Strange Music
Strange Music

When it comes to California crusaders in hip-hop, Murs isn't always the first name on the tip of rap enthusiasts' tongues compared to lauded names like the late Tupac. While titling his 10th solo album Captain California may come as surprise to most, the project isn't necessarily an ode to the West Coast or a declaration of California conquest. Instead, Murs' new project is more so a return to his vivid storytelling – most of which revolves around his life and times in South Central Los Angeles.

His 20-year career in the game has proven his technical rap skills to be as consistent as any but sonically he’s bounced all over the place. He’s crafted songs fit for a boom-bap bad boy all the way to a grungy punk rock rapper – all of which have maintained a surprising amount of proletarian integrity. Captain California combines both sonic extremes into one tightly-knit 13-track package with perhaps his most diverse set of beats to date. Production comes primarily from Seven, Wax Roof, DJ Fresh, MOD and Mr. Len, who have all blessed Murs with the unconventional, brash and downright matchless instrumentals in the past.

“Shakespeare on the Low” is a perfect example of the rap/rock fusion that Murs often dips into but without any lyrical sacrifice. He details a modern day Romeo and Juliet storyline but subs out the rival families and switches it to a rival gang situation which, let’s be honest, is probably way more common in his native SoCal. His high level literary consciousness then allows him to spew out crazy wordplay like “Montague Piru and a Crip Capulet/Knew that we would start a war but I had no regrets” – a line so impressively put together it would even make William himself proud.

Murs would also make Kanye West proud with the next track “GBKW (God Bless Kanye West)." Although it isn’t a story explicitly about Yeezy, Murs does use the G.O.O.D. Music leader as a focal point for “every other brother of color that’s under stress." The story he weaves through Krok’s open pocket production highlights the negative impact that hood lifestyle can have on the mental health young men of color – a topic that cannot be talked about enough these days. There are a handful of other socially aware tracks like the prostitution avers “Xmas and Thanksgiving” and the gentrification tale of woe “G Is for Gentrify.” Often times songs that carry such heavy handed messages can come off as corny or insincere but the way Murs so fluidly illustrates the issue at hand makes it feel like you are watching a movie. He rhymes with such effortless detail that you forget he even rhymes in the first place and assume he is just telling you a story as if you were good friends catching up.

And if that isn’t talent enough, Murs flexes his comprehensive understanding of the male and female interaction. On “Ay Caramba” he raps, “Walked up, asked her how she liked the set/Looked me up and down and she just said, 'Meh'/Shock, shock, shock, shock/Then I looked at her, said, 'You're not that hot'/Of course that's what got her,” which is such a brutally honest depiction of that commonplace dealing between men and women.

Long story short, there isn’t much Murs can’t do as a rapper. Of course, he isn’t breaking totally new ground but still manages to make Captain California one of his best projects to date. At no point on this 45-minute rap fest does Murs ever come across as unsure, unauthentic or unaware of who is he is as a rapper or man. This may not be the “West Coast dedication” album people assumed it would be based off the title but a close listen to his stories proves Murs is pretty much as California as it gets.

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