While there is nothing that will take away from Murs’ legacy, in our interview with the rap gawd, he shares his feelings about the people and things taken away from him.
There is nothing that will take away from Murs’ legacy.
Now, he somehow tops himself in unleashing his most personal project yet. As one of hip-hop’s leading independent artists, the Los Angeles native proves what 20-plus years in the game really entails. His new album titled A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable touches on tragedies that have befallen his life that could only be told through the art form dearest to him: music.
Signing to Tech N9ne’s Strange Music back in 2014 proved to be beneficial for both parties, as they helped each other grow and honed in on the skills and talents that most artists strive for. From his most recent divorce to the death of his newborn son, Murs uses the same lyricism that’s proven successful for him in the past to fully flesh out the events of his being on this new project.
Teaming up with producer Seven is also part of the creative journey, as he relies on the producer to help him curate the perfect sound, allowing him to focus on his pen game.
A couple days prior to his 40th birthday and album release show at The Roxy in Los Angeles, we spoke with Murs about his tenure in the rap game, reviving Paid Dues, appreciation for women, and more.
Okayplayer: This Friday is a big day for you — turning 40 and releasing your new album and performing in your hometown. What emotions or thoughts come to mind?
Murs: I don’t know. The same anticipation for any album. I’m not really a birthday person. I’m acknowledging 40, I’m grateful for 40, but I’m waiting on 45. Where I’m from, we don’t really celebrate 40. But I’m grateful, because I might not make it to 40. But I really wanna make it to 45 — and beyond. People do “over the hill,” I’m gonna do my big thing at 45.
OKP: Any hesitations or worries as the date gets closer?
M: No, I got work to do. The album is done… I’m hoping that it does well. I’m hoping that I can sell some units — hoping that the Okayplayer community supports. I been doing videos and all this shit, and then Phonte puts out an album out of nowhere and everybody’s like, “Yeah!!” So I’m looking for a little bit of that love, that’d be nice for once.
OKP: You’ve been in the game for over 20 years. What topics do you feel still need to be addressed in music?
M: Right now, we’re talking about losing a newborn child. I didn’t feel like that needed to be shared. I wish never had to talk about that. But I talk about that on the new album. I think that as we all get older, there’s a lots of things that… divorce and all those type of things that need to be discussed. I don’t know if I’m pushing that — that’s not like my lane, but just being an adult, like [rapping about] more mature topics… and wisdom.
I think there are a lot of people spewing knowledge, a lot of these young rappers are conscious rappers now, but they don’t know shit. They know shit, but they don’t know shit. They haven’t been through shit. They just like, “I saw this YouTube video and I read this book and I wrote a rap about it and it was great. I’m so knowledgeable and I’m so woke.” But really I think it’s my generation’s job to give the wisdom and the understanding. And I don’t think I’m in the understanding phase, but I’m definitely in the wisdom phase.
OKP: Do you feel like you’re the influence that you want to see in music? What other artists have done a good job of this?
M: Am I the influence I want to see in music? Yeah, definitely. Be the influence that you want to see in the world. I don’t know about as a parent, I’m still growing. But as a rapper, I’m definitely… hopefully… and I’ve been told by some of my peers. Having Ali Shaheed Muhammad or Q-Tipcome up to me and saying, “Yo, thank you for carrying our tradition.” Or KRS-One lighting up when he sees me. Like, “You’re doing what we intended.” So I’ve heard that from a lot of the OGs, so I’m really, really grateful for the career that I’ve been able to maintain and the influence that I appear to be having on my elders and the next generation.
OKP: What are your thoughts on this generation’s youth and how you might see them Murs changing the world for the better?
M: [whistles] How are they gonna change the world for the better? I do not know. I think what Kendrick [Lamar], [J.] Cole, and those guys are doing is amazing. Even [Lil] Wayne, what’s he’s doing with his artists. And Rick Ross even, like actual rappers running labels that actually have artists that go on to do better than they do. That’s amazing. I think that’s a great thing for the culture, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to the future of TDE and seeing where that goes. Dreamville and seeing where that goes. The Weeknd is really interesting to me because he’s super hip-hop and he has influence. It’s just interesting to see that because I consider him hip-hop, so seeing where that goes and where his label goes, it’s all interesting to me.
OKP: Talk about what it takes to create a Murs album. What’s been your favorite (or least favorite) to make?
M: Wow. Sheesh. What does it take to make one? Just a lot of honesty and a lot of good beats. My favorite has been Melrose with Terrace Martin, which all my fans hate. My least favorite, initially probably was Murs 3:16. I did not like that record when I finished it.
