Game Music Saturdays – Forever Famicom

[bandcamp album=668277847 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=F59F00 size=grande]

I’ve written previously about Random, a.k.a. MegaRan, a.k.a. Raheem Jarbo, specifically the Black Materia album (and wow, did I write that a long time ago). However, I’ve waited on dropping the funds on some of the other albums. Thank God for Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales!

Forever Famicom combines the talent of Random with his friends and production collaborator K-Murdock. I’ve described Random exhaustively already; if you don’t know why he’s special, go read the previous review and see for yourself. The latter was not known to me at all prior to this particular musical piece, but it appears he’s been relatively prolific (at least in some underground rap scene somewhere) as a producer. Or, as his website says:

Inspired by the jazzy soul samples ATCQ frontman Q-Tip and producers like Dj Spinna & J Dilla (R.I.P.) were flipping in the 90s, I got serious about music and sound creation during my freshman year at Howard University, where I majored in audio production. Now, 10 (plus) years AND lots of beats later, I have been able to establish a sound through myNeosonic Productions.

The word “Neosonic” emanated in 2001 from the slogan: the creation of a new (neo)sound (sonic) with each production”, which I originally used to denote any music that I produced, but after learning the “business of music” firsthand over the years, I decided in 2010 to turn that personal slogan into my professional brand. Now Neosonic Productions serves not only as a banner for my production work, but also as a vehicle to release my various side & solo projects- including the albums of my critically acclaimed hip-hop group Panacea & all of the music I create with popular nerdcore artist Random aka Mega Ran.

From my perspective, the “neosonic” sound prevalent throughout Forever Famicom combines hip-hop beats with slowed-down samples of NES and SNES video game music (hence the name of record). That doesn’t mean, however, that said sampling’s purely a gimmick-for-gimmck’s sake; rather, the lyrics and background together create an atmosphere of homage, respect, and love for the source material throughout the entirety of this album. It’s much more integrated than some of Random’s other albums (which, from what I can tell, uses a variety of different producers), lending a consistency and thematic unity that I really appreciate. I’m a “full album” kind of guy; I don’t love singles, so this is perfect for me.

“Forever”, which reminisces about the pleasures of retro gaming, nostalgia, the 1980s and the game of life, uses Earthbound as a tapestry that weaves in and out of Random’s rhymes. Random’s personal experience finds yet another outlet here, as he uses video game conventions in various genres as a metaphor for conveying his trials. It’s rather effective, touching, and comforting all at the same time. I haven’t even played Earthbound all the way through, but I can see the intentional parallels between the rapper extraordinaire on display and the life of Ness (the protagonist of the game). And seriously, that beat from K-Murdock is unbelievably smooth as butter. Sorry, but that’s the best comparison I could imagine off the top of my head.

Another standout comes from “Player Two”. Deftly handling the low-key synth piano of Secret of Mana into a excellent musical complement, it’s nearly my favorite use of sampling in the whole CD. Sure, most of the song barely uses it at all, but that’s part of its genius – it appears only in the chorus, yet it’s so memorable with Random’s perfect chorus that It’s hard to get it out of your head. Random regales the benefits of cooperative games, exemplifying the central theme of community seen throughout.

Although “Drop the Load” doesn’t actually have any video game samples behind it, it does have an incredibly relevant commentary on the game industry’s steady decrease in quality in both software and hardware. The song title itself refers to the issues with loading, installing, etc. that have plagued the modern system. To wit:When I was a little kid

Playin games up in the crib, I guess took for granted the, Time it took to get it in, Power on game start in 20 seconds flat, Shoot, 2600 games would take less than that, I just can’t seem to manage, Never understood the fact, The more powerful the system, It’s a bigger piece of crap, Commodore 64 a game called ultima, I would fix dinner in the time it took to load it up, Wing commander 3, although I never tried it, installation took an hour, so I wasn’t buyin it, I miss the cartridge, them joints were mad sturdy, Now u get a disc read error if it’s a little dirty, I used to stack my carts up and built forts with em, Dropkick em with gi joes and put em in the system,Power on and they work perfectly, without a hiccup, if u feel like I feel, then say it with me, now get up and Drop the load

