When it’s time to generate publicity for a new project, many veteran rappers shamelessly laud their latest offerings with hollow phrases like, “This is my most personal project to date.” But Murs has built a career on authenticity, and when speaking of Have A Nice Life, his debut album for Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label, the MC's own testimony allows for a clearer picture of the music to follow: “A lot of people said, ‘I know Murs from Paid Dues and I know him from being around, but I don’t know who he is or what he does.’"

Murs is an artist who works best with a specific artistic blueprint in mind, just so long as that blueprint is rooted in principled motives. The overt push for mainstream appeal on Murs For President too often posited the California native outside his comfort zone, sometimes yielding mediocre results. But while the instrumentals have a poppy edge, on Have A Nice Life Murs utilizes the full arsenal of his skills to craft an album with the same passion as an artist introducing himself to the world for the first time.

An affinity for plain-spoken, humble and often embarrassing raps have always separated Murs from the fabrications-as-reality that cloud many rappers. “Have A Nice Life” opens the album in conversational fashion with Murs relaying the positive forces currently orbiting his life without sounding boastful over soft piano chords. Long known to rhyme about comic books and video games rather than counting money, on “Skatin’ Through The City” he offers another thorough portrait of his life in the form of autobiographical sketches: “Had a couple tussles, getting respect from my peers/Now they all leave me alone saying cuz just weird.”

Some of Murs’ most fluid work to date has come at the hands of longtime producers like 9th Wonder and Terrace Martin, but for variety’s sake, it’s refreshing to hear Murs navigate through a different sonic palette without losing his footing in the process. Childhood friend Jesse Shatkin, mostly known for his work with Kelly Clarkson and Sia, handles most of the production here. What results is a more pop-oriented sound than we’re used to hearing from Murs, but he manages to bypass past forced efforts at radio play like “Time Is Now” from Murs For President. “Mi Corazon” is more up-tempo than the typical 9th Wonder-type beat, and the riotous nature boosts the dramatic content tenfold. Here Murs revisits his oft-used anecdotal method to narrate a tale in which he meets a Hispanic woman named Letty who eventually lands him in danger with disapproving acquaintances. Shatkin also laces “Pussy and Pizza,” with Murs exploring two of his favorite subjects while using his trademark flow to blur the lines between truth and comedy: “Early Sunday morning got the game on/I fell in love with every girl that I came on.”

But some of the tantalizing moments of Have A Nice Life are when Murs goes after larger-scale issues. E-40 joins his California brother on “PTSD,” where both MCs equate living in the ghetto to a war zone. Charged with both deep-seated frustration and aggression, Murs delivers a passionate dose of real talk. And while “No More Control,” the official single, features the electronic, synth-heavy touch of MNDR for what would read like a Top 40 bid in the liner notes, Murs does not go light on subject matter. At once it is the classic rags-to-riches narrative of personal triumph and a firm denouncement of the material excesses many rappers glorify in their music.

Shatkin reemerges on the impassioned closer, “I Miss Mikey.” Rappers have been crafting odes to fallen comrades for decades, but “I Miss Mikey” speaks not only to Murs’ own deceased homies, but acts as an inspirational call to ignore fears of mortality in the face of death and leave a lasting mark. With Have A Nice Life, an album that will not only impress longtime admirers but newcomers as well, Murs should have no problem with that task. —Kellan Miller