For true underground Hip-Hop fans, the name Murs needs no introduction. Known for his lyrical fervor and persistent touring worldwide, Murs has achieved the type of longevity within the industry that is deeply respected by artists and fans alike. HNET caught up to talk with Murs about is latest project with Ski Beatz, Love & Rockets, Volume 1: The Transformation, and the impact he’s hoping to have through his new role as Vice President at BluRoc Records.
T-Up: People talk about Hip-Hop as being a global phenomenon, but you’ve actually lived that experience throughout your career. How have your travels influenced your perspective and your music?
Murs: I started doing music internationally on my first tour in Europe when I was 18 … and it immediately impacted me. A kid in Germany approached me and asked me to see my gun. And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ He believed that since the only thing everybody rapped about was like Menace II Society, and this was 1996? That right there was so jarring to me because I knew what an impact I could have on the world by what I said to this kid, what music we continue to make, the way that NBA players dress…everything influences the world and they take their view of Black America from what we do. He thought that I came to a foreign country with a handgun. He believed it so much that he just asked & it was so matter of fact for him. I thought he was joking, but his command of the English language didn’t even allow for any type of nuance or sarcasm. So from that point on, it had a huge impact on me. I was like, if no one else does, I have to make a positive impact when I go to these places, I have to be on my somewhat best behavior; as much as you can be at 18 years old. At least be articulate and as nonthreatening as possible, and continue to make positive music that celebrates another side of Black America.
T-Up: I know there may be some artists that struggle between delivering those positive messages they want to portray, and really making a living. How have you been able to balance the two?
Murs: I’ve never looked at my art as a way to make a living. I’ve tried to use my art to make a living, but my art is not a means to an end. Some people look at this as painting houses, and some people paint pictures. The majority of Black artists in the marketplace now are in the business of painting houses. Everybody is using this type of paint, and if everybody is using that type of color, and they’re gonna go out and service the community with paint. There’s no individualism, there’s no expression, there’s no heart. They’re just doing what will make money because it’s a job. And when you come from a background or culture that’s so economically distraught, it’s to be expected, you know. I try to differentiate. There’s people making art, and there’s people making money. And some people saying ‘I’m doing this so I don’t have to sell drugs’. I can applaud that and I can respect that. But at some point you selling drugs is … I hate to say, but maybe even better than you rapping about selling drugs because that way you only have a negative effect on your community if you’re actually doing what you’re talking about. But when you’re fabricating these stories about you selling a lot drugs, you’re infecting the world.
There’s people selling crack in Cairo, Egypt, you know. And that is a direct effect of what is shown in Black America. If I had to choose between the lesser of two evils, I would choose for these people to just really go and do what you’re talking about rather than rap about it, because that way you’re only continuing to destroy our communities, you’re not making it worse for people around the world … its easier to contain and fight back against, you know. Because soon you’ll end up dead or in jail if you’re only doing this in your community.
T-Up: Interesting perspective. Some people may not understand the global impact some of their choices may have. And that’s true for any of us, because our frame of reference can be so limited.
Murs: Someone once told me that Paris Hilton was ghetto. I didn’t understand. And he said, ‘When your view of the world is confined to what you know, and nothing outside of your comfort zone then you’re ghetto.’ Paris Hilton travels with an entourage of people who insulate her, and she only knows the Beverly Hills lifestyle. And people from the ‘hood when we travel, they bring all their homeboys, they insulate, they never really experience London … or even in Los Angeles, they surround themselves with like-minded individuals, so they aren’t even able to fathom that their music is affecting anyone outside of their realm.
And when you go to your shows, it’s usually a microcosm of people who are of the same mindframe, and you’re not seeing anything different. And if you go to Africa to do a show, there’s gonna be a bunch of African kids dressed like you’re dressed, there just coming to see the show, you’re not even gonna see the people on the countryside. You’re gonna still feel like you’re at home. You’re not gonna even recognize that ‘Hey, I’m in a different place. And I’m having an effect on the world.’ That’s an unfortunate thing.
T-Up: It is, very much so. I know we’ve been listening to the new album, Love & Rockets Volume 1: The Transformation. And it can be described as a global hip-hop album. With you as the lyricist from the West Coast, and the East Coast represented through Ski Beatz production, you’re addressing universal themes like in ‘Animal Style’ where you bring the topic of homosexuality to the forefront. And you’re forever the storyteller like in ’67 Cutlass’. How do you think this album differs from your previous work?
Murs: I feel like it’s the same, but I’ve grown a little bit. I feel like I’ve got a lot more to do as a person. I have different things to say. I’ve always done love songs, stories, a couple aggressive Hip-Hop songs. But I think working with Ski Beatz and having a lot of live instrumentation on this record has changed it. Also there have been a few transformations in my life. My hair outwardly, being married, and I done a lot more but not enough volunteering in the community, and just the people I’ve encountered. I think that is apparent on this record. But as far as the basic formula of stories and love songs that’s the same, but I think I have a lot more depth because of things have been going on with me personally.
