Chrono Jigga, 2Mello’s mashup debut, is a polished collection of Jay-Z acapellas over various chopped and remixed tracks from the Chrono Trigger soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda. The result is a strange journey through not only time, but hip hop. The highly disparate works are combined to create an incredible, almost mind-warping whole. Imagine an alternate reality where Jay-Z spent nights reading video game guides and pressing A to attack instead of slanging and staying strapped. This album would be the result.
This odd genre has become a growing niche within a niche of music. Not just a mashup, and not quite nerdcore rap. Producers have begun to fuse classic and mainstream hip hop with remixed, video game inspired beats. Some might believe that such a narrow focus would lack any depth, that a simple mash up album shouldn’t be so intriguing. Well here we are.
2Mello’s mashup albums have garnered success in both hip hop and video game circles. Chrono Jigga has been covered by a variety of sites including Kotaku, Destructiod, and Paste.
I had the opportunity to speak with lyricist and ‘super producer’ 2Mello before the release of his new album, Nastlevania. The conversation focused mostly on the ideas and goals at work in Chrono Jigga, and sheds some light on these back alley dealings between nerdy music and mainstream hip hop.
GnT: Did you have any clear concept or goal in mind as you worked on Chrono Jigga?
2M: 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.
GnT: 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?
2M: 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?
GnT: As a fan of hip hop I’ve 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?
2M: 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.
GnT: Do you think there is a reason artists are creating this very specific type of musical hybrid?
2M: 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.
GnT: 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?
2M: 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.
GnT: 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?
2M: 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.
GnT: 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?
2M: 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.
GnT: 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?
2M: 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.
2M: 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.
GnT: 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?
2M: 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.
GnT: Anything else you would like to add to wrap up the interview?
2M: 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.
Anthony Ruybalid and Game N Train would like to thank 2Mello for his time. Go check out all his music over at 2mello.com. You can read the unedited interview at Game Music 4 All for even more discussion about hip hop and video games.