’s up to parents to observe and monitor their kids usage of video games, TV, music and social media. I seriously think an episode of “Jersey Shore” is worse for a child’s mind than 10 hours of Grand Theft Auto 4. The text messages I see on my student’s cellphones are far worse than anything they’d learn from a Lil Wayne song…I can’t stress enough, parents have to watch these kids. If you have kids, GET IN THEIR BUSINESS! I teach middle school and my 6th graders come in talking about things that blow my mind. I try to give anyone an alternative. If you want sex, drugs and violence in your hip-hop, I’m sure you can find that without looking hard. We need an alternative that isn’t Will Smith.. No offense to Will, he’s like one of my heroes…but yaknow.
I haven’t had any conflicts at school because of it, but it’s a constant struggle to keep the two separate but together… I rap in class and give my students my CDs when they’re well-behaved.. but they try to add me on Facebook and I have to shut that down… it’s easier to tell it’s them there, but Twitter and Youtube, they can get in because they don’t have to use their real name… so constant police work is needed. I have parents tell me that their kids play my music all day at home, and that brings a smile to my face… I figured they’d use the CDs for drink coasters.
Gaming has been a great bridge in connecting me with my students. Although most of my gaming subject matter is too old for them to remember, just the fact that they have a teacher who plays games and makes music helps them to feel like I’m not quite as out of touch, and that goes a long way in gaining trust from students.
9. What are your thoughts on releasing the album exclusively on the web? Most artists probably wouldn’t offer so much of their album for free, do you think doing so increased your exposure?
MR: I don’t mind. Our fans know how to get music for free. So, I like to offer people a bit of an incentive to listen, so giving out 8 tracks for free, then selling 16 tracks if you like it, is a great way to rope people in. As I make music in this digital age, I learn new tricks each time out. This has been a great approach, and has led to some success in the past. My friend always says “exposure can’t pay the bills,” but exposure can make the bills a little cheaper next time out.
10. Lastly, is there anything else you would like to say to your fans?
MR: Thank you! Keep telling friends about Black Materia.. and friends don’t let friends bootleg, haha.
LP: Yes! THANK YOU to everyone who has supported the record. That’s exactly why Random and I make music. Its very fulfilling to see fans post pictures of themselves with your CD. That alone is well worth it. Spread the word, keep checking our respective bandcamps for updates and to piggy back off of Random…Don’t Bootleg! lol
- Mega Ran’s Bandcamp
- Lost Perception’s Bandcamp (you can listen to/buy the instrumental version of the album here!)
Thanks so much to Mega Ran and Lost Perception for agreeing to the interview and taking the time to answer my questions. Also, thanks to all of you for your support over the years — it is what keeps me going. Good luck, and don’t forget to leave a comment! I will update this post next Tuesday with the names of the winners.
And the winners are…