Exclusive: Murs speaks about his latest lineup, and why it's a carefully curated roster of talented artists that various audience members can identify with, and its charitable backbone.
It has been seven years since the first Paid Dues show took place in Los Angeles, California. Since then, the annual festival has gained notoriety as a home for independent Hip Hop and a celebration of the diversity that exists within the Indie Rap world. “I didn’t know it was gonna become this,” Murs shared just over a week ago, on the night he spoke with HipHopDX for this interview. “I didn’t know what it was going to be but I knew we needed something for independent Hip Hop.”
With that, Murs provided a platform for newcomers and veterans of the independent Hip Hop sphere. That platform has seen several unlikely pairings on the same bill, a testament to its mission to unite. For instance, Slaughterhouse and Atmosphere shared the same stage in 2009. Ice Cube and Tha Dogg Pound shared the stage with Dilated Peoples and Doomtree in 2010 and E-40 graced the same bill as Immortal Technique last year. “To me, that’s what Paid Dues is,” Murs explained. “People of all walks of life uniting around music.”
To exemplify this, 2012 will see Paid Dues take on that role to unite generations. “It’s crazy enough that there’s fans of Wu-Tang [Clan] that have kids who are fans of Odd Future. My dream was to bring them together,” Murs confirmed, before adding that DJ Quik and Kendrick Lamar represent two generations of Compton, California and that Ab-Soul and Ras Kass represent two generations of Carson, California. It doesn’t end there, as many other bridges will be connected on April 7, when Paid Dues kicks off its 7th annual showcase.
While Paid Dues has evolved over the years, so has Murs. In this interview, the Mid City representative explained how working with children with autism has reshaped his appreciation for music and family. He also talked about working with Habitat for Humanity and the importance of promoting charitable deeds. He shared how all of this has allowed him to make this year’s Paid Dues one of the most diverse yet, an event that he hopes will unite Hip Hop fans of different ethnicities, religions, political parties, ages and more.
HipHopDX: It’s interesting that I recently came across an old “Murs Is Better Than Your Favorite Rapper” promo sticker.
DX: It made me think about when those stickers came out. This was probably right before or right around the time that the first Paid Dues was announced. Can you take us through that time, when the idea was born and you started to plan out the first one? Did you ever imagine that it would ever get to the point where it has gotten?
Murs: Oh, man. Going back to that time, there was no way I thought it would be as big as it is now. It was something that started for me and my friends, really. I didn’t know what it was going to be but I knew we needed something for independent Hip Hop. At the time, independent Hip Hop basically consisted of my friends and myself. I was just trying to create something where kids could come and people of all ages could have a good time during the day for once instead of some dark club. There’s nothing wrong with [clubs like] The Troubadour or The El Rey, but when you’re 16, it’s kind of difficult to get there. Also, it was something to kind of compete with Summer Jam. You know, we weren’t necessarily like everybody at Summer Jam. For me, growing up, you could literally get killed at The Beat’s Summer Jam. So, it was something for people who are peaceful. That’s what bothers me about what people are saying about Paid Dues or Odd Future or whoever being there. Paid Dues is for anybody that’s been doing independent Hip Hop. Yeah, Odd Future may rap about certain things but Wu-Tang [Clan] raps about certain things that aren’t necessarily peaceful or conscious, you know? So, how people draw their lines is really weird to me. But, I know that there hasn’t been any shootings at Odd Future shows. So it’s all about everybody getting together in a peaceful environment where young women feel safe, where young people feel safe, where parents feel safe dropping off their children. That’s where we all feel safe enough to let our guard down, have a couple drinks and smoke a couple blunts and enjoy music without fear. That’s what I grew up with: going to house parties that got shot up, got jumped, saw people fighting, you know? So, for people mad about Odd Future being there, I don’t care. As long as we all come in peace, that’s the biggest thing. That’s another reason I started stages because there’s so many different types of independent Hip Hop now. E-40 was there last year. We’ve had Ice Cube and Tha Dogg Pound there and so was Sage Francis. Eyedea & Abilities was there at the same time as Tech N9ne. But, I’ve always had different people. Chingo Bling was at the first one ever. I listen to all kinds of Hip Hop, independent or not. If you’re independent and doing something, I’m gonna bring you. I don’t think anyone can accuse Odd Future of sitting on their ass, or Mac Miller, or Wu-Tang or Hieroglyphics or Trek Life. You know? [Trek Life] should have been on this three years ago. So, Paid Dues…I didn’t know it was gonna become this. With the advent of the Internet, the independent Hip Hop scene grew. I’ve heard that Paid Dues had a part in that and if Paid Dues or if I or if Guerilla Union get credit for that, I’ll accept that but I think YouTube and the changes of the industry are more responsible for it.
