Video games have always played an integral part in hip-hop specifically production and today I have an interview I did with 2Mello who’s been in the production for a long time. Last month Mello released “Memories Of Tokyo-To: A Tribute To Jet Set Radio” the instrumental project not only paid homage to the classic, but also gave 2Mello the platform to showcase his diversity as a producer. Peep the interview below and make sure you give this Jet Set Radio Tribute a spin.
iStandard: For those who don’t know, who is 2 Mello?
2Mello: I am a music producer and remixer whose primary interests are hip-hop production, especially that which is done with sampling, and video game music composition. I first became widely known for combining my two loves and mixing hip-hop songs with video game soundtracks in free fan mashup projects like “Chrono Jigga”. I have worked on the soundtracks of a number of video games already, including 2064: Read Only Memories, Cerebrawl and 2018’s Celeste. I also remake classic feats of sampling in hip-hop step by step on my podcast The Sample Study and release original albums like the “midnight broadcasts” beat tape series.
iStandard: I’m trying to run the whole gambit with this one, so tell me how you got into music and how it brought you to producing music?
2 Mello: I first got into music as a way to not listen to people and focus on reading and being creative. I have always been kind of a loner and a pair of headphones is great for that. For a long time, I was listening to whatever came on the radio in the 90s, but I eventually acknowledged my interest in rap music in particular and picked up a compilation from the library that featured really well-produced tracks like Tribe’s Scenario, Mobb Deep’s Right Back At You and Rump Shaker by Wreckx-n-Effect. These songs made me even more curious about how hip-hop’s sound was made from so many different sources. I then got the Matrix movie soundtrack and discovered electronic music from England, specifically the big-beat, rave and drum-n-bass genres. Knowing that all the music I liked was made on computers, I began producing on the shared family computer with a piece of budget software I got for Christmas when I was 13—Screenblast Acid 4.0. It was meant to be used for really light, casual stuff like putting music behind your home movies, but I was using it to make beats!
iStandard: Tell me about how “Memories Of Tokyo-To” came about, because truthfully I don’t think you’ve been given enough credit on how hard of a project this is to take on.
2Mello: While I was working on the Cerebrawl soundtrack, I started noticing a similarity between my style of arranging sounds, specifically vocal samples, and the energy of composer Hideki Naganuma, who is chiefly responsible for the Jet Set Radio musical style. I had already noticed that people were digging my Cerebrawl soundtrack much more than anything I had previously worked on, and decided I wanted to put out an original project in this style as well. I had a lot of trouble putting a concept together, and I threw the possibility of making a Jet Set Radio tribute album out there in a tweet. People were very into it, and I was already connected to a large Twitter community of Jet Set Radio fans due to the Internet radio station Jet Set Radio Live. With my experience in sampling, imitation, knowledge of video game music and skill focus at the time, I didn’t think there was anyone better-equipped to take something like this on. Plus, it’s a forgotten sound that everyone wants to hear coming back. It’s not often that you get to work in a style with no competition.
iStandard: We’ve all seen tributes before whether in AMVs or beat tapes for all types of games between Sonic, Final Fantasy and tons of other games, why Jet Set Radio for this tribute project?
2Mello: Jet Set Radio’s music in particular keeps it from aging out, even fifteen years after its last entry. It’s two games, one of them is widely available and remastered but not great to play, and the other is much better but requires you to have the hulking, aging OG Xbox to play at all. It should be forgotten, but it’s not because the art, the characters and the music are so strong and so unique, even now. What makes the music so good is imprecise. There’s a lot of different genres in its mix, from rock to electronic to hip-hop to funk and blues, but it sounds most similar to big beat, a sub-genre of electronic music which has come and gone. I guess what I’m saying is that I did it because I knew it would be really hard! Also, I felt that no one else was paying the right tribute to the game, or seeing the potential I saw in it.
