Read the final interview at gamentrain.com. This is the full, unedited transcript of my 2mello interview, in which questions get a bit more in depth about the culture surrounding nerdcore rap and video game music and also learn a few more interesting facts and opinions of 2mello's. Enjoy the full take (and if you already read the Game N Train article, just skip ahead to the red questions.)
Q: Did you have any clear concept or goal in mind as you worked on Chrono Jigga?
A: I was looking for something bizarre to do, something that people would go crazy over. I was pretty sure that I would take something from geek culture and mix it up with hip-hop culture, but I didn't know if it was going to be a concept album, a remix, or what. When Chrono Jigga came to me, I wanted to do it very genuinely. I care about both Chrono Trigger's music and Jay's tracks deeply, and I wanted people to be able to hear that through the music. As I created the first few tracks, I realized what I was doing, interpreting my favorite Jay-Z songs through one of my favorite games to make them even more poignant to me. From there, I started thinking about Jay-Z having this geeky alternate ego that would show everyone how much of a nerd he was by making an album of videogame raps.
Q: Beyond the clever album title, what was the driving force that sparked the idea of combining the music of Yasunori Mitsuda with Jay-Z’s lyricism?
A: I have always been frustrated with a lot of Jay-Z's production. I think that, sometimes, his rhymes are a little more poetic than they might sound over some of the beats he is provided. Sometimes, the energy of the beat might be a little distracting. I wanted to marry his songs with Mitsuda's compositions to more strongly convey the meaning of his songs both musically and lyrically. I chose the music of Chrono Trigger because nothing is more epic than the music of a wide, twisting story told through many time periods. A lot of Jay-Z albums can have radically different feels from one track to the next, and what better way to show that than to select from a widely varying soundtrack for the beats?
Q. As a fan of hip hop I have long lamented the simplified club beats of mainstream rap (including Jay-Z's). Do you believe there is a reason why hip hop lyricists fail to pursue more musically complex or interesting instrumentals?
A. My stuff has a lot more in terms of changing instrumentation and composition than you would hear in some modern beats. I think the reason why there aren't as many really cool instrumentals as there used to be is split. Partly, I think that audiences' standards for what makes a "good beat" have lowered, and that this constant lowering was forced on them by artists. The issue on the artist side, is that there are not many producers doing interesting things, and too many rappers. Some of the old faithful producers are stagnating and hip-hop production is generally in a state of transition. I think we are making a recovery from when it was getting too "clubby" and ripping off 90's techno sounds. That was just bad.
Q. Were there any tracks that you would have really loved to include from either Chrono Trigger or Jay-Z that you were unable to include for some reason?
A. I had really desired to do more stuff from Reasonable Doubt, but there were very few acapellas available for that album, one of Jay's finest works, and the ones that were available were of such low quality that they would stand out painfully. As for Chrono Trigger music, I had wanted to do more with Lavos' Theme and Magus' Theme but wasn't able to fit it in. There is always a chance that I will be able to work them in and release more "B-Sides" in the future.
Q. I know many mashup musicians are artistically constrained by the acapellas that are available to them. Did you consider this a hindrance, or a challenge when creating this album?
A: As I said above, the lack of Reasonable Doubt acapellas really hurt, but aside from that, since Jay-Z actually made most of his acapellas available in full studio quality, it wasn't too hard to find the songs I wanted. I would definitely consider this to be a challenge; I love being forced to make something special out of songs I might have not even paid that much attention to previously, because they're the only ones I have.
Q: Do you think there is a reason artists are creating this very specific type of musical hybrid?
A: I think it is mostly because remixing became most prominent after hip-hop was created, so people associate remixing most strongly with hip-hop, even though it has been happening since the start of music. Mashups are our current most evolved form of remixes, in my opinion. Therefore, if you set out to do a mashup, one of the first few genres that comes to mind to do it in is hip-hop, since this genre is so connected with remixes already. Also, mixing something as unique and pure as videogame music with hip-hop is going to be eye-catching; it's going to intrigue some and infuriate others, but either way both are going to listen. Personally, I like to mash rappers and video games together because there is a chance it will get rap fans to play cooler games, and gamers to enjoy rap music.
Q: It seems that a small niche of music/video game lovers have been especially receptive to the melding of these two musical worlds. Why are some folks in love with hip hop over video game derived beats?
