Exclusive: Murs, Wrekonize and Bernbiz break down mixing a more upbeat sound with hard lyrics to expand their respective loyal fanbase.
Murs is a successful rapper. That’s a completely factual, objective statement. He’s partnered with Guerilla Union to throw the annual Paid Dues Festival, owns property and previously cut direct distribution deals with the likes of Fontana/Universal through SMC Recordings to independently release his music and recoup a larger share of the royalties. It would also be completely objective to say Murs has never had a crossover radio hit. His two appearances on Billboard magazine’s Top 200 albums chart are for 2006’s Murray’s Revenge and 2008’s Murs For President. June 10, 2014 will see the release of ¡Mursday!, a collaborative album with Miami-based Hip Hop group ¡Mayday! marking his official debut project with Strange Music. A quick look at previous ¡Mayday! collaborations with Lil Wayne or their 2012 Klusterfuk EP with Tech N9ne, which debuted at #12 spot on SoundScan’s weekly sales report, hints at the business advantages of working with ¡Mayday!. Or, you can just ask Murs himself.
“I didn’t sign my life over to Strange Music to fuckin’ make underground records,” Murs explained, during an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. “I came to make positive music mainstream again like De La Soul.”
At face value, it’s rather simple. Strange Music picks up yet another valuable free agent signing, while Murs gets both the platform and creative control to potentially bring his brand of Hip Hop to MTV and terrestrial radio without compromising his stance. As usual, it’s a unique and opinionated stance informed by the fact that he’s a Southern California resident, a successful businessman, a father and a Migos fan. Business aside, ¡Mayday! got the opportunity to solidify a relationship with a frequent collaborator and add a new member and a friend to their circle. As obvious puns go, it’s a dichotomy that’s rather Strange. One would assume ¡Mayday! and the rest of Murs’ new label mates wouldn’t have it any other way.
Murs Explains Why Many Male Rappers Exhibit Hoeish Behavior
HipHopDX: Murs, on “Zones,” you say, “Radio rappers always sayin’ that they so rich / Rhymin’ about the clothes that they wear, I swear it’s hoe shit.” As someone who has gone on record about wanting to be on the radio, what did you mean with that line?
Bernbiz: We were also having tons of arguments at that time when you wrote that shit…
Murs: I just feel like it’s a traditionally feminine quality. Hoes—to be literal—hoes wear the most revealing, flashy things to get money and attention. And so many black males continue hoeish behavior. It’s not their fault really, because their daddies weren’t there, and you always want [attention] like, “Daddy look at me!” That’s why we throw money at people. That’s why we wear the gold chains. We’re a disenfranchised group of young men. I’m not faulting anyone, and I’m not judging anyone, but I call it like it is. If we don’t talk to each other about what’s really going on…
That’s some hoe shit. I don’t care what you wear. If we’re all in the locker room, my dude, I don’t care how much you spent on your shoes. We’re talking about Rap. We’re not talking about fashion. I don’t care if you have the new Jays, you still can’t rap, my nigga. You suck. I’ll serve you. You may have the contract, and you may have the free Nikes and you may go to the better school. But if it just came to me and you rhyming, I’d destroy you. Somehow along the way, it got to where a good rapper is judged by how many units he sells. Not that great entertainers should be judged by how many units they sell, but if we’re talking about Rap skills? Leave that shit out of the conversation, man. I don’t care what you wear.
A lot of you guys are so behind. I had Tom Ford shoes, but I had them three years ago. I had Tom Ford shades years ago, because I know people in the fashion industry that work for Gucci and so forth, and so on. When Tom Ford left, my friends put me on him like, “This is the new brand.” But I never rapped about it, because that stuff has no place in what you’re trying to do unless you’re trying to sell Tom Ford. But you’re not making any money off that. To me, it’s hoe shit. I like clothes too, but I’m not gonna bring it to the office.
DX: Without us going on a tangent about fashion, how did things diverge from the days of Slick Rick talking about his Ballys or Eric B. & Rakim rocking Dapper Dan into what you referred to as hoe shit?
Murs: It was secondary to your rhyming skills. You dropped “Children’s Story.” You can rap. You dropped “Hey Young World.” You’re doing things of substance and of merit, and also you’re fly. Rakim was also fly; he wasn’t fly and then an emcee. He was serious about the mic, he was serious about his mathematics and then he was a fly dude. His fade was tight, and his jewelry and everything was on point. And also, you saw it, so it didn’t have to be detailed. It was an esoteric thing, because you didn’t really want everybody up on your flavor. You’re not gonna tell people, “Hey, check me out. I’m wearing this and this, I got it here and I spent this much on it.” You’re giving away all the goods. Be fly. People have lost the technique and art of being fly. It’s still around, but it’s just a different way.
