Random’s Heroes

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Random is a busy man. With nine albums under his belt, performing around the world with big names like Common, MC Frontalot and others, he also finds time to teach classes and make a difference. He’s one of the indie world’s most talented rappers.

He has an eye for detail in his lyrics and an ear for unconventional rhythms. Recently he’s eschewed attaching himself to a label, instead releasing his albums himself on online indie music store Band Camp, where he’s built a devoted following with quirky albums like Forever Famicom and Black Materia. “It’s pretty surreal,” he told me, “but it has showed me above all that it’s okay to be myself and try new things. I spent a lot of time banging my head against a wall trying to create music that had a special place in my heart and that would be well produced, and be appreciated by a large group of people, and the answer was essentially right under my nose.”

Regarding his decision to become an indie musician, he said, “It’s been great. Sometimes it’s a bit much to handle alone, but I know that if anything goes wrong, I’m responsible. I can live with that. I’ve been on record labels in the past, and I can’t fully say that I’m comfortable with the traditional label’s business model. I don’t think anyone can sell me better than I can. With a strong team, I think the sky is the limit, and independent is the way to go for now. “
 

His recent 2010 album Heroes is a marvelous album. The songs are sharp, the production is gorgeous and Random’s delivery is clear and soulful. The tracks revolve around his musical influences, touching on greats like Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Steve Wonder.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite albums,” he said. “It originally started out as a tribute to Marvin Gaye, as I have several Marvin songs on the album, but I wanted to expand it. A few years ago, Ohene created an excellent album called Nina Simone By… and I really thought it was ingenious. I wanted “Heroes” to serve as a counterpart to that album, while also paying tribute to the most influential musicians and people in my life. I had it done for some time, but only released it because of the unbelievable fan support we received for our Kickstarter campaign.”

“Oh,” he added. “There WILL be a volume 2, there are so many more heroes I couldn’t include, like Prince, Bob Marley, Mozart, Bob Dylan, 2Pac, Billy Joel and more. Can’t wait to bring that to you guys, sometime next year perhaps.”

The standout track on the album is the sumptuous “Hand Me Downs”.

“I love ‘Hand Me Downs’ as well,” he said. “Its so personal and touching to me because it’s so real. It reminds me of the old days growing up on the block, and how I became who I am today… [it’s] easily one of the three or four best songs I’ve ever written in my opinion. It was a Marvin Gaye sample, and recalling 2Pac’s words on Marvin provided the entire inspiration I needed to make that track happen. Growing up in the inner city, most of us didn’t have fathers around, and I didnt have brothers or sisters, and Mom worked two-three jobs, so I was literally the child raised by the village. Thanks to my friends, my friends parents, and the block’s support, I never had to go without…”
 

It was when he was growing up that he began writing music. “I wrote my first rap verse when I was 16 on my mom’s stoop, with three of my closest friends. We formed a crew and it was on. We made tapes in the house and I passed them to my buddies in high school. The rest of them kinda stopped making music, but I continued. My mom never really approved, and I couldn’t afford much equipment, so I made beats on the Playstation game MTV music generator, and recorded on a 4-track device with a radio shack mic. Later, I got a job in a studio recording as an engineer, recorded a demo tape there, and passed that around until it got to Ohene, of RAHM Nation Recordings. I joined the label and released my first album in 2006 and haven’t stopped yet.”

Speaking about his ability to reconcile his ambitions as a musician with his aspirations as an educator, he said, “I feel like I have the same goal in music as in education, to entertain and enlighten in a new and refreshing way. It’s so tough because as much as I love teaching, making music that people like causes me to miss days to travel to new places. I just had to take a week off to do South By Southwest in Austin, and I know the kids are gonna get on me when I get back. It’s bittersweet because I love to travel and perform as well. They also compliment each other because they both teach me a little bit about being better at the other. Crowd control, creativity and performance under pressure are all facets of the game that you need to have to be both a good MC and a good teacher. “

Naturally, Random is a basketball fan. “Of course I grew up playing basketball as a kid, and I love watching the game. Playing street ball in Philly is what caused me to probably curse for the first time around my friends. We had a buddy named Mo who was a serious hack—which means although he thought he was playing good D, he often would scratch you, slap you and beat you up on the court. One day, while I was driving for a layup, he shoved me in the back and I almost ran headfirst into the pole. That was it for me, and I ripped off a profanity-laced tirade that was so unlike me, that my boys still remind me of it to this day. I still shoot hoops whenever I can, but I only played on Mo’s team, not against him. “

Random’s most recent release, the single “I Wonder Why” deals with issues of social justice. “That was something else I put together just because,” he said. “I had always wondered about some of these things, and just felt that it was time to put it onto a track. I always hope that when I release music, it’ll stir up some dialogue or reveal something new to the listener, whether its tongue in cheek or very serious.”

Random will continue to be prolific, release music, and be an inspiration to indie musicians. He’ll keep showing us how it’s done.

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