A: There are some people that were just waiting for something like this to happen and maybe didn't even know it yet. There were a lot of news headlines about Chrono Jigga suggesting that this was the case. "The Chrono Trigger and Jay-Z Mashup Gamers Have Been Waiting For But Didn't Know It", etc. I discovered more people that were fans of both the game and the artist than I expected. Hearing familiar game music on the beat while listening to the artist makes it a little more comfortable for gamers who might not like hip-hop to transition into the genre, if only for the duration of a mashup album. It's bridging the gap.
Q. During the albums outro, you speak candidly about being unable to identify with Jay-Z’s lyrical content, and lamented the idea of those lyrics pushing talented artists away from a career in rap music. Why do you think Jay-Z's words could make people shy away from exploring hip hop further?
A: As soon as an aspiring lyricist or listener begins to examine hip-hop lyrics, they see that the most financially successful and well-known rap music is usually about drugs, violence, gang relations, sexual activity and male bragging. Jay-Z alienated a lot of up-and-coming rappers who had never been involved in drug trafficking or wanted to talk about what goes on in the streets, but the fact that the most successful rapper is writing about these things makes it seem like that is the only way to go. They'd think that straying from the formula will leave you unheard, and they'd be right. At the same time, listeners who might want to hear something more personal from a rapper would be turned off. A lot of press for Jay's most recent album has been backing me up on this, and it seems listeners are finally getting tired of hearing about how wildly profitable he has been and how much richer he is. I don't know what this means for hip-hop but I hope it gives more unique rappers a chance to step in.
Q: In an era when technology, video games, and the internet are so ubiquitous, why do you think that an artist influenced by these things has not entered the mainstream?
A: We're definitely getting better. Younger, fairly successful artists like Childish Gambino, XV and Danny Brown are garnering a lot of fans by taking note of the three primary geeky things that are very visible in this time--Internet culture, videogames and film/tv culture--which established rappers are somehow ignoring. Hip-hop has been threatening to go into nerd mode for years now, with the amazing Wu-Tang Clan (a bunch of Asian-film nerds who rap) getting extremely popular, and Kanye West (who started off quite poindexter on his debut album) getting to become someone that a lot of rappers and producers look up to. Things seem to be moving quickly, so the first star nerd rapper could hit any day.
Q. Jay-Z has gone on record that he supports mashups as musical endeavors, and applauded Danger Mouse's Grey Album (a mashup of Jay-Z and The Beatles). If Jay-Z heard Chrono Jigga, what do you think his reaction would be?
A. I think that he would admire it musically, but that he would be a little confused about the instrumentals and what exactly I did with them. Not being a fan of Chrono Trigger, he wouldn't know how much came from me and how much came from Mitsuda unless he listened to the Chrono Trigger OST. I doubt Jay is a fan of RPGs, let alone a specific one from the 90s. One thing I really hope he would notice was how much attention I paid to making his lyrics fit over the beat; I hope he would really respect my diligence in the repurposing of his rhythms and flow over the new beats.
Q: Has creating Chrono Jigga given you any new insight or perspective on either Jay-Z or Chrono Trigger?
A: Definitely. I often think about Jay-Z as a time traveler now. Going back in time using the Epoch not to save the world, but to right his wrongs and maybe change things he wished had gone different. If the events of Chrono Trigger were real, and happening, who knows how all of our lives could be touched by a guy like Crono, quietly passing through and nudging us here and there to reach a desired goal? When you start to apply the story framework of a video game to one part of real life, I guess you start thinking about how it would all connect. On my most recent remix album, Nastlevania, I have Nas battling Dracula and I actually had a version of Jay-Z arrive from the past, when he had beef with Nas, to the present, to help Dracula defeat Nas. It's becoming sort of a mythology, I'm weaving my favorite rappers into great video game stories.
Q. You've recently dropped your second mashup album, Nastlevania (combining the street lyricism of Nas with the music of Konami's Castlevania series). Were your artistic goals for Chrono Jigga and Nastlevania significantly different? Do you want listeners to come away with a different reaction to Chrono Jigga, as opposed to the feelings you hope to evoke in Nastlevania or another upcoming mashup album?
