Murs: A Change Gone' Come
In the past couple of years, most major label rappers havent exactly been seen as great artists. So, seeing one make an effort to be artistic may actually be seen as strange by some. In the game today, weak emcees are plentiful and dissectible lyrics are scarce. Conceptual rhymes are almost unheard of and jewelry/automobile love ballads flood a major percentage of the rhyme books held by young spitters. Search the Los Angeles area and find that a major rapper who doesnt smoke weed is as hard to find as a snowy day. In todays rap world, there are few emcees bold enough to begin their major label debut by stating that kids are dying in Sudan and that rappers need to care about it. At least Im trying, he says before Im Innocent, his first track begins. This is all weird because independent rapper-turned-Warner Brothers recording artist Murs is releasing Murs for President in a rap world that sees him as an oddity and an anomaly. A successful independent rapper with a large underground following and a fanbase worldwide, Murs is finally ready for that close up. With no chain that hangs or rims that shine, Murs for President is his introduction to the mainstream world, of course, with his traditional What up, though?
It is also his reintroduction to longtime followers. Since the early '90s, the underground Mr. Carter (whose real name is Nick Carter) has released a slew of successful solo projects on top of various group albums with many crews including The Living Legends, the 3 Melancholy Gypsies and Felt. Hes gone from ciphers on Los Angeles sidewalks to creating, promoting and throwing Paid Dues, his very own annual independent music festival, one that has already garnered more and more notoriety since its inception. After releasing many videos, a movie, his own DVD magazine and a comic book, Murs has gained more than enough recognition, respect and accolades from the underground world of Hip Hop. Now, its time for that spotlight.
As he gets set for what could very well be a career and industry shaking debut, Murs took some time off between Rock the Bells dates and promotional events to speak with HipHopDX about everything that is about to happen. Since his declaration that he would go major at Paid Dues, message boards, blogs and ciphers have been going off on how he would change, stay the same, fall off or get better. He spoke to us on progression and his inspiration to go major with a deeply educational tone. With such a political title and with the current political climate looming overhead, he spoke on the election and his surprising take on the world, foreign policy and how he plans to make a change for himself. He also went into detail about his work with various producers, friends and legends like DJ Quik and Snoop Dogg. As is usually the case with the self proclaimed weird Murs, he also spoke on how he plans to disrupt the game and why he feels he has no competition in the mainstream rap world.
HipHopDX: Youre embarking on a life changing journey with this album. Was your approach with this LP different at all? Did you see it as Im about to tear up the mainstream? Did you attack it in any different way or was it the same technique to keep continuity?
Murs: Definitely different. Id be a fool to just do the same thing. If I wanted to do the same thing, I would have just stayed independent. So, I definitely attacked the album differently, knowing I would have a lot more people listening. Sadly enough, theres never been a successful, black, independent artist. Some have been successful on their own, but to achieve some type of superstardom, you always have to go to a major. Sadly enough, even Scarface [click to read] didnt get a classic record, even though Mr. Scarface was to me, classic, but The Fix wasnt deemed classic until it was on Def Jam. Its a sad thing for the black community because theres a lot of good singers, even in Doo Wop, theres good singers everywhere. But, in order for them to be considered official, they have to be on the radio. We have good singers at church and everybody knows a good rapper, but until youre put on TV and backed by most likely a white company or a big company, whether it be Def Jam or Warner Brothers, youre not respected in the community because everybody can rap and everybody can sing. Everybody can play basketball, but until youre on an NBA team, youre not considered to be great.