M: I just didn’t like it. And then LP was like, ‘This is the best album.’ Phife [Dawg] was like, ‘This a great album.’ So that taught me early on that it’s not what you think, it’s what the fans think.
OKP: Your new album A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable is your most personal yet. From a divorce to the loss of newborn son, how does it feel putting your tragedies out for the world to hear?
M: I don’t know, I’ve always been a pretty vulnerable artist. I guess I didn’t make a Facebook post about it when it happened… I just didn’t let a lot of people in. So I think that music is my shield and I’m able to express it that way. So I feel comfortable over a beat, more comfortable than just face to face. Because there’s probably a lot of my friends and peers that are gonna be hearing this album like, “Oh shit, that’s what happened? I had no idea.” So it feels good. I don’t feel weak. I don’t feel vulnerable. I almost kind of feel like I’m cheating because if anybody shits on the album it’s like… I think people might feel bad. You can still not like the album, but you don’t have to feel sorry for me and give me a good review because of it. It’s still art.
OKP: You worked with Seven on this project. Talk about the importance of the relationship between an artist and the producer, and what you look for in producers that you collaborate with.
M: When I’m collaborating with a producer I expect a lot more than a beatmaker. There’s producers who help you cultivate a sound, and I think that’s Seven, 9th Wonder, Ski Beatz, Terrace Martin — I tend to like to work with those kind of people more. Because I don’t have the musical knowledge to really get the album and sound to where it needs to be. So I think it’s vital, depending on what kind of artist you are. There are some artists that can pick a beat and turn it out for themselves, and develop the sound themselves. I’m an artist that I feel like it’s important for a producer to more than just make the beat.
OKP: Speaking of 9th Wonder, tell us about the first time you guys linked up and what that studio session was like.
Murs: I think the first time I linked with 9th Wonder was really, really weird for him, because he had never met anyone like me. So I was wearing pajama pants and really small Carmelo Anthonyrookie jersey and matching Nike Dunks. And he’s like, “Your pants have Twinkies on them (or Spongebob)… and you want to go with a party me?” His mom had to make him go to Walmart with me, like he was embarrassed to take me in public [laughs].
So our first session was like a room full of his friends and me, and I think that’s why songs like “L.A.” and “Walk Like A Woman” — those albums were so West Coast leaning because I felt like I was kind of banging on the whole room. I had to let everyone know where I’m from, and where I’m from, we can really rap. And I’m from the West Coast. His beats were so East Coast-y and classic hip-hop that it was kinda clashing. And I think that’s why I didn’t like the album at first. Because man, I’m with all these fucking strangers and I don’t know if they like my music. It was really like how I see people describe a county dayroom. County dayroom / jail type of vibe, where it wasn’t problems but like, “Where are you from and what are you about?”
And at that time, having a 9th Wonder beat was a big deal. Black Album had just came out. So he went from agreeing to this project when he wasn’t as famous as he was to having to follow through and everybody in the room is from North Carolina. I’m rapping over their boys’ beat. That’s how I felt the vibe in the room was, but 9th wasn’t like that vibe. 9th was cool. He was like “Cool, that was great.” One take, a lot of stuff from Murs 3:16 was one take. I’d be like, “Should we go back and fix it?” He’d be like, “Bruh, do you even know where Ghostface messed up on Da Mystery of Chessboxin’? No, because it’s just about the feeling man, leave it like that!” We did that album in five days, because we were just like boom, boom, boom, boom [snaps fingers].
OKP: Your journey with Strange Music started back in 2014. Tell us a story with Strange or Tech N9ne that’s never been told before.
M: What am I going to be allowed to talk about? This is a good one. Why would you ask that question? That people never talk about… hmm?
OKP: Take your time.
M: Yeah, I’m going to take my time with this one. Okay, this is good one… it’s probably not for the Okayplayer crowd, but we’ll see.
I grew up in Crip neighborhood around a lot of Crips. Tech N9ne is definitely affiliated with a lot of Bloods. And at the time he had an artist named Kutt Calhoun on his label, and I really told that them this is gonna be a cultural change for me. I haven’t been around this many Bloods ever. By no means am I gangbanger, but it’s just like, my mom doesn’t wear a lot of red. It’s just a cultural thing. So I was like, alright. I’m gonna go on this tour because we good people. So they put me on the bus with Kutt Calhoun who is like super duper red rag, jumpsuit everything, and he’s not on the bus the first couple of days. I’m already nervous and he’s not on the bus the first couple of days because he’s in jail. So now I’m even more like, “Oh God, I’m gonna have to fight this guy,” blah blah blah. I might say the wrong thing.