I can compliment people’s fashion sense. To me, it started in Harlem. Harlem is like the fashion capitol of Hip Hop. There’s a lot of fly, fly dudes from Harlem—as awkward as that is to say. Cam came out, and he’s from Harlem. He wore pink, and everybody wore pink. I swear, if you ask them the day before they saw Cam’ron, “Would you wear this pink fur or this pink polo?” they’d say, “Hell nah!” Then a dude came out from Harlem and lit it up, and it was like, “Ahhh, yeah. Gotta get that pink, yo.” So that’s how I think it diverged. I think it just became primary.
Also, they made me rap like that. I stopped rapping about mainstream rappers on the radio so long ago. But coming to Strange, I had to do the “Hard” verse, and I had to do the cypher verse. “Zones” was one of the first verses they sent me. And even on “Tabletops,” I don’t wanna rap like that [laughs]. I don’t want to rap about other rappers, and I haven’t done it in years. But Strange fans and certain folks dig it like, “Oh yeah, you’re back on that shit!”
Bernbiz: Great Hip Hop has a certain aggressive, “I’m better than everybody else” undertone to it.
Murs: Yeah, I was just past that, you know? I feel like I’m Tim Duncan. I can do that, and I’ve done that. But I just turn around and walk back down the court. Like, if you wouldn’t have asked… I really don’t feel strongly about it. It was just something fun to do to try to keep pace with them, ‘cause I think their swords are much sharper in that chamber of their mind.
Bernbiz & Wrekonize Detail How Murs Fits In With ¡Mayday!
DX: That leads to an interesting question. Last time we talked to these guys, they had wrapped up Wrek’s solo project and the ¡Mayday! album. How did the process change adding on to your previous work with Murs?
Wrekonize: It was just easier this time, because last time we had two projects going at the same time right next to Tech’s album. So it was just madness…
Murs: And you guys had music on all three…
Bernbiz: And we had members leaving the group at the same time too…
Wrekonize: Yeah, and we had members stepping back taking a little hiatus or whatever. So it was like chaos for us. This felt way more natural and fun. We had the music already prepped for it, and we already have a relationship with [Murs] from doing songs and just being fans. He came to Miami, and it was two weeks of recording, fun, Xbox, eating, drinking… It was cake compared to last time.
DX: Since you brought it up, do you still have members kind of on the outs?
Bernbiz: Oh, nah. Once you’re in ¡Mayday!, you’re never out of ¡Mayday! It’s a lifelong endeavor. My homies Plex [Luthor] and Terrel, are out just kind of learning some other stuff. Plex is trying to become the next amazing coder/hacker; he wants to create stuff with music and coding. Their goals are still the music, but they just want to expand a little more. Road life is so crazy, and that’s all we do. We’re always out on the road, and it got a little too tough for them.
DX: You guys have performed together, and you’re actually friends. What’s the been the biggest change in your collective dynamic since “Hardcore Bitches?”
Bernbiz: Before [Murs] was an acquaintance. Now you’re a friend. Before, I feel like maybe Murs wanted to come to Strange—at least before we knew that he did. I feel like he masterminded a lot of this. And by the same token, he understood that it worked for everybody. Now it’s like we got a homie out of the whole package. In the beginning, it’s not like it was awkward. But it’s like anything else in life, it took a minute to get to know each other.
Murs: Yeah, I think I’m adept at fitting in because I do so many collaboration projects. We both come from large group environments—Living Legends and ¡Mayday!—so it’s just knowing how to fit. It’s about recognizing Bernbiz as the boss. He’s the alpha male in the situation.
Bernbiz: [Laughs] Shut up! Man, you love saying that.
How “¡Mursday!” Appeals To Strange Music Fans & New Listeners
DX: The other side of that group dynamic is the actual music. After Believers, where ¡Mayday! talked about shifting their reality, how did you come to a consensus on how high-concept you wanted this album to be?
Bernbiz: Murs definitely came in with a strong idea, and he listened to our previous work before we got signed. He felt when we joined Strange, we took a bit of a dark turn—which I think a lot of artists who sign to Strange do. The fanbase there wants that raw, dark, hard kind of Hip Hop. When Murs came in, he asked if we could do something that was brighter and more on the fun scale of the dark arts. That’s kind of the approach we took. Sonically, ¡Mayday! started to fuck with a lot more brass, horns and parade/big band kind of sounds to translate that sound. That’s something we had never touched on.