T-Up: In ‘316 Ways‘ you mentioned the school that you’re working on building and you also spoke in other interviews about how you want to help other people achieve their dreams. Fast forward 10 years from now, what would that look like for you in terms of helping others achieve their dreams?
Murs: I might step more into Artist Management. I was recently given the title of Vice President with BluRoc. So for people who have dreams of becoming a rapper or having a rap career I can help them establish that. I can’t tell anyone how to sell a million records, but I can tell someone how to make this a career and be here 15 years, I can definitely teach that. That’s what I know best. Other than that, my wife and I are working on adopting some children from Ethiopia in the community where we’ve been working for the past couple of years. I’d love to get involved more. I have a cousin who’s fighting leukemia, she’s three. So my wife is organizing walks and donations. I have another cousin with diabetes, we’ll be walking for her, and doing more work for Teens with Autism. I was at a camp this summer … and that was extremely touching, and I thought the kids were amazing. So the more I move into the executive level, the less I’ll be touring and hopefully the more I’ll be able to do in my community, and of course continue to speak at high schools & touching young people which I think is most important. Because the children are the future, and I know that’s cliché, but in a selfish way these are the people who are going to be running our country in a few years, and when I go talk to them, I say honestly I’m scared. Because the people who are your role models are some of the most ignorant, illiterate & selfish people on the planet Earth and they’re not telling you what you need to hear to survive and make a positive impact. So I’m trying to continue to transform the lives of as many young people as possible.
T-Up: Often times when we hear about entertainers in the community it’s really just as a PR stunt and they’re not really vested into the work itself. So it’s refreshing to hear about the variety of ways that you are involved and continuing to stay involved over time.
Murs: My wife is really about volunteering …so I’m definitely not doing enough by her standards, and not doing enough by my standards. But hopefully by signing new artists I want to make certain requirements of artists that I work with to continue to set a precedent and set an example so for up and coming rappers this is something they have to do, or even something that they’ll want to do. Not enough rappers celebrate what they do, and I think anyone who volunteers, if you’re human you’re gonna be touched by it, and you’re gonna do more of it, if you’re actually doing it. I’ve seen rappers come to Habitat for Humanity things that I’ve done, and these are conscious rappers. I’m not gonna name any names but as soon as the cameras leave, they’ll leave. It’s so ridiculous.
That’s another reason I want to move into the Executive capacity to do more hands on and teach these young artists the proper way to do it. And even if you are talking about … stuff that I don’t agree with, à la Rick Ross. I enjoy his music but I don’t agree with what he’s saying. But he has some great programs at work in the inner city. And I want to be able to combine efforts and maybe spread that, and find out ways we can expose that more because I think it needs to be celebrated. Working with Damon Dash, I’ve found out all the stuff he’s done over the years and he said, ‘My publicist couldn’t pay someone to run those stories.’ A lot of hip-hop heads will hate Rick Ross or hate Jay-Z, but some of these people are actually doing things, it’s just not celebrated the way it should be and its not their fault. I wish they would rap about it, they rap about everything else. So if I could help set some kind of new standard, that would be fulfilling to me.
T-Up: That would be remarkable if if were to happen. A lot of people are curious about what BluRoc Records is right now and what it will evolve into. With the talent that’s being accumulated, there’s definitely some anticipation about what will unfold. With you in the role of Vice President and with Dame Dash’s vision, it has the potential to be a force to be reckoned with, in a different way.
Murs: He’s definitely a changed man from what people think they know about him. I’m hoping I can help expose that, and he continues to rub off on me daily. I would hope that some of me will rub off on him, and we’ll just become better at what we’ve both been doing for years. And just do it on a larger level, I get excited, that I get to just hang out with him everyday.
T-Up: There are a lot of underground artists out there that struggle between their desire to get ‘picked up by a major label’ versus remaining independent, you’ve managed to navigate both arenas. What do you think is the main ingredient for artists to have in order to survive either of the two worlds?
Murs: It just depends on your work ethic, and honestly your level of commitment and your level of intelligence. You can’t be a dumb, lazy, independent rapper, its not gonna happen. You can be a dumb, lazy artist on a major label but then you’re really just rolling the dice. I’m not saying he’s an example of someone who’s dumb and lazy, this kid worked really hard and I’ve watched him. Wiz Khalifa and I were on Warner Brothers at the same time and he didn’t receive that much attention, they didn’t know what to do with him and when they fired the President [of Warner Brothers], the new guys came in and said, ‘Let him go.’ They released him from the contract. They released me from my contract; they saw no potential in me or Wiz. And immediately after that Wiz became the biggest rapper in America, on his own. So major labels have no idea what they’re doing, you’re really gambling. But if you want the easy way out … I wont say it’s easy, there’s some struggle involved. But you can struggle on a budget, they’ll take care of you as long as you can have a hit, as long as you can rap over the beats they think you should rap over, and do the kind of music they think is popular, but it doesn’t guarantee you a career. Independent wise, you definitely have to be focused, and be willing to sacrifice, and almost bleed for it everyday. It’s a lot more work, and there’s a lot less praise.
