How Mega Ran’s Lifelong Love of Basketball Inspired His New Album Live…

Raheem Jarbo became a nerdcore icon rapping about his favorite things in life. Performing and recording as Mega Ran, he’s been propelled into geek superstardom by dropping hundreds of tracks about such nerdy passions as video games, anime, and wrestling over the past 14 years.

He’s tapped into another lifelong love for his latest project, the basketball-themed album Live ’95. The 14-track release, which dropped on October 22, features Jarbo rapping about his passion for the sport, how it impacted him as a teen, and the life lessons he learned.

While basketball might not have the moment geek cachet of Nintendo games or other nerdy subjects he’s covered in the past, Jarbo says Live ‘95 is an important project to him and deals with something close to his heart.

“It seems like, as nerds, we can get a little intimidated by the idea of sports, so I thought, ‘What if they don’t get it?” Jarbo tells Phoenix New Times while on the road with the nerdcore-centric Four-Eyed Horsemen tour. “But sports have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. After playing [Nintendo] as a kid, I’d go to the park afterward and shoot hoops. So sports is just as synonymous with Mega Ran as gaming. It’s been a part of me that I’ve mostly kept to myself, which is fine. I think we all have parts of us that we don’t necessarily proportion.”

True to form, the album was also inspired by a video game, the landmark EA Sports title, NBA Live 95, which Jarbo played “religiously” as a teenager in Philadelphia. The game came out in October 1994 during Jarbo’s senior year in high school and the peak of his basketball fandom.

Ball was life for Jarbo in those days, who played on his school’s junior varsity team (including a game against future NBA legend Rasheed Wallace) and followed the biggest stars of the era.

“I was collecting cards, buying magazines, hanging up the posters,” he says. “I could run down the points-per-game for each of my favorite players like Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, and Spud Webb.”

When he began attending Penn State University in 1995, Jarbo says his love of basketball followed him to college.

“My complete dorm was going crazy over [NBA Live 95] and we’d have all these tournaments,” he says. “So many of my favorite memories are connected to this game and that year. I really figured out how to be a man on a personal level so a lot of the songs are also about experiences during that time and what I’ve learned.”

To wit: “Flight 2.0” covers Jarbo’s tempering his obsession for sneaker culture and collecting cool kicks with ethical issues concerning how such shoes are made in sweatshops. In “1995,” he recalls his struggles with leaving home to go to college.

Some songs cover larger issues. With “Craig Hodges,” Jarbo raps about the former Chicago Bulls star of the same name who wore a dashiki and wanted to discuss the rights of African-Americans when the team visited the White House after winning the NBA title in 1992.

“I thought that was the coolest thing ever,” Jarbo says. “Here was this guy who could’ve just shown up and gotten a photo with the president, but he truly tried to have authentic conversations about social injustices.”

Jarbo’s interest in doing a basketball album tipped off in March during livestream concerts with Four-Eyed Horsemen tourmates MC Frontalot, MC Lars, and Schäffer the Darklord where each rapper would freestyle about a given topic.

“We had a theme every month, and went, ‘Since March is all about St. Patrick Day, let’s all pick some famous Patricks in history,” Jarbo says.

He went with Patrick Ewing, imagining the New York Knicks legend had become a rapper after leaving the NBA. It reignited his passion for basketball.

“I was like, ‘This is great, this is fun,” and once I was finished the concert, I just started writing songs relating to basketball,” Jarbo says. “It was like a lightning bolt hit me.”

He also saw it as a challenge to expand outside his comfort zone with something new, something he compares to Michael Jordan’s fleeting stint in baseball during his two-year interruption from NBA in the mid-’90s.

“I’m nowhere near the star he was, but it feels slightly similar,” Jarbo says. “I wanted to pivot to something different. I’ve done all these albums about video games, pop culture, and TV shows, but there’s always a moment where you want something new. So this is my foray into baseball, so to speak, but hopefully, it ends a lot better.”

So far, Jarbo’s sports gamble has paid off. Live ’95 hit iTunes’ top hip-hop album charts within days of its release. Meanwhile, the music video for “Flight 2.0” has started airing on the BET Jams cable channel.

No matter what happens, Jarbo is chalking up the experience as a W.

“I feel like sports kind of reinvigorated my creative excursion. I had a great time putting everything together and I got to talk to some of my favorite NBA stars,” Jarbo says. “The whole thing feels like a big win.”

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