We pick him up in the next city when he gets out of jail, he gets on the bus and he’s so nice. And he’s surprisingly into a lot of real hip-hop. He’s telling me he’s cool with Slaine from La Coka Nostra and he likes Royce Da 5’9”. So then we get off the bus and he’s like, “You smoke cigarettes?” And at the time I was smoking cigarettes, so he’s like, “Okay, let me get a square.” So we’re smoking cigarettes and then we’re late for Meet and Greet. And if you’re on the Strange Tour, that’s the worst thing. You’re not late. You get fined and more shit. So I’m like, “Oh shit, Cuz!” And I look at him and he has all this red on and I’m like, “Oh shit, this dude is gonna punch me in the face.” I’m like, “I’m so sorry bro, it’s just a term of endearment.” He looked at me and he just started laughing like, “Man, I don’t give a fuck about none of that shit.” And we just started running to meet and greet.
Later, we would become super cool friends. It gave me hope because I always trip out. I’m from a generation and an era where that’s not cool, like nothing happened. And I really hope that… you know, it happens with TDE, which I’m super happy to see. And this generation seems to be more about it. It’s not about that. It’s just about there’s fake people on both sides. And it’s about the real people coming together on both sides to do real shit. That was the first time I ever felt like, cool, I can just be myself. Now me and Tech joke about it all the time. He sent me his verse for “Same Way” for my album and I was like, “Aw, Blood! That shit was dope!” I texted him and he laughed. We don’t disrespect each other. It’s just a respect… if we look at the the overall, underlying, positive message to take from gang culture, it’s unity and strength, and being who you are. And respecting that and not infringing on that. I see more of that happening, even as though gang banging is being glorified in more commercial… in essence, I hope people take about from it that loyalty, honor, and respect.
OKP: The “Same Way” visual sees you sitting down for an awkward dinner date. Talk about the process of creating your own brand of music videos.
M: Man, I’ve always been not afraid to be self deprecating in my music and in my videos. The same way with my producers, if you give me a beat, I’ma rap to it. So directors start coming up with concepts and I’m like, “Yeah, sure. I’ll do that. You want me to do the running man in my underwear? You want me to fall down in “Bad Man” video?” Like I’ve always been… like yesterday and today, “You want me to wear glasses?” I don’t care man, I don’t have an image no more. Will Smith is a huge influence, just having fun and doing cool shit and lightening people’s mood.
OKP: Do you usually come up with your own ideas before you pitch it to the director or is more of a collaborative effort?
M: It’s more collaborative. My music is so literal that I think the directors need to take over. I like coming up with my own videos, but the best videos I’ve had have always been the director coming up with it. And I’m like, “Yeah, let’s rock!”
OKP: March is actually National Women’s History Month. Talk about the role women have played in your life.
M: Oh man. I’m a product of a single parent, I can’t… that’s why I’ve always made the music I make. If you listen to Murs 3:16 or any of my music, it’s rarely that the word “bitch” is used in a derogatory fashion.
OKP: Thank you, I appreciate that.
M: But I’m sure that I’m guilty of something… I’m a man. Now, when stuff comes up, I have to ask my wife, “What exactly did Aziz Ansari do wrong?” And she’s a good woman, she doesn’t demonize me for asking. I’m not an asshole man where I’m like, “He didn’t do anything wrong!” I’m like, “Tell me, so I can know. I’m not asking you to argue with you. I’m asking you so I can hear, understand, and not do that going forward. [I want to] teach my son to not to do that going forward.”
I’m glad that I have a good woman in my life that is educated enough to educate me. I think that there needs to be more understanding in how to educate men, not just, “Okay, we’re calling everybody out.” But how are we moving forward? And as men, are we receiving that? But I’ve never been… like I have a song called “Freak These Tales” about having multiple sex partners. I might have called a woman a “bitch” — I mentioned 40 different types of girls, but I used the word “bitch” to reference one of them. When I use “bitch,” I use it like I use “n***a” It’s not like a thing. Me and my wife have our own way of talking to each other. She doesn’t use the n-word, but it involves like “Oh shit, bitch. Did you see this?” Like, “Gurrrl!”
It’s not derogatory. When she uses it to me, I’m not like “Aye, I’m not no bitch.” If I can be a nigga, I can be a bitch too.
If it wasn’t for women, we all wouldn’t be here. Literally, [in my life] my father didn’t do shit for me. My mom did everything, so I think hip-hop should be a lot more friendly to women and a lot less misogynist because so many of these rappers come from single-parent homes. So when I hear the things they say about women, it astounds me. If you’re a white-American male, I can understand you shitting on women all the time. But how did hip-hop become such a… even in an era when black guys are like, “Oh, the Motherland. I wanna… ” How do you talk about the Motherland and not respect the mothers of the Motherland?
