Mega Ran: "We Can Help Them Spend More Time on Education and Less on Backpacks"

When you're talking to Random--aka Mega Ran, aka (to Caller ID) Raheem--it's not hard to detect the former-teacher in his voice. When he's not rapping about video games or not giving into self-doubt, he's talking in the methodical, well-practiced way of somebody who spent a lot of weekdays lecturing patiently to distractible middle schoolers.

It was especially easy to tell when I talked to him Thursday, because we were talking about backpacks--specifically the Writers Guild's Backpack Drive, scheduled for tonight at Club Red.

I guess I have to start with this, like any responsible Nintendo fan--no luck with the lost 3DS? [Laughs] No luck, man. You know, I've had some really, really cool e-mails sent to me from people who were like, "Hey, man, let's start a fundraiser to get you another 3DS," or, "I have one here, I could send it to you if you don't mind." Like, the response has been amazing.

But--I mean, it seems to me that it would turn up somewhere, but no luck.

Someone's too smart to connect it to the internet and reveal your Mii to the world. It's got to be an experienced 3DS thief... So I guess I should ask first, how did this benefit you guys are doing come into being? Well, I used to be a teacher, and just as a former teacher, I'm always looking for new ways to give back. We've got a really good relationship with Club Red, with the owners, there, and we've done a few shows there. And with this being back to school week, I thought--it was actually my girlfriend who brought it up to me. She said, "Why don't you guys make this one a back to school theme?"

From there we went into backpacks and supplies and other things I know that students don't normally have. I know plenty of parents who, when they get back into school, they get notes from their teachers with all the supplies they need. And sometimes it's a lot of things. I know that I've seen fourth graders, or even second graders, have lists that were just so expansive that the average parent is just overwhelmed when they see that. So I wanted to kind of lighten the load for the parents, mostly. And for teachers, who often have to spend so much time giving students supplies that it cuts into valuable learning time. So we could help them spend more time on education and less time on pencils, notebooks, backpacks.

What does a new backpack represent for a student? I just remember being a kid, and the school supplies you got were just so important to your social standing, or whatever. Oh, absolutely. I mean, backpacks are just such a huge part of the school experience. I mean, they're pretty much your identity. So I know how important it was when I was in school--we would take the whiteout and write words and song names or our favorite bands on them... the style of it was always representative of your personality. So I knew how important that was.

And even as a teacher, students hate to part with their backpacks. So we had to come up with rules--like, students had to place their backpacks into cubby holes, because they would be on the desk, they'd be on their backs all day... kids could get a little obsessive when it came to backpacks. It's almost like a woman with a purse.

Plus it's kind of a two-fold thing with hip hop; backpacker is a very widely used colloquialism which means kind of a person whose heart is rooted in the old school of hip hop... people who are into graffiti or writing, so they'd have a backpack full of notebooks and pens and markers and all of their supplies that they needed to participate in the hip hop culture. I'm big on themes, so in a weird way, this was a very thematic idea that came together.

Your own work, at least, as far as I can tell--as Random and as Mega Ran--seems to put a really high value on being able to explain who you are, and what and where you came from. Is that what education does for kids, if they can focus on it? Gives them that voice? Absolutely. It's very important to know who you are, where you're going, things like that. It's such a huge part of who the kids are and who they're going to become. Most of the kids I taught were in middle school, so they're in such a pivotal age--that's where you develop your identity, and your peer groups, and the personality traits that are a part of you for pretty much the rest of your life.

It's such an influential age, and I wouldn't want kids to be side-tracked by who has the coolest backpack, or things like that. I want them to not have to worry about. We actually have some pretty awesome backpacks that I'm actually giving away for this, so I think kids are going to be excited to get these.

So when the Writers Guild came together, were projects like this part of the scope from the beginning, or did it kind of develop from your own interests? It was always in the back of our minds as an idea, as something we'd like to adopt and move into. Of course music was first and foremost our passion, but we definitely talked about it--since it was called the Writers Guild and was all about writing and exploring that creative side.

We saw Writers Guild go through a really cool transition when we started to add members and move members into new roles--artists, photographers, graphic designers, as well as musicians and poets, so that it wasn't just about a rap crew, but something that could also reform and change the community a little bit.

What other education programs is the show benefiting? And is there something else you guys would like to move into in the future? There's a company called the Tumbleweed Learning Center who we're going to be working with at this show and at future events. It's a program for kids who are seeking GEDs or equivalents--sometimes older kids who are returning to school after maybe having been out of the school system for a while. So these are kids who have a desire to learn, and to get back into society through the correct means, and Tumbleweed helps them with that and the transition process.

So we're going to be working closely with them--not just with supplies, but with speaking, doing performances, just helping them with creative writing and mentoring. And I feel like it's a team effort, and if we can get to these kids at the ground level, especially kids who want to succeed and want to change some of their ways and erase some of their pasts, some of their mistakes... I feel like this is the best way to start.

Is there anything else people should know about the show? The show's 18 and up, and the music starts at 8 PM. We'll try to get everybody out of there before midnight. The ticket price, which is $10, will go toward backpacks and school supplies, as well as for Tumbleweed.

And try to bring as many backpacks as you can. We have a goal of 100 backpacks, and I definitely want to highlight that. As a teacher, I've found that having a goal helps--so we're going to have some kind of a chart there, and we're gonna be marking it off as we get to our goal. I really think we can make that happen--if we get 100 people who all bring one, that's fine.

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