Had an 360 3 years, three red rings, Had an nes forever never had to fix a thing, Used to love soldier of fortune, blowin cats apart, But I could make a cake in the time it took for it to start, So traded in my station, and copped a 64, but when I saw how much the games cost my jaw hit the floor 70 bucks for superman, well I just got paid, Little did I know that was the worst game ever made, And I was working at toys r us, my job was to sell, so I couldn’t tell you that joint was cheesy as hell, Moved on to ps2 when I heard the news of metal gear solid 2, and I remember, that joint was cool, But when i beat it, all I remember sayin, Was I spent more time on cutscenes than actually playin, Made me wish I never gave away my old joints, this is this whole point, can I get a witness say it wit me

What gamer hasn’t had these exact sentiments? I booted up my Nintendo 64 with its glorious lack of load times and loved every minute of it. You can go from zero to game in about 15 seconds with Super Mario 64; it is, indeed, glorious. This is a launch-day system; I have never had another one at any point in time, and I’ve played thousands of hours, I’m sure, on this black grey box. My SNES probably holds up; I have the cables, but I haven’t gotten it set for gaming yet. I want to play my original Earthbound, after all!

See what these kind of albums do to me? All I can think about is all the great games and experiences I had as a kid. These little tidbits strewn about the music on call here make it more than just a simple rap album – it’s a crafted epic for the community of the Nintendo era. When they ruled, games were difficult and mysterious. There was no Internet to solve all of humankind’s video game related issues; instead, all we had were the fellow players of the game. Our common vernacular became necessary to make our ways through these games – a collaborative effort like that between a rapper and his producer. Neither can exist without the other.

At the least, this “gaming culture” gives us a small taste of the Church’s true form: a common language and a common experience which we share in a variety of traditions and ceremonies. In this case, the people who play video games have a common cultural resource in video games. Shared interests create a space for conversations and relationship. Would this blog exist without the compulsion to talk about video games and theology? Obviously, the latter reigns over the former, but the former was just as integral to my life. It’s an integral fabric, and it’s difficult to see the world in any other eyes. I imagine there are others like me, but here lies the environment for that conversation: shared experiences, not just condemnation. In Acts 2, they did much the same thing:

42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and[to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Can we do this in American society? Probably not; the whole concept of “sharing” isn’t neccessarily a virtue, though “charity” certainly is. Like something Stanley Hauerwas would say, “rights” language assumes that we primarily interact with other people as strangers. That seems wrong, doesn’t it? If the idealized “early Church community” concept has any weight (I’m not for a particular idea of how the Church appears and operates in this sense), it’s in this: people relating to people as people. Individuals. Not just a face in the crowd. Not as a pretentious “Christian” either, acting in judgement of a person’s actions, or as the stereotype of what they think they should be. People in church should be just what God created them to be: themselves. Not that this isn’t hard, but it’s certainly doable.

Was that the most glorious tangent I’ve ever embarked upon? Any album that can inspire such a conversation certainly deserves your time!

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • Digging it. Thanks for including the Bandcamp embed. You raise an excellent point about the communal element and how gamers are comparable to the church: they’re sharing the same profound experience. After listening to the album some more, I’m not sure that it’s working for me musically. The lyrics are good. But the aesthetic is a little too slow. Then again, I did get up at 5:30 this morning. There’s got to be an achievement unlock for that…

    • After more listening, I can say that the referential nostalgia of the music is by far the best part. Wish the beats were better.

      • @Mjoshua I suppose K-Murdock’s an acquired taste, and the beats ARE slow. But I do really like the whole style and flavor of the album. Gives Random time to do his signature style, with some weird time signature, rhyme schemes, and even some freestyling (he is known to do that at live shows, I hear).