Legacy
West Coast veteran and latest Strange Music artist Murs is still a boss in this game.
Words Jeff Weiss
Images Samantha Levi
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of XXL Magazine. Don't miss our cover stories on Meek Mill and Rick Ross right here.

No one’s Cripping in Kraków, Poland but Murs’ spider-sense stays on alert.

“Poland is mad gully,” Murs assesses of his surroundings. “They want to fight, I don’t wanna fight.”

It’s the fourth day of his latest European tour. By his own estimate, the Mid-City L.A.-raised and Arizona-based rapper has circumnavigated the globe 17 times. To paraphrase DJ Quik—who mixed 2008’s Murs For President—he’s discovered that Kraków is just like Compton. Stepping out of the car, Murs instantly defuses the situation, introducing himself to a crew of Polish goons.

“Hello sir. How are you doing?” he says, receiving warm laughter. “I just want to shake hands with everyone here, because they look like they can break my skull.”

This is quintessential Murs. Over the last decade and a half, the rapper born Nick Carter has straddled what he’s described as, “The thin line between ignorance and intelligence.” He knows when to avoid a squabble, but remains ready to throw hands if warranted. Before Kanye shattered binaries about what a rapper could be, Murs offered an everyman complexity that couldn’t be reduced to a tagline.

He’s the ex-skateboarding, yoga-practicing, sometime vegan who grew up in a Crip-dominated hood and eventually became one of the most celebrated rappers in the annals of independent hip-hop.

His Wikipedia page doubles as subgenre history. One of the co-founders of Living Legends, Murs, 37, signed to Definitive Jux in the early 2000s and became one of the seminal label’s flagship artists. He released five albums with 9th Wonder, endured a sojourn on Warner Bros. and dropped collaborative albums with Slug, Fashawn, Terrace Martin and Darryl Jennifer of Bad Brains. He also co-founded the yearly Paid Dues Festival in 2006.

Murs’ latest left turn is Have A Nice Life, his solo debut on Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label.

“We come from a similar urban or just gang culture—in a good way,” Murs says. “They’re loyal men of their word. I won’t necessarily do the same album covers or type or music. I’m there to add value and a different dynamic, not to ride coattails.”

He mostly lives in Tucson, AZ these days, but Murs’ lyrical terrain hews close to his native turf. Heavily produced by his long-time friend Jesse Shatkin, Have A Nice Life memorializes stories of post-Riot L.A. while offering reminders that only so much has changed. It’s a landscape where drug dealers, comics, cartoons and killers clash. Requiems to the dead co-exist with paeans to “pu$$y and pizza.”

“During the recording, I was staying with my mom,” Murs says. “I’d go outside to take phone calls and both cops and dudes from Inglewood families would roll up on me while I was just trying to finish up a conversation. It was a reality check that as much as things change in L.A., things always stay the same.”