“Otaku” is a Japanese term for nerds or geeks, people who supposedly have no lives and obsess over hobbies that most people laugh at.
Enter Otaku Gang, a group made up of cousins Solar Slim and Richie Branson known for a combination of The Notorious B.I.G. and Star Wars called Life After Death Star. “Otaku” now signifies a group of hard-working individuals in music production, graphic design and video game programming.
“We’d figure we’d flip it and kind of bring it into a positive way and use it to kinda show people who like different things,” Branson says of the Texas-based group in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. “They may be into music a lot or they may be into video games or movies or comics or anime. So Otaku Gang is basically representing those people who have sort of those interests that the mainstream may not [deem] acceptable.
“We kinda like wanted to give that something that people could be proud of,” Branson continues. “‘Yeah. I’m an Otaku. Yeah, it’s dope.’”
Solar Slim has produced for several artists, including Bone’s hit single “Homegurl (He Know).” Branson wrote the theme song for Adult Swim’s Toonami. He likens himself and Slim and their contrasting interests to the dynamic duo of the 1970s, Starsky & Hutch.
Otaku Gang Prepares “Marshall Vs. Capcom”
Otaku Gang’s next project is Marshall vs. Capcom, a mashup of Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP and the Street Fighter video game soundtrack. Marshall vs. Capcom was released today (February 16) to coincide with the release of Street Fighter V. The music will be available for download into the game so that it can replace the original game soundtrack.
“It’s actually like we’re remixing the game itself,” Branson says.
Slim explains that this project was a much bigger feat than the group’s last mashup, Life After Death Star. Even though the producer puts Eminem in his top five of greatest emcees, he says the Detroit rapper’s music is incredibly difficult to remix.
“His flow is so crazy, it’s all over the place,” Slim says. “And he sings on pretty much everything. From a producer’s standpoint, you can’t just make a beat. You can’t just make sure that the beat fits around it and the groove fits around it. Now you have to match the key. When you’re dealing with samples, we’re only limited to Street Fighter samples, the challenge becomes so much greater.”
Download Marshall vs. Capcom at OtakuGang.com/capcom.
Otaku Gang Honors The Notorious B.I.G. & Star Wars
The idea for Life After Death Star came to Branson before Thanksgiving. He called Solar Slim and asked him for his thoughts about remixing classic Biggie cuts with signature themes from the Star Wars franchise. The seventh installment of the saga, The Force Awakens, released to theaters in December.
“I’m used to him coming up with outstanding ideas, but this one was, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up,” Slim says.
“There’s a lot of parallels with the movie and a lot of the story is how things happen sorta reminded me of Biggie’s career,” Branson says of his idea, “and so I figured Biggie’s voice and his personality was really bombastic and dominant in sort of a similar fashion of Darth Vader, the villain of Star Wars. So I thought this would be so cool.”
The cover art for Life After Death Star shows Darth Vader facing The Notorious B.I.G. with the Death Star in the middle. Solar Slim and Richie Branson work closely with graphic designer Plush Giant to make sure their projects are complete packages.
“That dude created a hell of a cover,” Branson says. “Anything that we do that you see graphics and you see that dope look, that’s him. That’s like the music and all that stuff, that’s cool, but the visuals, man, drive it home.”
The 17-track mixtape features songs from throughout Biggie’s catalogue. Slim, who says he is a huge fan of the New York rapper, says that it gave him a new appreciation for someone who he already considered a legend. Prior to working on Life After Death Star, Slim considered “Party ’N Bullshit” one of his least favorite Biggie cuts. After working on the project, he now lists it among his favorite songs. The producer explains that he appreciates Biggie for his storytelling, citing songs such as “Niggas Bleed.”
“When I listen to the people who have been rapping since he died, I don’t hear very many people who can match what he did,” Slim says. “The guy was a lyrical genius. He painted a vivid picture for you every single time he touched the mic.”
For Solar Slim, making this mixtape was humbling to honor his hero who he will never get the chance to meet face-to-face.
“I feel in my heart that he’s in heaven looking down on us saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you,’” he says. “That’s honestly how I feel. I feel like I made a connection with him, the same connection that I feel I have with other legends where I feel they look at us and they say, you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to. You’re doing what you love to do, the same thing I did. I just feel like he appreciated it. So more than anything, it was just really, really exciting to be able to take that ride and feel like I made that connection with him.”
While Slim appreciated honoring Biggie through the project, Branson, a fan of Star Wars, was excited to see appreciation from the Star Wars camp. He saw an interview where a writer for the series said that he is listening to Life After Death Star while penning a movie based off the character Boba Fett.
“That was crazy,” he says. “To me, I was like, man, for the people who actually make these movies to actually sit there and actually listen to this and approve of this, that was really cool.”
Besides seeing parallels between Biggie and Darth Vader, Branson says that the bounty hunter reflects Hip Hop culture as well. He hopes the success of Life After Death Star opens the door for future Hip Hop influence in Star Wars.
“The fact that he’s writing a story about Boba Fett, like he’s so gangster to me,” Branson says… “We hope that the Star Wars people will reach out to us. We’d love to maybe produce some Cantina music for the next Star Wars movie. Holla at us.”