Murs Discusses Paid Dues’ 2012: Kendrick Lamar, DJ Quik & Odd Future
DX: You’ve talked about the variety that can be found on the bill. You have Wu-Tang, Odd Future, Mac Miller, Boot Camp Clik, Doomtree, Mac Lethal, Crooked I and more. So, there’s that variety, but there must also be a great thought process behind each stage and how all the artists are divided.
Murs: Yeah. At the risk of sounding spooky, it’s more of a vision that I have every year, like a picture. I go from city to city when I’m touring, doing my job and I ask kids who they want to see and I just listen. People accuse me of this and ask, “Why are these people here?” Well, it’s because someone asked. You’re not the only person buying a ticket. I don’t put people there for my sake because I don’t get to watch any of it. What I do get to feel when I walk around is the energy. I love that feeling. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. It’s like Christmas to me. There’s so much good energy because everyone is excited to be seeing a couple of the groups. Listening to people, talking to people, watching message boards, buying records, all this stuff helps a picture come to my head. When it gets closer, it’s kind of like Heroes or something where someone goes in a trance and starts drawing. I tried to get Odd Future last year. I was at their first show at The Roxy. I wasn’t like a bandwagon Odd Future fan. I mentor and speak at Crenshaw High. One of the kids that was in one of the classes I spoke to, I follow him on Twitter. I stayed in touch with him. He said, “Check out my homeboys.” That’s how I heard about Odd Future. I wasn’t like everyone else. Just because you found out about Odd Future through Adult Swim or whatever…I wanted Odd Future last year but they were doing Coachella and they didn’t wanna do Paid Dues or weren’t able to do it. Whatever it was, you know? But I wanted them before they were big but just because they are big, should they not be able to do Paid Dues? Anyway, this year I came up with…It’s crazy enough that there’s fans of Wu-Tang that have kids who are fans of Odd Future. My dream was to bring them together. The kids could be like, “Wow, dad, this is why you like Wu-Tang? I get it.” Maybe the father or the mother will be like, “Yo, this is why you like Odd Future? I get it.” Because I’ve seen them both live. They’re very different and they’re different people but the energy of that many people rapping and the family feel of it is the same. I thought, “Well, if I do that, then I might as well do a crew stage with all the crews that I want.” Then, it was like, “Okay, we’re doing this generation and that generation? What could I do with the other stage?” DJ Quik and Kendrick Lamar are two generations of Compton. Then, what people don’t see is that it goes down the bill. Ab-Soul and Ras Kass are two generations of Carson. Tay F3rd and Crooked I is two generations of Long Beach. Rah Digga and Psalm One? Like, I’m trying. Macklemore and Mac Lethal. And there are other artists that I tried to get to make the picture even more [complete]. But I’m about balance. Three 6 Mafia, you know - 666 Mafia and then a Christian rapper, Lecrae. It’s just about balance. It’s a great thing to me that Odd Future got more popular. They were gonna do it last year. They probably wouldn’t have gotten as many people but I still wanted them. Even if they fell off after last year, I probably would still want them. Swim Team is not even together anymore and I think all of the members deserve solo sets but the crew thing enabled me to get more people on the bill. I started with a list of 150 artists this year. The first year I had maybe 12 artists. I performed 3 times in the first year and got paid really for none of them. But, I opened it with [The 3 Melancholy Gypsies], did the middle part with Living Legends and closed out with Felt. Oh, and I filmed the video for “L.A.” and it was the first time I ever performed that song live. We were using film. It wasn’t like a 75-D camera. I had one take to do the song and I just hoped everybody liked it because no one had ever heard that song before.
Murs Speaks On Paid Dues’ Partnership With Habitat For Humanity
DX: I’m interested in the vision you’re talking about. To add to that vision, you have incorporated Habitat for Humanity more than once now.
DX: That has to be a part of that vision you have. Why was that so important for you to include?
