MURS isn’t your average rapper; he isn’t even your above-average rapper; he’s in a class and on a level distinct from any hip-hop artist I know. The once dreaded and tape-slanging rapper lost the heavily-matted dreads to Frank’s Chop Shop and stopped selling his music on the street a long time ago. Sober and professional, but with the same sense of humor and poignant outlook on life, MURS owned up to his shortcomings and opened up about his history in our 50-minute conversation. The man is no saint, he admits, but actions speak louder than words and his community service record is tremendous. So is his discography– which boasts a spot on the Living Legends crew and collaborations with Slug (Slug of Atmosphere+MURS=Felt), 9th Wonder and even a now-defunct punk rock group. One of two top African-American booking agents to walk the Earth (to his knowledge), MURS has been and will continue to play a significant role in the development of young independent artists through his festival Paid Dues. But in more pressing news, MURS is set to release an album produced by Ski Beats on October 11th called Love and Rockets Vol. 1, The Transformation.
His signature is weaving complex stories within the framework and constraints of the verse, and he didn’t shy from that off the microphone. He played the role of the bard, with me taking the part of the Muse– pushing him to tell me more. Here’s what MURS had to say about his hit 2004 album with 9th Wonder, his passion for community service, and one of his craziest experiences from his times in the East Bay.[info_box]Here are some of the nuggets from Metrojolt’s interview with MURS. For the full-length version, click here. [/info_box]
On the story behind his 2004 album with 9th Wonder, 3:16:[The connection] was through a guy named Ian Davis, who managed Moe The Dreamer out of the Bay Area. I had been trying to get my friends to reach out to 9th Wonder. This was before he did Jay Z’s album, so he wasn’t as known. And when I was doing another 60-stop tour, ID shows up and said, “I have 9th Wonder beats, do you want to hear them?” I said, “Are you fucking crazy?” I asked everybody to get out of the van and just listened to them, and said “Oh gosh” got out of the van and said “call 9th now.” I was like, “wassup, let’s do a remix EP.” But he said let’s do a whole album. And I was like “let’s do it.”
He started sending me beats, and I started writing. But I wasn’t feeling it. Then I got one beat that was feeling, and he was like “oh, Masta Ace just used that beat.” And I said, “Are you fucking shitting me? I’m coming to your fucking house. You don’t know me, but I’m coming to your house to record the whole thing there so I don’t have to go through this.” There’s nothing like writing to a beat, recording on it, and then someone telling you “nope”. It’s like Baby Boy, with Snoop Dogg, like having a sandcastle and then a bully kicking it over.
I flew to North Carolina. Well, I told him I was flying to North Carolina and he said fine. I was on another tour. And he called me and said, “Yo, I just left the studio from an all night session with Jay Z and Beyoncé. But don’t worry, I didn’t play him any of your beats.” And i was like, “Are you fucking crazy?” I would have played Jay Z all of my beats, like go for it dude. But that just let’s you know the kind of dude he was.
From there, I flew out to North Carolina. He had just gotten the copy of The Threat and he played it for me. He had all his boys in the parking lot. All of his homies are regular dudes from North Carolina– doctors, coaches, teachers. They were in the Walgreens parking lot blaring the new Jay Z album because it was before the album came out and it was their boy, from their neighborhood, that made it on a Jay Z record. And Jay Z says his name, so it was a huge moment. All of that didn’t deter him from a little underground rapper from California that showed up to his house. We were around his children and his wife and he made music. We knocked it out in about five days and then I flew back to L.A. That was [the album] 3:16.
On community service:
Oh man, my wife has changed my life. I’ve always been a fan of and been involved with Habitat for Humanity, but this year we were able to pair it with Paid Dues. 25 people who bought VIP tickets was given as a donation. We all went out and built a house for a family in need, or a couple families in need. We helped building the framework for the house. We got to write words of inspiration inside the walls and meet some of the families. We spent twelve hours building– hammering nails, sawing, getting dirty. That was awesome being able to do that with kids from the hip hop community and people that love my music and helping people. [Project video HERE]
My wife and I went to Ethiopia last year and she returned again this year. We volunteered in a leprosy colony and orphanages, and working with kids who had HIV. Just getting down there and touching the kids, feeding them, buying goats for them to slaughter, watching them slaughter goats. Me, being a vegan, watching someone slaughter a goat and feed 100 people was amazing. I wasn’t repulsed by it at all. We sponsored three children from there– they are able to go to school every year because of us. We’re working on adopting two or three children from Ethiopia, god willing.
I’ve also volunteered with kids who have autism. I was a camp counselor this summer with 6 teens in my cabin. It was the most fun I had all summer, except when I went to Disney World. That’s up there too. Those kids were just phenomenal and pure. There’s no B.S. with– if they’re upset, they’re upset. If they’re happy, they’re really happy. Most of the time they were happy, and it was so dope.
On his new album produced by Ski Beats (to be released Oct 11th):
It’s called Love & Rockets. It’s 13 songs, or 14 if you get it on Itunes. There’s a story about me and 10 pounds of weed and a good friend of mine driving through the desert with a cop in the trunk. There’s my story about my struggle trying to an independent artist. It talks about the rewards and benefits of being yourself. Stories about the foundation of West Coast rap. Stories about gay teen suicide. Guest appearances from Dee-1– an artist from New Orleans– A-B Souls, Carson, O.C., and Locksmith from the Bay Area. There’s wit, metaphors, stories about some shit I’ve been through in the past year, some good energy, and some laugh some cry. I just want to touch people and inspire them because my fans touch and inspire me everyday.