I feel this is a step I had to take for my people because no one is really making that effort to be the KRS-One [click to read] or the De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest [click to read] because all of us are saying, We want to be independent, because were too proud. Actually, its better money to be independent but I didnt feel I was reaching the kids that I needed to reach because theyre getting spoon-fed garbage. Also, I want to be a good songwriter. This album may not be front to back the greatest, because I have different producers on it. Im hearing a couple critics say that. Thats cool with me because I went to the jukebox the other day and it was just Frank Sinatra. It didnt say what song or what album. It just said Frank Sinatra. No one can tell me Frank Sinatras greatest album and no one can tell me, really, Elton Johns greatest album. You just know that if you put together all their best songs, youre gonna have some shit. Id rather be on of those people because I make three albums a year. I wrote 60 songs for this record. This is just the 14 best of 'em. I'm not concerned with ratings or first week or all the numbers. I just wanted to make a good, positive record and write some good songs just to showcase my skill, of course, 'cause this is rap but also just to contribute to the Hip Hop legacy and the overall oral tradition of music. And yeah, part of me does want to kill the mainstream because all these dudes suck. None of them are a better rapper than me. None of them are a better live performer than me. Hands down. I will shame anyone on any major label, on my label, on any label.
DX: Being an Angelino, you got to work with two west coast legends on the album. Take me through working with Snoop and Quik. What did that mean to you? What advice did they give you as you worked on this project?
Murs: Snoop wasnt even supposed to be on the record. We kind of share the same management, but not really. We have some mutual people in our camps.One day, my manager called me like Guess what Dogg sent from Europe? I was like, Holy shit! He did his verse? Then hes like, "He wants you to add a third verse and hell come down and be in the room with you, talk to you, chill with you while you do the third verse so the song feels right." I was like, "Wow." Its like a stamp of approval. Before that, he shouted me out in a couple of raps and shouted me out on Power 106. He was aware of what I was doing and people have been making him aware, because slowly, I have been making an impact in the black community and in the hood. In the gangster rap scene, people see what Im doing. They respect me because Im not trying to be them. Just like the OGs in my neighborhood always respected me for just being me. I had to get down a couple of times, but once motherfuckers knew I would fight and [that I] wasnt no punk, they was like, "Let little cuzz do his thing. Thats weird cuzz. Let him go."
DX: Thats what they said? "Weird Cuzz?"
Murs: "Thats Weird Cuzz! Oh, thats just him. Thats the homie but he just does what he does!" I think anybody thats really real, regardless if youre a real gangster or a real Neo-Nazi, it doesnt even matter. Real recognize real. I know thats a lame ass comparison. But
DX: Clich? Yeah, but I get you. What about Quik?
Murs: Quik was more like everyday, man. He was just coming back into music. He had his own path. He had been out for awhile. He wanted to come back as an advisor. He mixed Ego Trippin [click to read], Doggs record and my record at the same time. So, it was like to me, the "West Coast Underground King" and the "King of the West Coast period," you know? And almost like the Godfather of modern rap. Hes mixing both of those records in the same room at the same time. So, I was hearing Snoops record and I was hearing my record and, mixing wise, they sound the same now. This was just a blessing. Everyday, just watching him operate and having him talk to me and comment on my music. He was never like, "You could do this better," which I know he probably could say that and hopefully he does say that to me eventually. But, he was like, "This is good. I like this." Its just life shit. Like, my awareness is rising. So, now, when Im going out the house, people are screaming at me and I dont know how to deal with that. Ive always been a nerd. I went from nobody wanting to talk to me at all, just being a loner to now, people want to take pictures and talk to me every chance they get. Which is weird, it kind of freaks me out but Quik dealt with a lot, especially on the west coast with all the gang politics and everything. He has had a lot of advice for me. And even money wise, relationship wise, I just ask him anything.
DX: So, he was kind of like a mentor?
Murs: Yeah, definitely
DX: There is definitely a west coast vibe on this album in terms of beat selection. Was that conscious since it was your debut or was it just a natural thing?
Murs: I dont think I have ever found a producer that really complements mywhen I talk, people can tell Im super west coast. You can listen to other west coast rappers and you cant tell where theyre from. Theyre just good rappers. But, me, you can tell where Im from and a lot of people here respect me for that like, "You really represent L.A." Im a dope west coast rapper. It wasnt conscious but when I set out to do this record, I knew Id finally get to pick beats that I feel represent me. A lot of the producers on this record share some of the same experiences. We may not be the same people, but we all grew up here.
DX: In terms of lyrics, though-you took a risk. On your major label debut, you dropped that Science straight out the gate. Why?