Murs: I guess it goes back to walking the walk. Independent Hip Hop and all the conscious people, the people that are mad about me putting certain people on the bill every year, that are mad about [Ice] Cube, mad about Dogg Pound, mad about this, they’re the same people that say, “I thought it was about conscious Hip Hop.” You know? I’m like, “If you’re about being conscious, then you’re about being at peace with everyone.” You can’t just say, “I listen to conscious Hip Hop” and then say, “Fuck Mac Miller.” He’s a kid. He’s 19 years old. What part of you saying that is conscious? At the same time, you can’t just go to an Immortal Technique show and think that you’re doing something for your community. You can’t just buy a Murs album and think that you’re conscious. It takes actual work. It takes you getting out there in the community. I’d be a hypocrite to not do this. When the crisis happened in Haiti, they donated a dollar of every ticket sale to Hip Hop for Haiti. I said, “Well, that’s good but let’s actually get some rappers out there.” This year, Sick Jacken has volunteered and hopefully we can get some members of the Swim Team or Living Legends or whoever to also come out and build with us. It’s good for people to see that not only do the conscious rappers rap differently than everybody, but they’re actually out here doing things in the community. Even if it is once a year, that’s more than I’ve seen a lot of artists do.
DX: It’s reminiscent of your line on “Biggest Lie” [from 2005’s Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Monet] where you talk about “armchair activists” who’re “all talk, no action”
Murs: Yeah, I just got really sick of that. I grew up on that. There’s a lot of conscious Hip Hop groups that I know that have never done shit and when I’d meet them, they’d be getting high. They’d be so pro-Black, talking about devils in their raps but they’d be backstage smoking blunts with White girls. There’s a place and time for smoking weed, getting high and drinking and all that but at least once a year come out and build a house for somebody or do something like Immortal Technique and Sage Francis. People have this stigma where if you promote that, you’re wack. You should just do that and keep it quiet. Why? Especially in Rap, where we know about you selling drugs 10 years ago. You haven’t sold drugs in 10 years but you’re still talking about that one period in your life. If you give a bunch of money to some schools, you should tell the world just like you tell the world every fucking other thing that you do. For some reason, the negativity is celebrated in Hip Hop and it’s time for that to stop. Or your knowledge is celebrated. I’ve seen a lot of conscious rappers…The first Habitat for Humanity build that I did-I will name no names-but I was with another conscious rapper who people praise all the time. He showed up, took a picture with a hammer, took his hard hat off and left. That was super lame, you know? At the same time, I know Rick Ross does a lot for the community, which is crazy.
DX: People have that stereotype that mainstream emcees don’t give back.
Murs: Yeah, people may have that stereotype and they may help perpetuate it by not talking enough about what they do. So, I would love it if people would try to outdo me. I will promote Habitat for Humanity. I’ma promote my trips to Ethiopia and I’ma promote me working with children with autism on the weekends. I’ma promote all of that ‘til people get sick of hearing it. Hopefully they’ll try to one-up me. I’m hoping because that’s what Rap is all about. You brag you have a gold chain, I’ma say that I have two. If we can get that going, then that’s great. If not, that’s cool. Hopefully I’m inspiring kids to do something. I want to inspire my peers to at least talk about what they’re doing. That’s why I think it’s important to incorporate Habitat for Humanity. For me, it’s important to build a relationship with one charity. The first build that I did, [former United States President] Jimmy Carter was actually out there. That encouraged me to watch the documentary that Brother Ali had been trying to get me to watch for months, Man From Plains, I think it is. He’s dope. He was the President of the United States but they didn’t talk about Jimmy Carter while I was in school. It was not history yet, you know? But I think he did more dynamic things almost out of office than he did in office. So, I look forward to what President Obama does [after his presidency] for the same reason. You’re not gonna be allowed to make too much change in this system but after you’re finished with the politics and you get to your real work? Jimmy Carter’s been admirable with a lot of things he’s done. Habitat for Humanity is one. I’ve also met a lot of people who travel with it and just build with Habitat all year. It’s a culture of people. If I can get some of us introduced to it, I would love to be 60 with other Hip Hop heads retired, enjoying this with my wife and me. To me, that’s what Paid Dues is: people of all walks of life uniting around music. I have nothing against people who listen to Rock but I’d rather be volunteering with people who are into Hip Hop because it gives you more common ground. Hip Hop is the most multicultural art form. It’s done things that even Jesus hasn’t done. You still go to churches on Sundays and there’s a White church and a Black church. There aren’t many churches or mosques where there are people of every race or for that matter of every sexual orientation. It’s not even common with God. But, with Hip Hop, which some people call a manifestation of God depending on who you’re talking to-KRS-One or whoever-if you go to a Hip Hop concert, you’ll see everybody: gay, straight, White, Black, Asian, tall, short, disabled, whatever. There’s rappers with autism, you know? I keep harping on this but I don’t like to see haters. I don’t like to see hate because people need to realize how powerful music is. It doesn’t matter. I don’t give a fuck what Odd Future is saying. I don’t give a fuck what Wu-Tang is saying. I don’t give a fuck what I’m saying. There’s something for everybody. We’re all here. In 1965, this was impossible. Paid Dues was impossible. What made Paid Dues possible was Hip Hop and all of us getting along. So, I want to continue that. While we’re getting along, I’m gonna use that to promote Habitat for Humanity.