The fact that I can do nothing else but this for 15 years is testament to the power that independents have. There are a lot of signed rappers that still live off their checks, but some of them end up being security guards. And some people are fine with that. They got to live the life for a couple of years, then they had to go back to doing whatever they had to do. Being independent you’re not going to be on every television station, yet. There always has to be someone corporate behind the scenes getting paid, or else they’re not gonna let you into the network, that’s just the fact. Go to YouTube and iTunes, and all these things and they’re slowly cutting corporate America out of being a factor in what matters, à la Occupy Wall Street. It’s completely a grassroots movement. The media, you know they’re ridiculing it, but they at least have to talk about how they tried to ignore it for so long, they tried to downplay it. That’s how I feel about independent Hip-Hop. You have people like Tech N9ne that are taking over now. And they don’t know where it came from.
T-Up: Definitely a testament to the amount of passion and authenticity that a lot of independent artist have to maintain, and you know this all too well. So, Making of Love & Rockets, the book. Why was it important for you to document that experience?
Murs: I really didn’t feel like it was important, but my friend Soren Baker made it important … I saw the work Soren did with Game, Tech N9ne, and Glasses Malone. I always wanted to write a book, and he kind of lays the framework, and I’m in the process of editing it right now. Also I have songs that actually mean something, people might actually take more away from the song if I can explain it with some insight. And also for a younger artist that’s writing, people always ask and sometimes its hard for me to articulate how my outline process goes and my thought process goes, so at this point I think it’s a great thing. And I’m a reader, so for me to have my own book, it’s an unbelievable achievement for me.
T-Up: For us at HNET, one of the conversations we’ve been having lately is that for some hip-hop artists, their ability to express themselves through their lyrics is limited simply because they aren’t avid readers. Just thinking about writing in general, most writers are readers. And if you aren’t reading, it becomes difficult to express yourself in writing.
Murs: So amazing to hear you say that. That’s the one thing everybody tells me, ‘I have a son, that’s a rapper,’ or when I go speak to kids and they ask, ‘What do you want to say to upcoming artists?’ I just say read. You can’t write if you’re not reading.
T-Up: So what are you reading?
Murs: Lately I’ve been reading a lot of junk, a lot of comic books … I read like 30 a week. I’m also reading the Tim Tebow autobiography, and I just bought Malice from the Clipse autobiography, I’m a big fan of autobiographies. I’m also reading The Power of the Myth by Joseph Campbell, I’ve been reading that off and on since I was 16, but never finished it … I read everything Walter Mosley has ever done, but I’m a little bit behind on his books. There’s not enough hours in the day for me to read. You’d think on tour I’d get to read a lot, but it’s usually a lot of interviews, and sound checks, and finding food. So I’m looking forward to this December & January when I have some time off just to read everyday because that’s really one of my passions.
T-Up: Not enough hours in the day indeed because you’re also working on Love & Rockets Volume 2, is that right?
Murs: Yeah, not actively right now, we’re working on gelling as a band. All of the producers I’ve been with in the past have never toured with me … For me, I came up in an era where there wasn’t the Internet, there wasn’t TV. My whole thing was trying to get someone to give me 5 minutes to get on stage and my live performance had to be amazing in order to get you to buy my cassette tapes. Because that’s all I had, that time in front of you was my commercial. My live show – not to be arrogant because I’m not really a fan of performing in general – is light years ahead of most rappers because that’s the way I ate. So if I didn’t wow you with my performance, and I performed for 20 people sometimes, then had every person buy a CD from me, because it’s that impactful. That element is so important to who I am as an artist and even being on tour, more than I do anything else, some 200 days out of the year some years.
So when producers don’t come into that world they don’t have an understanding. So now Ski doing the album and agreeing, and actually being excited about going on the road with me, he looks at me every night and says ‘I get it now.’ When we were recording it was really challenging, and I think we still rose to the occasion and made a great record, but now that he gets it and the musicians who play on a lot of his records they’re on tour with us and we perform as a unit and we’re gelling, and we’re just 20 shows in, by the time we get to the 50th show, we’re gonna be… on a metaphysical level if you believe in that, there’s definitely some type of bonding, and auras and energy. On a muscle memory level we’re gonna be connected. So this is working on Volume 2, but not actually working on it. So when we sit down and actually focus on new music, I’m hoping and looking forward to our connection being amazing.
Murs is currently headlining on the 51 city Hip-Hop & Love Tour, which also features artists Tabi Bonney, Ski Beatz and the Senseis, McKenzie Eddy, Da$h, and Sean O’Connell. For more tour information, check out the schedule on the Hip Hop & Love Tour website.