Published Oct 24, 2011In 1997, Damon Dash and friend/producer Ski Beatz were high off working on a certified classic hip-hop album. The momentum of Jay-Z's debut, Reasonable Doubt, had spurred the Roc-A-Fella team to work on its shiny, anticipated follow-up, Jay's In My Lifetime Vol. 1. In 1997, another rapper on another coast had also entered the scene. Murs dropped his solo debut, F'Real, that year on little known indie Veritech. Situated on separate coasts with vastly disparate levels of media attention and SoundScan stats, it seemed unlikely that Murs and Dame Dash would ever do business together. But fast-forward 14 years, and both men have endured in rap long enough for their paths to intersect. The result? Love & Rockets, Volume 1: The Transformation, a Murs album on Dash's new label, produced entirely by Ski Beatz. We called Murs on the day the prolific MC's latest project was released. Two weeks deep into his 52-city Hip Hop & Love tour, Murs shared his thoughts on everything from Dash to AIDS, from marriage to the best advice he didn't take from his mom.
The new album just dropped today. Will you be checking the numbers at all?
I checked the preorders, and I'm-a check once today when I get back to the bus, then I'll leave it alone. It gets a little intense.
Do you have a most memorable release date?
The first one. Not my first record ever, but the first one that was in Best Buy and all of that ― that was pretty exciting.
What separates this record from your past catalogue?
Different production. This is the first time I've worked with Ski Beatz.
Did you reach out to him, or did he reach out to you?
I reached out to Damon Dash, who put out the record, and [Ski] does all the records on Damon's label [DD172/BluRoc], so it was Damon who arranged the situation.
Was there an instant connection between you and Ski Beatz?
It took a while. I think we're still figuring each other out.
You've done these types of projects before, with 9th Wonder and on your Felt records with Slug ― pick one single producer and create an entire album. What's the biggest advantage of going the one-producer route?
It's easier for the listener to get into the moment. People become fans of the entire album, not just fans of certain songs.
What differences do you notice between how 9th and Ski work?
9th Wonder works quicker. Ski is more loose, I would say.
How much input do they have in the way you spit or the subjects you take on?
9th and I have been working together a while now, so he feels more comfortable talking about what he feels I should be rapping about sometimes. With Ski, there wasn't a lot of input on what I was saying. Delivery, definitely there was some coaching on that. But mostly he handled the beats, I handled the rhymes.
How did you and Dame Dash connect? A lot of people would put you two on different ends of the hip-hop spectrum.
There was a time when we were; I don't think that's the case now. I was introduced to him through Tabi Bonney ― an artist I'm a fan of, I've toured with and we worked together a bit. I said that I wanted to meet him. And in the first three-to-five minutes, me and Damon had already planned this album and a 50-state tour together. He's very similar to me in his desire to be creative and make things happen.
How familiar was Dame with your work?
Not at all. Neither was Ski.
Did they go back and listen to your songs before making a deal?
Nah. Damon was like, "Obviously you know what you're doing. People like it. Do what you do. I don't care about radio. I just want to make something fun, creative and dope. And you already seem like a creative guy." Especially at that time I had my hair [dreadlocks that have since been chopped off], and I don't think anyone could look at my hair and assume that I wasn't a creative individual.
What did you learn from the whole Warner Bros. situation?
I have a more complete understanding of the record industry. I'm not of the same mentality where the industry is the devil out to get us. There's really a lot of good people who work at labels who want to put out good music, but at the same time they're run by a board of directors who keep them from going bankrupt like Def Jux. But at the same time, they're a lot less creative than Def Jux. When you don't have the freedom to spend money or act as quickly as an indie label, you lose some of that creativity, but you save some of that money. At Def Jux it was all heart and not a lot of discipline. When someone loves music, they're not always the most disciplined ― and discipline is what keeps the business going.
If you had to do it over, would you still sign with a major?
Definitely. Every time. I'm not big into regrets, especially when no one dies. I learned a lot. I became a better artist and a better human being for it. I met a lot of great people and worked with a lot of great people because of it. Plus, I worked on perfecting my craft.
On the new song "Eazy E" you pay homage to the West coast legends. How did Eazy E and N.W.A impact your life?
I was probably six or seven or eight when I heard him. About third grade. I was living in Lynwood, California, the city adjacent to Compton and Watts. I was a fan of LL Cool J's, but Eazy-E was the one where I was like, "Oh, shit. People who look like me can do this. People where I'm from can do this. It's not just an East coast thing. It's not just people who wear Adidas tracksuits. It can be people who wear white T-shirts and Dickies and have Jheri curls, like my neighbours, like my older brothers and his friends. As cool as I though LL was, I never thought I could rock a Kangol. It seemed like a rapper costume ― no disrespect. I think people in New York were really wearing that outfit, but where I was from, people wore white tees, Jheri curls, locs. It wasn't a conscious thing, but looking back, I can say that's when I thought, "I can do this. I identify with this."