Murs On Counseling Children With Autism, Helping Younger Emcees Shine
DX: One of the things you talked about now was working with people who have autism. What can you say about your work in that field and what got you started? How has that evolved?
Murs: My wife was working at an organization called SARRC (Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center) in Arizona. They had Monday Night Out. Her job was training kids with autism and taking them in the community to get them jobs, individuals who were high functioning. It was so much fun. The kids were so much fun. I’m super into comic books and I remember one of the kids was into The Hulk. We just talked about The Hulk for hours. He was really excited to have someone that knew things he knew that he could talk to. It was just…[pausing for a second] The brutal honesty of some people was great to me. It was refreshing. The energy was great. They don’t hate much. They hated people who littered but other than that, [they didn’t have hate]. They’re some of my favorite people. From there, when I’m not working [with Hip Hop], I have a chance to go work. This summer I had a chance to be a counselor at a camp called Whispering Hope Ranch. It really changed my life. The things you take for granted and the things you overlook. I had a kid who loved Justin Bieber. We had to work with him for a talented show. He sang “U Smile” and I had to cry. He meant it so much and Justin Bieber meant so much to him. Then, another kid, Katy Perry meant so much to him. Just the small things, for them to love music the way they loved music changed the way that I loved music, among other things. The way they talked about their sister or their brother…I don’t know. It’s hard for me to put into words. It’s one of the best things I did any summer. Just as much as I love Rock the Bells, I loved working with them. This summer, I’ll hopefully be going again. I became a camp counselor and I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. Some people don’t like the change. They don’t like to be touched. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it but it’s connecting with people. One kid would only speak four languages and he learned to speak four languages from watching Disney movies. He only watched them in German, Spanish and French. He’s fluent. I’d know the melody to the songs but by the third day, I learned how to communicate with him. We had it. Then, I could get him to take a shower and to put on a new shirt and I could get him to wear his underwear and it’s things like that that teach you so much about yourself and um [pausing for a second]. I don’t know man. I’m just so thankful. I’m so thankful for my wife and I’m thankful for SARRC for allowing me work with those kids and I hope I can go back. I encourage anybody who has a chance to go and whether it’s working with children with autism or senior citizens, when you step outside of yourself, it helps you almost more than it helps that person. I can’t say that I was kick-ass excited like, “Woohoo! We’re going to work with kids with autism. Yay!” But, once I got there, I was like, “Oh my gosh. This is probably the best thing I ever did.” I didn’t know how it would affect me but I could talk about it for hours to any one who’s willing to listen. But, it takes you taking the first step doing something you may not think is the coolest thing or something you may not think is fun. I could go home early on Friday night, get up and volunteer Saturday morning. It may feel like, “Aw.” It’s okay to feel that way. You’re not gonna be jazzed or thrilled about it but at the end of the day, you’ll feel a lot more fulfilled than if you just went to the mall or the skate park or something. All I could say is just try it. Try to do something for someone else once a year. That’s my challenge to everyone. So, with Paid Dues and Habitat for Humanity, this year we’ve expanded to 25 people. There’s still spaces available, by the way. Last year, we had 10 or 15 volunteers. Once a year, they’re gonna do something and maybe they can do it once a month after that. Maybe that inspires their friends to do it once a year. It’s addictive. Once you start doing things for other people, you realize how great it is. For the most part, I won’t say that I do Paid Dues for other people but it is for Reverie. It is for Curtiss King. That’s why I want people to get there early. Curtiss King’s mom is coming. Reverie’s mom is coming. I will probably cry that day because of that alone, that someone’s mother thinks that this idea that I had 7 years ago is important enough to their child that they would make a YouTube video to ask me to put their child on the festival. That’s crazy to me. I don’t even deserve that. To have Reverie’s mom hit me up on Facebook to say, “Thank you and I’ll see you there.” That’s dope. To drop your kid off at Paid Dues seven years ago and then now come see them perform? I would encourage people to get there early. And yeah, if people come to see Odd Future and end up seeing Reverie, I think that’s a fucking great thing. What’s wrong with