A. They are extremely different, though I am including them both in a "trilogy" of video-game and hip-hop mashups, of which Nastlevania is the second entry. With Chrono Jigga, I wanted to express my personal opinion that there aren't enough nerdy hip-hop artists/artists open about their geek sensibilities. Nastlevania wasn't a vehicle for my opinion; rather, I simply wanted to create my own Castlevania adventure through music. I want them to feel like Nas is actually a Belmont, and he actually defeated Dracula. I love changing people's perception of these idolized rap figures and, for gamers, giving them even more of a reason to idolize them. It's just so believable for Nas to be a vampire killer. Kind of like when you see a movie where an actor you like plays a role so perfectly you forever associate it with him. That's the feeling I want to get across. When people finish Nastlevania I want it to feel like they're walking out of a theater and having a moment like that.
Q: Do you think there is a disconnect between the audience that enjoyed this album, and those who enjoy your original music? If so, is this something you expected?
A: I remember when a lot of fans I had become friends with suddenly seemed to trail off in their connection to me as a result of this. There was definitely a moment when I saw interest shift. I guess that even though this was about as personal and original as a remix project gets, I knew there would be problems. I have always put being a producer ahead of being a rapper, though, and remixing was what my producer side wanted to do at the time. It got to the point where I could tell who came to me through the remixes and who was a fan of the rapping, but I'm always overjoyed when I find someone who discovered me through Chrono Jigga and went back into my catalog, or someone who was with me from the start. I hope that I won't lose these fans permanently and that they will come back for the original material I'm releasing again soon.
Q. Was there any animosity or dissociation from the nerdcore community or other nerdy artists towards you, the album, or your quest to create such an album? Any specific exchanges or comments you have read?
A. There have not been any other artists directly attacking me; most of the ones I heard from were pleased by it. The community was not nearly as nice. A few people would tell me they just didn't understand what the point of me doing the album was, and didn't see the originality, I guess. A lot of folks got upset in comments sections on articles of the sites that promoted me. The worst thing I saw was very generalized comments about how rap is awful and should never be mixed with videogame music. A lot of people said I ruined their favorite soundtrack, and I think I actually got a death threat at one point from a friend of a friend on Facebook who shared my music. You know how nerd rage goes. I am very disappointed by how few nerds like hip-hop, and how nerds will both defend and attack things blindly.
Q. Conversely, were there individuals within nerdcore that commended this musical endeavor?
A. I was especially grateful to get a co-sign from YTCracker, the nerdcore artist who has done probably the best original Chrono Trigger-related project out there. Mega Ran was also very supportive, and helped me with a lot of my questions about the legalities and danger zones of doing this kind of very blatant videogame music sampling. Several artists in the community who had been watching me decided to step up and propose collaborations; can't yet go into specifics there.
Q: Which character from Chrono Trigger is your favorite?
A: My favorite character is definitely Frog. The reason why would be a bit of a spoiler for those who haven't gotten too far into the game. Frog simply has the best backstory and arc in a game full of characters with great arcs. He was once human, a squire to a knight he saw killed right before his eyes by Magus. Before he can do anything, Magus turns him into a frog and he's helpless. He walks around that way for years, knowing that everyone can see the mark of how he failed, but ignoring it. He does his job and waits for revenge against Magus, when it seems it will never come. But finally, he realizes that he, not Cyrus, was meant to hold the most powerful sword all along, the Masamune. It's that, the moment when Frog gets the Masamune, that is the best character-driven moment in the game for me. Easy question.
Q: What's your favorite Jay-Z album?
A: Either Reasonable Doubt, which sadly lacked any acapella versions for me to use, or the Blueprint. It's tough to say. Reasonable Doubt has a young Jay-Z, fresh new face and voice, talking about real issues and giving us a streets-eye view that not too many rappers had at that time in East Coast hip-hop. The Blueprint is a little more developed, showcasing a Jay that's a little more classy and poetic than he started, a lot richer and much stronger in the music game. The Blueprint is the mix of the Jay that we started with and the one that came after that album's release, the one we are all very familiar with now. I might have to break the tie and give it to Reasonable Doubt just because the Blueprint was the first album that, while good, destined Jay to become the shallow billionaire rapper that he is now. I guess he told us all this would happen when he said he was a business, man.
Q. Anything else you would like to add to wrap up the interview?
A. Yes. I hope I haven't cast myself in a type by making such a successful video game mashup! I have original material coming this fall that all fans, past and present, should look out for. Even though a lot of them may know me for the video game remixes, I do stuff on a traditional hip-hop tip just as impressively, in my opinion, and I hope I can be one of the successful nerdy rappers I spoke of in the outro to Chrono Jigga.
Thanks again to 2mello for his time. Go check out all his music over at 2mello.com.
* Title Chrono Jigga artwork from ahoodie.com.