OKP: Do you think there is still room in the music industry for equality to grow pertaining to women?
M: Yeah, I think there’s definitely room for it grow. It’s just gonna take a huge education process, and a lot of patience on both sides.
OKP: You actually created one of the greatest hip-hop festivals next to Rock The Bells. Can fans expect a revival of Paid Dues?
M: No! No more Paid Dues.
OKP: No? As a fan, I’m like please.
M: Well, not me. Not me doing it. I would love for someone else to go ahead and do it — someone else to buy it, or whatever. Or people continue to support Tyler [the Creator] and Rolling Loud. I dig what’s going on at the other festivals.
OKP: I just feel like Paid Dues has that O.G. hip-hop feel that Rock The Bells has and Rolling Loud lacks.
M: Yeah. I hope that some of these festivals get into booking more classic and traditional hip-hop, and also booking more up and comers. Like on my bill, you were able to see — not because I did it, but because of their hard work — but I could recognize the talent and hard work that TDE was putting in and gave them a shot. And they moved from bottom of the bill, to middle of the bill, to top of the bill, and that’s how other festivals, they should be looking for those artists to help.
Paid Dues got the benefit, pleasure, and honor of being a part of TDE’s movement. We weren’t the reason TDE succeeded, we got to be a part of it. And more festivals need to be looking to be a part of the great movements that artists and their teams are creating. And partner with them. Or throwing TDE fest and they’re growing their own artists — maybe that’s the future. Maybe Cash Money has a festival. Because it’s hard for rap. People don’t grow artists on the bill. They just kind of… if you’re hot, cool. I saw that with Warped Tour — I was on Warped Tour with Yellowcard and they started out on the side stage. And then as their album sold over the summer, they got to the main stage. It was that quick. But some years, I’ve seen acts go on the bottom of Warped Tour… even Avenged Sevenfold. I seen them play at a shitty time slot and then over the years, become bigger on that festival.
Hip-hop needs that. You guys got to start listening for… even on Warped Tour, they have pop-punk, screamo, they had blah blah blah. You can’t just have trap, a whole festival of trap. That’s not helping the culture. Have trap, have classic hip-hop, have old school artists, have new school artists. There’s Rapsody who has a classic sound, but she’s a new artist. She should be on the bill with Lil Xan and they should be on the same festival. Because what I used to do with Paid Dues is, if you put Lil Xan on this stage, have another stage with Rapsody on it, and everybody’s happy.
OKP: So why is it that you don’t want to continue? Is it the workload? Politics?
M: As I created Paid Dues, my career started to go down. When I started off I was one of the top selling independent artists in the world. And by the end of it, my sales were down. But ticket sales were way up. And the scene was buzzing, and I wasn’t able to take advantage of the culture or the buzz I was contributing to on the West Coast. Partly my fault, or a lot — all my fault. And I just had to wake up and say, “Yo, I’ve done something that no other hip-hop artist has done.” No one has created a festival that big and it doesn’t rest on my name alone. People know I’m associated, but it’s not called Murs’ Festival. It’s called Paid Dues. And that’s great. To me, that’s humility. That’s when it’s truly a gift. I’ve done that, but I think I just did it out of order. I probably should have established myself completely and then tried to be charitable. Help out the scene and make a contribution to the culture. So now, I’m just playing catch up.
OKP: You love to read. Top 3 books?
M: White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, and anything by Walter Mosley. He’s my favorite author of all time. Before I started really becoming a dad, I had read everything he had written. Someone told me, “You be can’t be a real literature aficionado if you haven’t read one author, everything they’ve written. So from front to back, I try to read everything that he puts out: science fiction, mystery, biography — whatever, I’m reading it. If it’s Walter Mosley, I’m reading it. So those are my top three. I’m trying to think of a third book so I don’t look like an asshole.
The Spook Who Sat by the Door is a good one, too, but Walter Mosley is my favorite author.
OKP: What has been a key takeaway from those books that you’ve applied to your life and career?
M: For White Boy Shuffle, it’s just being yourself. All these artists talk about California in some way, so I take pride in my state. I am also just proud to be a black intellectual. The characters in these stories are African American, but they’re very counter to what the image of black America is in the mainstream. So that’s what I love about the protagonists in all these books, they do something different with same background experience of every other black American.
Shirley Ju is a Los Angeles-based writer who grew up in the Bay Area. She lives, breathes, and sleeps hip-hop, and is literally on top of new music the moment it is released. If there’s a show in L.A., you can find her there. Follow the latest on her fomoblog.com and on Twitter @shirju.