that? If it takes Mac Miller to bring out 5,000 kids who’ve never heard of Cunninlynguists and now they love them, good for all of us. You know? You’re not gonna get anywhere by keeping these kids out. Someone to me like Mac [Miller], I know for a fact, he was there at my first sold-out show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was 16 years old giving me his CD in 2008. For me to be able to have him at my festival, it probably means something to him but it means a lot more to me. He went on tour and brought People Under The Stairs with him and Casey Veggies with him, who’s my homeboy. I’m not gonna put him on my festival because you don’t like his music? Fuck outta here, man. To me, we’re all a family whether it be Bun B, Juicy J, Lecrae. I would never put some one on Paid Dues if they didn’t love what they do. If you don’t love what they do, that’s your problem. I know LA Symphony loves what they do. That’s big for me to have Pigeon John on stage with the whole LA Symphony. It’s crazy to me. I haven’t seen that in ten years. There’s so much to be excited about and for the mentality of some people, like out of 50 names, you’re gonna focus on the two or three that you don’t like. Yo, it’s not about you, man. That’s what Habitat for Humanity is. That’s what me working with kids with autism is. But the rappers are ten times worse than the fans. You wouldn’t believe the type of, “Where’s my name on the flyer? What time am I going on?” You wouldn’t believe the type of bullcrap I have to deal with from them. It’s the ego. It’s not about you. Paid Dues that day is not about me. It’s about the all the fans that came to have a good time and the younger rappers getting a chance to get on. Older rappers never did anything like this for me. Nobody created Paid Dues for me. When they did create venues, they would be on all the time. I don’t perform every year because it’s not about me. That’s all I can say. I get on the fans but the rappers, when I finally do get to write a book, I’ma have a house with a fence so none of them could come get me. If I could tell you half the things some of your favorite, most famous conscious rappers ask for, how many bottles of Hennessey have to be uncorked with the red M&Ms lining the frickin’ toilet seat every time they go. It’s ridiculous. Or who they don’t think they have to rap after. It’s fucking crazy.
Murs Explains How Mac Miller Brings New Fans To Paid Dues Artists
DX: You have to manage that but it puts you in a leadership position to organize this. You’re right in that this wasn’t always done in the past, especially bridging gaps the way these festivals do now.
Murs: That’s my thing. I hope it can continue. My thing is really, I don’t want to influence rappers like, “You can make a lot of money.” It’s not about that. It was about me saying, “I don’t want to rap forever.” I don’t know if a lot of rappers are in tune with themselves enough to say, “I don’t want to be in the spotlight forever.” I want to do something to where I can still make a living-that’s definitely part of it, don’t get me wrong-but I hear people are like, “Yeah, it’s about the money.” No. It’s about preserving the culture. When I saw Warped Tour, that’s what inspired me. Punk Rock still exists because of Warped Tour. A lot of O.G. Punk Rock people hate it but you’re never gonna get into Bad Brains if you don’t get into Avenged Sevenfold or Rise Against or some Pop-Punk band like New Found Glory first. I got into Kid-N-Play first but I didn’t stop there. Kids have to start somewhere. If it starts and ends with Mac Miller, so be it. If they start with Mac Miller and get into Cunninlynguists or 2Mex from there, great! We all have to start somewhere. Or if you’re in your thirties and you listen to Smooth Jazz and Mac Miller gets you into Hip Hop, thank God for that. I don’t see it as a bad thing. We all have to have a starting point and Paid Dues is that starting point for a lot of people. I hope a really conservative parent that can vote for Mitt Romney would still feel comfortable dropping heir child off to get their mind blown by Immortal Technique. Now we have one less Republican. Or at the same time, we have these right wing rappers. I’m not trying to put a political slant on Paid Dues. If we had a republican rapper, he would be welcome at paid Dues. I’m the guy that’s gonna put him on. I’m the guy that’s gonna take a stand for Chingo Bling. I’m the guy that’s gonna take a stand for Lecrae being a Christian rapper. We have a Christian battle rapper named Isaac who’s gonna be there this year. We have Kosha Dillz, Mac Miller, two Jewish guys. We have the 5 Percenters in Wu-Tang. We have Brother Ali who’s a Muslim. We have Lecrae who’s a Christian rapper. This year, not that it matters, but we have several female emcees from Psalm One to Rah Digga to Reverie to K-Flay to Dessa. Latinos, Mexicans, we have Puerto Ricans, we have every one. If the gay rapper shows up, he’s welcome at Paid Dues. The Republican rapper, too. I feel like Christopher Walken in King of New York. “You’re all welcome!” Everyone’s welcome.