Wrekonize: It made it more unique for a ¡Mayday! album. We wanted to have a little bit of a unique sound in the beats besides the fact that we’re adding a new lyricist to the mix.
Murs: We were arguing when I first came through. They were like, “Man, I wanted to do some boom bap, Hip Hop shit with you like “Zones.”” And I told them, “I knew you guys had the poppiest, radio hooks ever. I didn’t sign my life over to Strange Music to fuckin’ make underground records. I came to make positive music mainstream again like De La Soul.” That was when you could dance to something positive, but you didn’t feel like you were getting preached to. It wasn’t corny. It was just some good, positive Hip Hop. We’re losing the battle. That’s why I signed to Warner Bros. I asked them, “Are you guys gonna put me on MTV? Can I say what I want? Cool.”
Travis [O’Guin] and Tech [N9ne] said the same thing. They wanna put money behind shit that’s gonna go places. If you listen to “Fragile,” he’s not trying to appeal. He has Kendrick Lamar on the song, so he could’ve went for another “Swimming Pools.” Even when Tech did a song with [Lil] Wayne, they got together and did what they felt. With “Fuck Food,” all the business people on the outside were like, “What the fuck?” But that’s what Strange is. I am trying to get on the radio, and I am trying to get mainstream, because I have kids now. Before I had kids, I thought it was important to put positive music in a place where it can compete. But I’m not gonna sell out, start saying some bullshit and misrepresent myself. But there’s nothing wrong with something people can dance to.
I can see how it affects my baby. I literally put him on my lap, and when someone sends me beats, I play it for me and him. If he doesn’t get hype to it, then I don’t want it. Even naturally, he’s all about the hi-hats. He’s about Trap music, and he has no idea. That’s what he feels. And it’s like, “Okay, this is the generation I want to reach. So let me try to do something with music that they enjoy, because I’ve done 50 9th Wonder records.” That’s archived, legacy…whatever. I love those beats. But I also love Migos, and I’m a huge fan.
Murs Recalls “Animal Style” & “Justin Bieber’s Black Baby”
DX: This is on a completely different note, but can you talk about the concept behind “New Toys (Hey Love)?”
Bernbiz: It was basically a song about the road. We wanted to do our version of Bob Seger’s “Here I Am.” We always loved the beat, and we called it our Wu-Tang beat, because it has this kind of “Can It All Be So Simple” or “C.R.E.A.M.” kind of vibe. So we always wanted to do something to that song. Luckily, it was cool that I wrote that verse about being on the road, and it wound up spiraling into a whole song. Wrek hopped on it, and then we got Kendall Morgan from “Fragile.” She brought her little white ass through and sang her ass off, and it was beautiful. She totally changed the song, because the song was missing a hook. We had three verses, and we didn’t know what to do for the hook. We knew the whole hook would be about your girl talking to you, but nothing was written. It was kind of an eleventh hour thing, like, “Man, are we gonna do this or not?” She came through and knocked it out in about two minutes.
DX: Last question. You did the song and video for “Justin Bieber’s Black Baby.” Are you a prophet? Did you see the crazy behavior and racial slurs coming?
Murs: I don’t know, man. I have no idea what’s going on. Maybe I need to retweet the link for the video. I never tried to build off the hype and shit. When I did the video for “Animal Style,” I had friends at the Odd Future camp. That video took a long time to shoot, and it dropped the day of or the day after Frank [Ocean] came out. I was like, “Yo!” They knew I had been filming it, so they called me.
The funny thing is Macklemore put his song [“Same Love”] out, and he called me that day too saying, “Yo, I’m about to drop this song. I hope you don’t think blah, blah, blah.”
With Justin Bieber, even when he got arrested or whatever the first time, I had already done the song. Me and Curtiss… it was just some silly shit I thought of. I wanted to do a Trap record. I was only listening to Migos for a long time in my life, and I thought, “I want to do something like this, but I’m not gonna start talking about drugs all of a sudden. What can I do?” When Curtiss gave me that beat, I had to ask, “Will you let me do this song to your beat?” He didn’t care. I tried to do “Animal Style” to some other producer’s beats, and they were like, “You can’t talk about faggots on my beat!” So I’m like, “Whoa, bro.” I asked my homie Tabi Bonney—one of my best friends in the music industry—to shoot he video for Justin Bieber. He told me, “I don’t get it, bro [laughs].” That’s why he’s one of my best friends, because he’s super straight up with me. I told him, “I’ll pay you,” but he was still like, “Nah.” So am I a prophet or just out of my mind? Probably a little of each one.