Murs: I feel like this is my chance to say something to black kids. Especially with whats going on in the projects, and also they just repealed the crack cocaine law. Ive always wanted to tell the story, a little bit just mention the real Rick Ross, for what hes done. And also, I speak to a lot of white kids. I know my fans are white. Instead of talking directly to black kids, I tell them what they need to know about us instead of telling black people what they already know or telling my white fans stories they cant learn anything from. A lot of white kids, and a lot of black kids just dont know where Hip Hop came from, and they dont know that racism still exists. Or they think the complete opposite and they think that black people who are intelligent and want revolution hate them, which is not true. So, I felt like I had a lot to say. I had finished the record before working with Scoop [Deville]. And my publicist was kind of like, "All the stuff you come in here and we talk about and build about, I dont hear any of that on the record." I was like, Word? Then Scoop showed up, and I loved all of his beats like this kids amazing and then we sat down and talked and he was super cool. So, I was like, fuck it. Then, I heard that Science beat and it reminded me of some Rakim shit where you could just be real monotone and just...Ya know?
DX: I know you said Rakim, but it kind of reminded me of Slick Rick with that old school flavor and the melody you added to it.
Murs: Yeah. Maybe its just that old school '80s, New York type of thing cause I can definitely see that Slick Rick.
DX: Speaking of you having a lot to sayOn a Felt record, you said you wouldnt really get political and even early in your career, you said you wouldnt didnt really want to talk about the government. But, it seems like lately, with Sweet Lord and Murs for President, it seems you are going that route a little more. What made you change your mind on that?
Murs: Its just like I said. Now that I know Im on a platform where I can speak to more people, its cool. But, if Im in a room full of college kids, theres no need to preach to the choir. We all know what I know. Matter of fact, a lot of my fans back then knew more than I did cause they were educated. So, why am I gonna sit here and tell you about anythingthe need for change? You know? You came here because you wanted to escape. You got this record because you wanted to escape everything that we both know. This music is a release. But, now I feel Im gonna be marketed and promoted to the masses, who arent as educated as our little sub sect of indie Hip Hop. Thats where Science came from too. I thought like, if I had anything I ever wanted to say, then Im gonna say it. Also, the political climate has changed in America and around he world. Things are changing. Ive always been honest and just rapping about whats going on with me. This is part of whats goin' on with me. Im excited to vote this year. Im excited about the change that can happen. Im angry about whats going on in Darfur. I want to motivate people. These are the things Im talking about with my friends. I consider all of my fans to be somewhat friends because my music is so personal. So, Im gonna talk to them about it.
DX: On Sweet Lord, you say Im hoping that the world falls in love with Obama. What made you decide to tilt towards Obama? When did that happen? How do you think thats going to pan out in the future?
Murs: Ah, man. I try not to make too many predictions about the future. I hope it turns out well. I think hes the best candidate. I actually got turned on to him three or four years ago, when I was in Australia. This 35 year-old Australian dude who owns a Hip Hop store out there was like, "Do you know about this guy Barack Obama, the Senator from Chicago?" I was like, "Nah!" He was like, "You need to read this book!" I was like, "Are you sure? I got back home and I Wikipediad it and I was like, Ill check this dude out. I read his book and I was like, Alright, thats dope. And we had chosen Murs for President way before he was even going to run. I was like, Whoa! Hes running! This is crazy! I was on the team way before it became popular, not to be like a dickhead or elitist, but Im from the Hip Hop elite sect anyway. But, I had done my work beforehand. I thought it would be interesting for him to be president. But, he wasn't my first choice. What was it? Joe Biden was my first choice because, to me, Barack had said some bullshit about Darfur, you know? And the other dude, Joe Biden was like [paraphrasing], Look. These are thugs. These are brutes. We need to go over there and be brutal and thug em out just like theyre thuggin these people out and then I bet you no one else will rise up. But what is economic sanctions to some people who dont give a fuck? How are we hurting them? Its going to take too long and everyday people are dying. 2 more years, thats 80,000 or a hundred thousand deathslikethats what were gonna wait for? So, I was with him. When he dropped out, Obama was still the best candidate because...not because hes black, but also because hes actually lived in foreign countries and right now, America needs to focus on this global politics. And hes worked in the inner city! That was two things. Black, White, Latino inner city, the poor Americans need the most assistance. Especially the children, because if youre poor in America at this point, its probably your fault, if youve been here for at least two or three generationsits your fault. But, the kids still deserve a future. Any one thats going to reform the schools and reform health care, and help America on the world stage, its who Im voting for and it has nothing to do with the color of his skin.
