Where I Belong
With album sales plummeting and the media declaring hip-hop as public enemy No.1, the stage is set for a new MC to emerge as an alternative to gangsta rap. Oddly enough, Murs might be that artist. The eccentric MCs 1997 solo debut, F’Real, introduced him as one of those “other” Los Angeles rappers who didn’t rock bandanas or gang bang. It wasn't until his 2003 release, The End of the Beginning (Def Jux Records), however, that his subterranean identity began to rise above ground. His Home Alone meets Animal House themed video for the single, “Risky Business,” featured Shock G (Humpty Hump) of Digital Underground and became a BET Uncut favorite. Murs then began to enjoy more semi-commercial success when he hooked up with producer 9th Wonder for 2004’s critically acclaimed, Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition, and 2006's Murray's Revenge. Earlier this month the 29-year-old MC announced he's signed with Warner Bros. Records and will release his first major label album, Murs For President, later this year. XXLMag.com talks with the frizzy-haired MC about making the transition to a major label, his new album and why hip-hop isn’t selling.
The title of your new album — Murs For President — hints it will be another conceptual record. Are you saying hip-hop should elect you to save the day?
It’s not going to be a record where I’m putting myself above anyone else. I’m not saving the world. I’m not making [De La Soul’s] Stakes Is High or [Nas’] Hip Hop Is Dead. I’m not making complaint rap. I just want to make songs. I’m focused on making The Beatles type of stuff. I want to be known as a songwriter. So my album isn’t gonna be a whole bunch of complaining. Rap is the only music that’s self-referencing. You don’t hear artists in other genres complaining about the state of their music. In rap it’s all about “you” and right now, it’s very selfish music. I got songs [on my album] about being a felon and not getting hired for work. I’ve got a song rapping from the point of view of a homeless man. I dig deep for concepts. I want to show that hip-hop isn’t all bad. It’s alive and well, just badly misrepresented.
Now that you’ve signed with Warner Bros. Records, should people still expect an underground feel to your album or will the formula change?
I don’t listen to underground rap. I’m not a big fan of it, honestly. So don’t expect that. I listen to gangsta rap, that’s what I’m into. I’m still gonna write great songs and I’m gonna be just as entertaining. With this deal, now I got a budget to get what I want as far as producers are concerned. When I recorded with 9th [Wonder], it was pretty much him telling me what to do. But I haven’t been able to rep me, yet. I want to show all parts of me, the guy that listens to everything from Miles Davis to Fall Out Boy. I want something that represents me. But I haven’t been able to put it in one album.
At this point in your career, why sign with a major label?
The only reason I went to Warner Bros. is because everybody talks bad about the record industry. I don’t believe in being an armchair MC, always complaining about why you’re not selling or why things aren’t working. I took a pay cut to go to a major because my goal is to show people they have the chance to get on the radio. I want to be in a position to compete and really see why certain things don’t get on the radio. I’m gonna have some of the same producers everybody [else] has. By doing that, I won’t be able to complain. If I don’t get on the radio, it will be strictly because I’m not wanted there. A lot of rappers are quick to blame the industry when things don’t work. 9th gets mad at me all the time because I tell him we didn’t have a hit record. So instead of complaining, I went to where they make hits.
Little Brother was the cusp of stardom when they signed with Atlantic in 2004. Obviously it didn’t work out. What will make your situation with a major different?
My situation is different because Little Brother was a newer group, compared to my career. I’ve been recording since I was 14 and selling [albums] since I was 17. I’ve handled my own business for years. Plus, I don’t have to sign with a major for the money. I know I’m taking a pay-cut, but financially, I’m fine. I’m making a sacrifice to try and spread a message of peace. Especially with everything that happened at Virginia Tech. Life is bigger than money.
Do you have a lot of expectations now?
I don’t have large overhead or expectations. If I don’t do well, Warner Bros. can drop me and I wouldn’t care. I’m doing me regardless and I’ve done well just by doing that. I got to Warner Bros. and all they told me was, “Here is your budget, do what you do.” I don’t have an A&R in the studio pressuring me.
Is there anything you stand to lose by going to a major?
Pissing off my loyal fans from the past 10 years who think I might change. This is a dangerous move for me. This ain’t easy. I never got in this to be famous. I just make music and work hard. I’m the first to be at the venue and that last to leave. But every fan knows I’m cool. I drive a Nissan Murano and read comic books.
Who have you reached out to for this album?
I’ve [reached out] to Snoop Dogg, Gym Class Heroes, Kid Rock, Buckwild, Showbiz, Rick Rock, Droop-E and Mistah F.A.B. I want to work with people who can [help] me make the most cohesive album possible. I just want to work with whoever wants to work with me. This jump to Warner Bros. is helping with that. I got another album with 9th [Wonder] sitting, but we can only use those songs for our project.