Talking Toonami with the Otaku King, Richie Branson

Rapper+Richie+Branson+has+recently+found+success+in+the+hip-hop+sub-genre+known+as+nerdcore.+Credit%3A+Mellie+Melle.+Used+with+permission.

Allison Clark

Rapper Richie Branson has recently found success in the hip-hop sub-genre known as nerdcore. Credit: Mellie Melle. Used with permission.
Rapper Richie Branson has recently found success in the hip-hop sub-genre known as nerdcore. Credit: Mellie Melle. Used with permission.

 

 

 

Richie Branson is a lover of video games and anime. He’s a nerd in the truest sense of the word, but there’s one thing that sets him apart, he’s also a rapper.

Branson, the self-declared Otaku King, is an artist devoted to “spittin’ rhymes” about anime and everything it entails. Branson’s brand of hip-hop is part of a sub-genre known asnerdcore, a form of rap characterized by themes relevant to nerds, from comic books to computers.

Recently, however, two of Branson’s songs, entitled Bring Back Toonami and Toonami’s Back B*tches,” have taken on new dimensions as anthems for the revival of a popular anime television block called Toonami.

Originally a weekday afternoon package of anime and other action cartoons, the show was cancelled in 2008 after nearly 11 years on the air.

Fans of the block, collectively known as the Toonami Faithful, successfully managed to rally the show’s network, Adult Swim, to revive it after they launched a web campaign comprised of Twitter storms, mass emails, and other forms of communication.

As a result, Branson’s music has been featured numerous times on the channel and has spread across the web, exposing it to a much larger audience.

The Dragon Press recently sat down with Branson to talk about his recent success, new-found popularity, and his role in the return of Toonami.

 

Dragon Press: How did you get into music in the first place?

Richie Branson: Growing up I wasn’t really wasn’t into music as a child… it wasn’t until I was in middle school that I joined band and I was an alto saxophone player. Once I was playing that alto sax I really took an interest into making music, so I ended up joining jazz band in high school…[In college] I took a few music theory classes where I ended up learning how to compose piano music and whatnot.

I didn’t start making beats or doing anything hip-hop until my senior year of high school. We had this little crew… [and we] used to make music and beat on the soda machines during lunch and freestyle rap… That’s kinda how the whole beat-making thing ended up starting. So then I went to college, not doing too much musically, I was more just goofing around. [I] ended up moving back home to help my mom out because she got sick. I transferred schools and just really started doing good in school out here [in San Antonio, TX], and decided that I would start producing again.

I ended up hooking up with an artist named Bone who ended up signing to Def Jam, and me and my cousin actually produced a few tracks for Def Jam around that time. One of those tracks ended up hitting Billboard, so we ended up getting a little bit of success off of that in the music production realm.

And I guess, like maybe a year after that, it hit me that I just wanna rap. You know, I’d always been a nerdy guy… A lot of people told me I’d never really be able to be a rapper; I kind of set out on a mission to prove em’ wrong. So I started rapping, at first I kind of went the mainstream route because that’s what all my friends were doing, but it sort of didn’t fit me.

 

 

I started to realize that the whole mainstream rap persona, if you will, it wasn’t really fitting my particular style… I decided that I would start rapping about things that I like to rap about, so I decided I would go ahead and start rapping about video games because that’s the sort of thing I like. I started making music about it. It really ended up taking off. I did a mixtape about “Star Wars: The Old Republic” that ended up doing really well, and I started realizing that I was really good at rapping about the stuff I like. Then I took it to anime and made theGundammixtape called “Wing Zero EP” and that kind of took off as well, and here I am.

When did you first become a fan of Toonami?

When Toonami was sort of getting its legs I was in, like, 9th and 10th grade. I remember first getting into it when they were showing “Dragon Ball Z.” It was something about that show… I remember seeing this “Dragon Ball Z” stuff, and what really hooked me to “Dragon Ball Z” was the way they executed the story. The story was huge, it kept you in the edge of your seat every episode. Because before that, I’d never experienced that, where a cartoon would force you to watch the next episode to see how the saga continued.

That changed my whole perspective on cartoons, period. I was really stoked. This is the type of stuff I wanna watch, these are the type of cartoons that I wanna see. Discovering that it was Japanese, and anime and all that, that’s what really fueled my anime fandom… It was like a gateway drug. And if that was the gateway drug, “Gundam Wing” was like that last step. Once I watched through “Gundam Wing” I was hooked, that’s always going to be my favorite anime of all time.

{sidebar id=56} Explain how you got into the nerdcore scene initially.

Well the way that sort of started off…[was the] Cold Republic mixtape, it ended up getting out there, and it ended up getting on a lot of nerdcore websites. So I thought it was pretty cool, and after that I ended up reaching out and doing some collaborations… I started trying to link up with some of them [fellow nerdcore rappers] to make some music, and one artist that I linked up with,Mega Ran, it was a blessing to be able to collaborate with him. I ended up producing his single off his current album, “The Language Arts EP,” and it was pretty fun.

Once I realized that there was an actual scene of artists that have been doing this, and a fan-base for it, that just excited me more… and I realized that I was getting more publicity doing this kind of music than I ever did doing mainstream.

I was getting way more exposure, way more fans that actually were digging me for me… and they genuinely care for seeing me succeed. At that point, I was just like ‘screw it I’m just gonna full steam ahead on this nerdcore stuff and just keep it pushing.’ I’ve rocked some mainstream crowds before… and none of that will ever compare to the type of support I’ve been getting from the nerdcore crowds. It’s crazy, I love it.