Otaku Gang Mimics Drake-Meek Mill Beef With Video Game
Another popular project that Otaku Gang released was the “Meeky Mill” video game. Users play as Meek Mill chasing coins and avoiding bombs marked “L” thrown by Drake and 50 Cent. Despite many people thinking that Meek Mill was the loser in the rap beef between him and Drake, Otaku Gang believes that the Philadelphia rapper should be an example for people who endure hardships.
“A lot of people took it as we were trying to diss Meek Mill along with Drake and 50 and that wasn’t the case at all,” Slim says. “More so it really paints a picture of what Meek Mill is already doing ‘cause all we were doing was capitalizing on what was going on. So we decided to come out with a video game that would paint that picture and allow people to actually involve themselves in that beef more so than just watching it from the sidelines. Now you don’t have to watch it from the sidelines, you can join in too and play. All Meek has been talking about, if you look at his Instagram and his Twitter, he doesn’t respond, but he posts pictures of him counting $500,000 while Nicki asleep or he has a stack of 50,000 up to his ear like it’s a phone.
“And the objective of the Meeky Mill game is to do what?” Slim continues. “Get money. And that’s all Meek is trying to do while they’re trying to throw all these Ls at him. He’s just trying to get the check and that’s what everybody should be doing. So the game really paints the picture perfectly for the situation. It paints the picture exactly the way the situation is happening. Meek trying to get his bread regardless of what’s going on with Drake and 50 and the rap beef, that’s what they all doing. So we just wanted to paint the picture in an amusing way and that’s exactly what we were able to do.”
“You actually have to get money and avoid the Ls,” Branson adds. “So Meek is like the hero and it’s teaching a lesson to anybody who experiences that like, ‘Yo, if these people are throwing Ls at you, just miss them with that and continue to get your money.’ So it’s almost in a funny and twisted way, it’s also giving a positive message like get your money and don’t worry about what other people got going on. Just avoid those crazy situations where you’re gonna take Ls and get money.”
50 Cent joined the beef when he played Drake’s “Back to Back” Meek Mill diss track at a concert. Meek Mill fired back with shots at 50 on “Gave Em Hope,” which ignited an Instagram war between the two. The G-Unit rapper posted dozens of memes of Meek Mill, including one of an invitation to the Maybach Music Group rapper’s funeral.
“I look at 50 like he is the number one savage in the game right now,” Branson says. “That’s the last like, if I had to choose to randomly pick a rapper to beef with out of a hat, I would pray that I don’t get 50 Cent. ‘Cause like 50’s gonna come at you in all angles. He treats beef in like a personal way. It’s not just, ‘Oh yeah, let me just put some bars on wax.’ He’s gonna hit you with the social media. He’s gonna hit you with the funny videos. He’s gonna take your baby mama out to eat, take her shopping. He’s gonna do the most. So the whole thing when 50 got into it, I was like, ‘Oh no. This is gonna be very bad for Meek.’”
50 Cent has yet to respond on wax to Meek Mill’s disses, but he’s let his feelings toward the Dreams Worth More Than Money rapper be known through various disses during recent concerts.
50 Cent has been involved with more than music, including his Starz show, Power, and being an Effen vodka spokesperson. Otaku Gang recognizes that music probably isn’t 50’s priority now, but still hold his debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, in high esteem.
“Get Rich or Die Tryin’ to this day is one of the hardest Hip Hop albums in history,” Slim says.
The duo selected “Patiently Waiting,” a cut from the 2003 LP, to be included on the “Meek Milly” game mashup. It was paired with a sample of Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “All I Need is Time,” the beat of Future’s “Fuck Up Some Commas,” as well as vocals from the Atlanta rapper’s “Karate Chop” and Drake’s “Over.”
Unlike most video games where the soundtrack is one of the last steps in the creation process, Otaku Gang made the “Commas Over Waiting” song before creating the game. Branson then listened to the track while he was programming the game.
“In this case, since the game was driven by this musical, these music artists that were being made into villains and heroes, I figured it would be dope to have Slim put the music together quickly,” Branson says, “and he’s just like, ‘Yo, here it is. Boom.’ I was like, ‘Wow. Ok, I can rock with this.’”
The song got some radio play and was even supported by Swishahouse’s DJ Michael “5000” Watts.
“Let them know we made them some pennies,” Slim says to 50 Cent, Drake and Future because of the samples getting air time. “Shout me out, man. I made you at least a dollar. I know I did.”
Otaku Gang Seeks To Raise The Bar Of Music And Technology
Solar Slim and Richie Branson seek to continue chasing their passions for music and video games with the first virtual reality album. The project will be original music from Otaku Gang and people will listen to the project through a headset that will create a visual experience.
“It’s like some real next level shit,” Branson says.
Otaku Gang wants the world to know that its work is not niche. Branson is on tour with Mega Ran, who is a pioneer for the intersection of video game and rap culture. He and Slim hope to become the first group to sign to a label for video game deals rather than album deals.
“We’re really eating off this,” Branson says. “This is something that can be lucrative. We gotta let the world know about that, man. This stuff that we’re doing, it’s something that’s real. There’s artists touring off of this, there’s cats making moves and the world needs to know that.”