DX: This album seemed like it could be completely different from anything youve ever done. But, you manage to touch on a lot of the same topics youve always discussed throughout your career, as well, sort of like vintage Murs but with a new sound and some new stuff we have never heard from you before added to the mixture. So, even though you havent changed much, youre still going to face criticism like, "Ah, hes on a major label now! Hes a sell out!" I know youd say "Fuck em!" but what else would you say?
Murs: I would tell them, Everything grows. I hope that you grow. My latest thing is just to compare it to someone elses life. If you worked at the same job for 13 years, would you always just want to be account supervisor, or would you take a promotion? If someone offered you a promotion to VP, would you take it? Of course you would. If you could do everything you loved about your job, but help more people See, to me, its never been about the money. I make more money being independent than I do with a major. If you could move up in your job into a better position and feel betterI feel better now because I feel like my music actually helps people. 98% of the other rappers out there, I think my music actually helps people through their hard times.
DX: You have a good shot, if this album does well. Is there a concerted effort from the label to really market this album and give it a big push to make it a huge hit?
Murs: Yeah, man. Everyone seems to be on the same page in that building. Im not like most rappers. When Im in town, Im at Warner Brothers at least two-to-three times a week. I know everybody from the lady whos working my merch to the receptionist, to the marketing director, both my A&Rs, the president, Im in there. Im putting in the work with the radio directors, the urban guys, the street teams, and college radio reps, like, Im taking phone calls and sending e-mails and theyre all working with me. The new media department, theyre all working with me because they see that I care. I think theyre all happy to be working on something that they kind of believe in. I think a lot of them do believe in it and are refreshed by what Im saying and what Im trying to do. Even if theyre not, they understand that I care so it makes them give a little more of a fuck, I think.
DX: They probably dont see that as much in other artists.
Murs: Definitely. They get artists coming in screaming at them maybe, or artists coming in high out of their minds.
DX: Well, youre a new kind of animal for the majors. Its a new world being opened.
Murs: Thats what Ive been trying to do. When I walk in that building, I want to change what they thought about every black kid that walked in there before me. "This kid thinks. This guys articulate. Hes well read. He keeps a leveled head, even when hes angry. Hes not out of control." I just want to make that positive impact. Thats also the purpose of going to Warner so that when I walk into MTV, they see someone different that represents our people and Hip Hop as a whole. So, back at the label, I want to impress them the same way I want to impress all of America. "Look, were not all idiots! Were not all dead beat fathers and ex-convicts! Some of us read and want to make positive contributions to society and are, for the most part, proud Americans." I am a proud American, but I want America to be something we can be even more proud of on a global scale and it starts with how you interact with people, whether it be your label or MTV reps and how youre representing yourself to the world on television and on record.
DX: Lets take it the other way, though. If it doesnt work out, how are you gonna approach it? You signed for more albums or you going back to the indie route?
Murs: My goal is always to get back to the indie route just to get back home. To me, its like a voyage, where you go on a voyage but you always come back home. I started on the indie route, Im definitely coming back. My future, regardless of what this album does, if it doesnt do wellI cant even say that right now cause Im about positive energy. My plans for the future are to do one-offs. I think its George Lucas or [Steven] Spielberg, or maybe its both of them. [They] dont really do studio deals. They just make their movies with their own money and whoevers interested in distributing it, will distribute it. Thats what I want to try to do. I want to be like a Jazz musician and work with this band and work with these artists. Im working with a Punk band and with the people in Paris and electro. Im just a songwriter, man! I can do whatever I want, I feel.