iStandard: How has the reception of the project been? It kind of seems to have taken a life of its own. What was your process like making this, how long did it take, what kind of equipment did you use
2Mello: The reception has been above and beyond anything I have experienced with my original music. Something I struggle with is that my mashups are still much more popular than the original work I’ve done, and I can’t sell them or spend too much time making them because they have no return. This is the first original project I’ve done that has been on the same level of popularity and had the same promotional longevity as one of my mashup projects, so I’m extremely proud of it. It took seven months to make and it came together very quickly once I had the “Jet Set Radio” concept focus and set deadlines for myself. A couple of the songs were things I had worked on previously and having them on the album was just a matter of finishing them up. What was most difficult about producing the album was the amount of change-ups (new original elements) that I wanted the tracks to have every minute. I feel that the result is very exciting and doesn’t really get old with repeated listens. I didn’t use any unique equipment, just a laptop and a Rode NT2-A microphone, running through a Focusrite Scarlett interface. The album was produced in Ableton Live using Native Instruments FM8, u-he Diva and the Arturia V Collection (my favorite synths), a lot of sample CDs that the SEGA music team was using from the late 90s to early 2000s and some Kontakt sample libraries for instrument parts. I mixed down the tracks on KRK Rokit 5 monitors and AKG k701 headphones.
iStandard: One thing about the producer aspect of all this that I find interesting is the evolution of a producer’s sound. How did you get from your inception as a producer to evolving your sound to make this tribute?
2Mello: After all these years of searching for a sound, I have focused in on two things I really like in music—the ability to take an audio sample and stretch it to do unimaginable creative things, really making it yours, and the ability to properly pay tribute to something. You do this by making the thing your own, not copying it wholesale but emphasizing the parts you like and editing out the parts that don’t, then filling the empty space with yourself. Nothing is perfect, and I don’t look at Jet Set Radio’s music like this perfect, untouchable thing. There are tracks and elements of the production I’m simply not into, and the writing for the story and characters of the game are threadbare. I wrote my own story and created songs dedicated to certain characters, giving them more than the game ever did, and I carefully emphasized the parts of the music I liked without making listeners feel like I had left behind anything really important. I want to continue doing more tributes that aren’t covers or remakes, but instead are the musical representation of how the media we love affects us and becomes entangled with our life path. I wouldn’t be the same without Jet Set Radio, so the least I can do is try to make it so that it wouldn’t be the same without me.
iStandard: In my eyes I feel like there’s no way Jet Set doesn’t make some type of return, do you think it’s realistic, or is “Memories Of Tokyo-To” the last we’ll hear of the cult classic?
2Mello: With recent games like Splatoon carrying the style torch of the wild SEGA Dreamcast lineup, including Jet Set Radio, and doing very well for themselves because of it, I think it is inevitable that SEGA makes a move with the Jet Set franchise again. The loud fanbase on Twitter probably helps as well; I know that there is one of those for every lost game series, but if I had to choose just a few that were most adamant about their properties returning, the Jet Set fanbase would definitely be one. Just last year, an independent developer was asked by Sony to make a proof of concept for a new Jet Set Radio and show it to them and SEGA at GDC. Reportedly, SEGA turned down the concept, but I would not be surprised if they are just looking for the right team to do it. I think the wheels are in motion and I’m going to try as hard as I can to be there when they need their musicians.
iStandard: What are some tips you can throw to producers looking to take the next step in their career and get their foot in the door?
2Mello: Always do you—there is no amount of money or success that is worth changing who you are. Even though compromising yourself can be tempting if it is a way forward, and there is seemingly no other way forward from where you are, it is not worth it. The only way to wake up happy and relaxed each day in this business, to continue to push yourself and make big moves, is to be fully confident in them. Also, don’t work for free, because it devalues you and everyone else trying to make it, including me. The way this works is if a client is able to get you to give them something for free, they will never pay anyone else for it again if they can help it, continuing to find more people who they can exploit. Lastly, if you have the choice and are able, don’t work for people whose payments to you exceed the amount of trust you can put in them. You don’t want to be connected to anyone who is questionable or unstable because they will make your work relationship messy, and the way people perceive them may extend to you over time. Things will never be stable until you get rid of shifty collaborators. I don’t want to sound too preachy, so let it be known that I am still working on two of these things myself—but NEVER working for free.
iStandard: I thought I’d be a bit too premature in asking this but according to Twitter you’re already thinking about your next album, what can we expect from you for the rest of 2018?
I’m always working! I’m hoping to release at least two albums this year, one being a continuation of the midnight broadcasts series and the other being a combination of the smooth beats of Nujabes, trip-hop music and R&B. I have some stretch goals, most of which are other albums but one of which is to actually write a book about getting into and staying into music as a career. I will also show up as a feature or a main role in a number of unannounced or unreleased video games.