Did you ever meet him?
No, I wish. I wasn't allowed to attend their shows. It was way too dangerous for a seven- or eight-year-old. I wasn't allowed to listen to it, technically.
What do you remember about the day that you heard Eazy had died?
It was crazy. Whoaaa. AIDS is real. It happens to people who aren't gay. I was young and impressionable. I never fully thought that, but there was a part of me, growing up Christian, that was taught that. I never really subscribed to it, but when Eazy died, that erased all that from my mind quick. It could definitely happen to me. As I got older, I realized how young he was and that he and his friends would never get to reconcile their differences. Being that they got to reconcile when he was dead, that showed me a lot. Being able to read The Source and learn that Ice Cube and Dre visited him ― and they were all at each other's necks just months before that. There was a positive message in HIV awareness and a positive message in that no beef is forever. Life is bigger than disagreements.
Is there irony in using an East coast producer to create beats for Left coast anthems like "Eazy E" and "Westside Love"? Did you think to use a West coast producer for those tracks?
I think that would cause further separation. That's what springs it out of you. I record with a chip on my shoulder, so I recorded the album in New York with East coast producers. We do have something to prove. If you put ketchup on your vegetables, kids are more likely to eat it, and I feel like Ski is the ketchup for a lot of heads who are into traditional boom-bap East coast hip-hop. They may not listen to a West coast artist, or they might assume certain things about a West coast artist if it's not dressed up. But guys like Kendrick Lamar and Odd Future are breaking that down. In my era, traditional West coast MCs wouldn't be as warmly received by everyone. West coast artists that wanted to be respected as real hip-hop chose to sound more East coast, and you wouldn't hear references to the West. You couldn't tell where they were from; they made this androgynous music.
When you first started rhyming, did you want to be big in the West or big everywhere?
When I first started, I just wanted to be dope. I didn't think about other people hearing me but me and my friends. For me, my mother really loved me and I come from a close family, so I didn't have this desire or need to be praised from the outside. So I felt more like a painter. Like, some people just paint to paint. And once it's done they'll put it up. Whether you like it or not, that's your opinion. That's where my shit comes from. I just wanted to do stuff that's cool to me and makes me feel a certain way. If people like it, it's definitely a bonus. And now there's a select group of people around the world that are anticipating my art. And when they're pleased with it, it's exciting to me.
What was your mother's reaction when you told her you were going to make a go at rapping for a living?
She told me I was gonna fail and I was never gonna make it.
Did that discourage you?
It's ironic because she's the one who raised me to believe I could do anything and made me feel confident. So for her to tell me I couldn't, it didn't discourage me, but I was sad, definitely. It wasn't even a decision; it was just something I had to do. I tell people coming up making music, "Is this a choice you're making to do music? Because if it's a choice, then you're probably doing the wrong thing." It was a conscious decision to tell people, but I never decided to do this. I had to do this. And my mom was like, "If you have kids one day, you'll understand." I feel like I'm blessed because I knew who I was and what I was supposed to do. And 15, 16 years later, I'm still doing what I told her I'd do when I was 15 years old.
Over the course of the last 15 years, have you had moments where you felt like doing something else?
Sometimes you don't feel like doing what you have to do, but it's never a choice. It's just what I do. Honestly, I have no idea what else there is to do. I'm good at this. People enjoy it. And that's a blessing.
How has your personal relationship with hip-hop changed over the years?
I've gotten more involved, but I'm still very much a fan, still very much into it. I've grown in my fondness for it and my understanding of it.
What's the best and worst part of being on the road?
The best part is getting to meet people and see things. The worst part is being away from home. At home, you have all the comforts of home.
What do you miss most?
Now that I'm married, it's my wife ― without question. Just being able to walk around nude if you want to, eat when you want to, eat what you want to, take a shit when you want to, solitude.
When did you get married?
Almost two years ago.
How has that changed your life?
It gives you more of a chance to focus on the things that matter. Gives you focus and a solid foundation.
You have a line where you say, "I'm an everyday victim of a random hate crime." What do you mean by that?
If you look at Twitter and Facebook and YouTube, there's something negative said about me or my art at least once a day. I don't read reviews, but I read my Twitter and Facebook because I have to update it.
How badly does the negativity get to you?
I think it gets to anyone. I just focus on the positive stuff more than the negative stuff. It's probably a 90 to 1 ratio; it's insignificant.
What would you like to do that you haven't done yet?
Have a child.
Good answer. What's next for you?
9th and I are doing our last record together. I don't know when we're going to do it. Soon.
Why are you saying it's the last record you do together? Why not leave it open-ended?
Nothing is open-ended. You can either wait for it to end, or you can end it when you feel like you should.
Anything else you want to let the people know?
I hope they check out the album, give it a listen, and even come out to a show. That would be awesome.