How did you come to assume your nickname as the Otaku King? And when did anime become the main focus of your music?

It was funny, because right after I dropped that [Cold Republic EP], I was like man what am I gonna put out next? And it was like immediate, like there was no doubt in my mind that I was gonna do the Gundam, the Wing Zero EP. I just knew I was gonna do that, so I immediately started producing for the Wing Zero EP, and eventually after doing that for so long, it just sort of came to a head… After I dropped that I was like, ‘well, okay, the people are really feeling this, they’re really feeling this Gundam rap I’m doing.’ So after that I decided that I would kick it up a notch, and just really try to stay focused on doing a lot of the anime rap.

I like doing it because it’s the true spirit of hip-hop. A lot of hip-hop has sort of devolved into this sort of bragging thing… Even though it’s nerdcore… I really do feel like the type of music that nerdcore artists make is more true to the spirit of hip-hop than mainstream hip-hop is nowadays. You know, we are telling stories, we’re giving people music that they can relate to, we’re not just making the same crap that everybody else is making… we’re telling a perspective here that a lot of people can realistically relate to.

You’ve been getting a lot of attention and exposure both online and on Adult Swim for your Toonami music, what has that been like?

When I started the Otaku Tuesdays, I made a point to try to get people to tell me what I should rap about… And I remember it was few people in particular that stayed on my [expletive] about doing the “Bring Back Toonami” rap. The funny thing is because after they did the April Fool’s joke, that was a surreal moment for me when they aired Toonami April 1st. Watching Gundam Wing on television for the first time in a long, long time was a very emotional moment for me.

I went on Twitter and I was like I’m gonna do a bring back Toonami rap, I don’t know when, but [expletive] I’m gonna do it… The next day as soon as the April Fool’s joke aired, I wrote this bring back Toonami song. After a while, you know, I started getting requests from people, and it was just a few people consistently on Twitter, email, however they could get to me [telling me to release it].

So I recorded it, mixed it, and threw it out there a couple weeks ago. And it was crazy, I didn’t expect it to get thatbig of a buzz, but I think by that afternoon Adult Swim had heard it and they had already put it up on their Twitter.

The Internet went nuts that day…and it gave hope to the#BringBackToonami movement. I don’t think the song itself single-handedly brought back Toonami. The song was sort of just that icing on the cake. I just feel like I was the player off the bench that just made a lucky shot, that’s all. But it sorted of rallied everybody.

 

What have been some of your favorite responses to your music?

My favorite one has gotta be Jason DeMarco [co-creator of Toonami] when he first heard the Toonami rap he tweeted, “Holly [expletive]! This Toonami rap by Richie Branson is amazing.” By far the favorite one, no doubt.

And also, of course, Steve Blum [voice of TOM, the host of Toonami] reached out and gave me some really good feedback as well. That was humbling to here him say how talented I am, and I’m like, “Naw, if I’m talented then you’re like a freakin’ god.”

It’s good to know that some of the creators of some of the things that I’m actually rapping about, or sampling my music [from], are actually congratulating me or giving me props. That’s a great thing for me. That’s worth its weight in gold to me.           

Can you describe what it felt like when Adult Swim announced that Toonami was actually coming back?

I freaked out… that Wednesday they had announced on Twitter that they were bringing Toonami back. And I was like, “Holy [expletive]!” I really did shed a few nostalgia tears… It was, man, I can’t really describe in words how great I felt just to know that Toonami was coming back. You know, I had dropped a whole album about my Toonami experiences with the Gundam (EP)… I can talk all day about that, man.                                      

{sidebar id=57} What was your creative process for writing the Toonami songs?

It was two completely different creative processes… If I had to pick one, I’d have to say the “Bring Back Toonami” rap was definitely my favorite of the two. There was passion in that one… I dug down to the depths of my soul writing that one. I was on a mission, I was like ‘I’ve gotta make a point, these people have to hear this.’ I think my favorite line, though, was ‘We miss T.O.M., not version 4 but the previous/Before he got mellowed out like Toyota Prius.’   

Now, “#ToonamisBackB*tches” was kind of like ‘yeah, we did it.’ I didn’t want to go too out there, but I did want to drive home the point that we did it. But at the same time I did wanna spit it in a way that introduced new people to Toonami who may not have been accustomed to what Toonami was about. And I sort of gave it more of a general, almost theme songy type of feel just so new people wouldn’t be like ‘What the hell is Toonami?’               

Do you think this is part of a bigger resurgence of anime in the United States?

I think this was like the “shot heard round the world” and the war to bring back anime to the forefront. I think Toonami coming back is like a signal… it’s like they’re [Adult Swim] making a point, we’ve made a point to say “Hey, anime is not this obscure thing. You have to respect anime, and we’re really gonna have to get this thing going.” I think that is the message we’re sending.

We swayed a network to bring a whole block of anime back in style. So that, hopefully, will send a message to other networks as well who may have had their anime programming sort of fade out over the years.

What new material or projects are you currently working on?

There’s gonna be an album about “Cowboy Bebop” [entitled the Jupiter Jazz EP]. I’ve got a little bit of jazz training under my belt, so I’m gonna try my best to make it as jazzy and hip-hoppy as possible. It’s gonna be awesome.  

 

What do you think?