On his craziest experience in the Bay Area:
I think I can talk about it. I’m gonna talk about it and see what happens. I was on the campus of Cal Berkeley and I had just bought a whole ounce of weed. I spent some time divvying it up into dimes and twomps (twenty sacks). I had comic books, and in my comic book bag were all the sacks of weed. I was trying to sell somebody some weed, I did it, and then the Berkeley P.D. came up.
There are cameras in the bushes on campus if you didn’t know. So these guys swarm on us and I pitch a bitch and just storm off yelling “I can’t believe it. We were just talking god damn it!” Then I drop the weed off with my friend and I come back. And I’m like “what’s your badge number, blah blah blah” but I was so guilty.
On selling tapes and working his way up:
I would literally take the 51 to Berkeley everyday. I lived on Seminary and East 14th and I would take the AC Transit all the way to Berkeley everyday. That was a $1.25 to get there, $1.25 to get home so that was $2.50 roundtrip. Then I would need $1.50 for a piece of Fat Slice Pizza and if I wanted a soda that was another dollar. That would be my breakfast, lunch, and dinner sometimes. I had to sell at least one $5 tape a day just to make sure I got home and got something to eat. And i would still never resort to hustling like some people do. I wanted my buyers to have some artistic merit.
For some of the CDs I see on the street today, the presentation is sloppy and there’s no artwork. I would spend $1.50 per tape. I would get color copies from Kinko’s– steal them if I had to but buy them if I could– cut them out, fold them, label them. It took a lot of work. All this other hot shit if I could. And some these people today doing the same thing have no game. But I do respect it, and I always buy it– even if they trick me– because I understand the struggle. But I asked myself: “Are you trying to build a fanbase or are you just trying to make money”. I was trying to build a fanbase first and be respected as an artist so I wasn’t trying to hustle people out of their money. I was trying to be heard.
And I would be back in the same spot the next day. And if the person buying didn’t like it I’d tell them to ‘bring it back! You’ve passed me every day this week. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t good and people weren’t buying it.’ And also I was like, “I have a show. Come to my show this Thursday. We have a show every Thursday at La Pena.” Thank god for La Pena and thank you to those people. Since Metrojolt is a Bay-Area blog, they made it possible. So yeah, I’d tell them to come to our show. ‘There’s going to be girls there, there are going to be people loving this, and loving the music, and loving each other. It’s going to be great times. And then buy the tape. Or buy the tape and then come. Whatever. Or just take the flyer. But tomorrow, stop by and tell me what you thought about it. I’ll be here’. And I made friends like that; I made fans like that; I made a living like that; And then I made my career like that. But alot of these guys aren’t interested in making friends or fans, but they just want to make money.
Reaction to the statement “hip-hop is dead”:
I think it’s a hyperbolic statement. It’s meant to jar you and create some type of reaction. But it’s definitely not true. People who are saying are people who are rapping. If Jack White was saying it, it may mean something. The only reason a recording artist would say that is being hip-hop is very much alive, which makes it even more erroneous to me. It doesn’t make sense. But I don’t let it elicit a response from me. If that’s how you feel, then you’re entitled to your opinion. But as long as I’m alive, it’s alive.
On being sober and vegan:
It’s definitely for the better. I feel better, I’m giving 100% to my fans family and friends and I’m receiving 100% back because i’m taking it in without filters. I’m sober in the sense that– I do have drinks– but the last time I was fucked up was forever ago. I’m not the type to go to extremes. I think a lack of balance and authenticity makes for a hell of a fall. I eat eggs, but say I’m vegan because it’s easier when I’m ordering food because I don’t do diary. I’m allergic to it. And i do wear leather shoes, but I am pro-animal rights. I just got a puppy from the Humane Society.
To me it’s about balance and not being some fucking radical. There’s nothing wrong with caring for others, respecting all life, and the way they treat and kill animals is horrendous. It’s part boycott, partly because meat became gross to me around 16. I’m trying to eat now because I don’t like being in a box, but it literally is gross me to me. But I don’t push it on anyone else. When I was in Ethiopia and saw them slaughter a goat, that didn’t offend me at all. But I think that American people over-rely on meat. Our food– whatever it is– it’s not the pyramid, but the groups are all fucked. FDA is fucked. So I try and keep it as safe and healthy as possible.
Alcohol makes me violent. Alcohol makes me want to smoke cigarettes. Alcohol gave me poor choice of sexual partners. If it doesn’t kill you in those ways, it’ll definitely kill you eventually through cirrhosis of the liver, which killed my father. It’s not for me, but I don’t like to preach. I just say, “I’m sober, I’m having a good time, and I’m successful. Maybe you could be sober, have a good time, and be successful.” The thing is, a lot of the rappers are too but they aren’t upfront about it. They feel like the only way they’ll make a profit in America is to be negative. And that can go back to racism, where Black people feel like the only time they were respected by white people was out fear or envy and I don’t think that’s the case.