Raheem Jarbo has been living with split personalities since 2007. That’s when he started releasing hip-hop as Random, a socially conscious rapper trying to spit his version of truth to power, and Mega Ran, his video game rap- and nerdcore-based alter ego. With Jarbo’s newest record, RNDM, dropping on September 5, he will be exploring the multiple-personality concept (as well as other ideas in the alt/gamer rapper’s head) for all his fans to hear.
“[The new album] is supposed to represent my full circle of change and transformation,” Jarbo says. “I feel like I have been trying to create records that are one thing or the other, and I haven’t been able to show both sides of me. I wanted to make a record that both groups of my fans would enjoy, and that I myself would enjoy because it would fully represent the whole me.”
Jarbo acknowledged that it was strange to see Mega Ran take off so quickly in 2007. He had thought the rap he’d made as Random was better, yet Mega Ran spoke to a much larger audience almost immediately. Though Jarbo clearly sees the value of Mega Ran as a form of escapism for his fans, the Random persona does more in the way of discussing social issues, which he says is part of his responsibility as someone with a pulpit.
It’s not that being a rapper compels Jarbo to shove his opinions down people’s throats. Random has been sharing his opinion with a large audience since at least 2006, when he started his first career as a middle school teacher in Philadelphia. After a few years in the City of Brotherly Love, Jarbo packed up and headed west and continued teaching in Phoenix, where he also began taking his hip-hop aspirations more seriously.
Jarbo’s teaching career is actually one of the larger overarching social themes running through RNDM. In “Revisions,” Random unloads his frustration with the American educational system, saying teachers aren’t paid enough, which forces good teachers to become administrators and that administrators don’t actually care whether students pass or fail. He even says that his own students’ grades were changed by administrators from failing to passing grades just to push the children on to the next grade level.
“Every time I think about getting back in the classroom, I think about the harder times I had in teaching. Students are always going to be students, but the worst experiences I have had were dealing with administration and rules and regulations that I think kept students from learning,” Jarbo says. “I think it’s kind of a warning to people. I can tell the stories that my former colleague can’t tell about former teachers and experiences and administrators. It’s as extreme as people changing my students’ report card grades to meet state standards for new textbooks or computers. Being able to witness and talk about those things is a release.”
Jarbo went so far as to say that he told his fiancée that if he ever were to return to a non-music industry job, he would rather work at Walmart than go back into the classroom.
However, considering he has been out of the classroom since 2011 and currently is preparing to release his new album with a show at Crescent Ballroom, neither scenario seems likely. That said, the MC is not out of the classroom completely, as his albums are being included in part of the coursework at Penn State University, Temple University, and Virginia Tech.
“You know what Walmart is giving you; they make it very clear. You work and that’s it, and then you go home and you don’t have to take that home with you,” the rapper says.
“With teaching, you are affecting the lives of future leaders, and we have to hold back the big secret: that people don’t necessarily expect them to succeed. So knowing all that I know, how could I be willing go back to education?”
Naturally, the music industry can come with as much administration and red tape as working in education, but Jarbo has found his way around it all by never signing with a major label and by starting his own label.
“I have friends signed to major labels who hate it. They are extremely frustrated, and their stories kinda sound like mine from teaching,” Jarbo says. “Prince would definitely recommend against any artist signing a recording contract because he thinks what labels are doing is slavery. I don’t know if it’s that extreme, but it seems like teaching and working with a big record label would be kind of the same. Right now, I’m my boss, and I’m a fair boss, and I’m a fun boss.”
For Jarbo, running a label undoubtedly is about more than just being a fair and fun boss. He seems to be mixing his hip-hop knowledge with his passion for teaching to make it so his artists can grow musically under the guidance of a seasoned vet.
“I want to . . . help out other artists. Right now, I’m helping Sky Blue from North Carolina along. He’s an extremely positive, fun, great artist with a new album out now, and I just want to help give him that leg up that I didn’t have,” Jarbo says. “I didn’t have that guidance, and I wanted to be able to give it to others, so now I am always on the lookout for young, intelligent artists. I’m just looking to share with the next generation of rappers and producers and people who want to make a splash.”
With Mega Ran, Injury Reserve, and Futuristic making a national push, it seems to be a good time for the Phoenix hip-hop scene. Especially with MCs like Jarbo willing to reach out to younger rappers and help push them along toward their ultimate goals.
Mega Ran’s album-release show is a 16-and-up event, which means his legion of underage fans can attend. Opening for the Phoenix hip-hop legend will be fellow nerdcore big dog MC Chris, as well as locals Bear Ghost, Bag of Tricks Cat, and Wax Society.
Even with his good-naturedness toward young MCs, however, Mega Ran does maintain a combative stance toward the entire Arizona rap scene.
“I can beat every Arizona rapper in Street Fighter,” he says.