A moment with Murs, the hip-hop samouraï
A few hours before his great show at Le Batofar, Murs took time to answer our questions. Really friendly and particulary loquacious, the L.A rapper spoke with us about his career, from Los Angeles to Kansas city, giving us in passing some memorable quotes
The BackPackerz : You’ve collaborated with Slug, 9th Wonder, Terrace Martin, Fashawn, ¡Mayday!, it seems like you like to have exclusive collaborations with some artists right ?
Murs : I like to make friends, to meet people and I also like to learn from everyone. That’s how I get better. I always say I’m like a samourai, which go and learn different style from different people and teachers in order to master his art. Rap is my art !
Unlike samourais, I don’t like that much to compete, or at least not anymore. I used to compete a lot, to battle a lot. But that only make you good for battle and there are other forms of learning.
I’ve learnt from everyone: Fash’ is really good at writing hooks , Slug taught me how to count bars, 9th taught how to go with my first thoughts. With Terrace, I didn’t learn that much about music in itself, but I’ve learnt a lot about music business. And when I’ve collaborated with him I got to be myself. You know, Terrace and me are almost twin brothers. Melrose (their collaborative album) is actually my favourite project. It’s not the most successful and my fans hated it. But I love it, cause it’s just two guys having fun. And I think he love it too.
So yeah, I love to learn and that’s why I’ve collaborated that much in the past. But now I am at a point of my career where I don’t really want to do it anymore. I’ve learnt everything I needed to, and I need now to focus on being the best rapper.
You’re now finally a master and you could do it alone..
You’ve done 5 albums with 9th Wonder and the last one has this really explicit title, « The Final Adventure ». It’s somehow rare to see artists put mark the definitive end to their collaboration with an album. How did you managed to take the decision ?
9th is my brother ! So when I got engaged to my wife, we drove across the country, 3 000 miles, so that we can meet everybody that I know and her family. And we got to North Carolina, where we were introduced to 9th’ family who I love dearly.
I was sitting there and I felt it was time to bring our collaboration to an end. But I didn’t know how to bring it up to him. And then he just said “man, you know what, I think this should be our last project”. I’ve answered “you know what ? I’ve been thinking the same !”. It was great, it didn’t have to be awkward, it just felt like it was time. 9th doesn’t remember it like that and he says a different story, telling it was me. But, my wife at least remembers it the way I do.
9th is now focusing on Jamla Records, which has been very successful and I’m focusing on doing my thing. And I don’t want people coming to him and ask “When is the next Little Brother coming? When are you doing another one with Murs ?”. He has said “Little brother is over” and we both have said “Murs & 9th is over”. We can now focus on building our future without having to answer to such questions. We could thus both develop the way we want and we both have a bright future.
Yes, I got it. And you are right : If you wouldn’t have done such a thing, I would have probably asked you “By the way, when your next collab’ with 9th is coming ?”
See ! Told ya !
« I want now to make things he enjoys and can be proud of »
Slug, the co-member of your group Felt, spoke with us about how ageing and being a father and a husband has influenced his music. Does the same have happened to you ?
I don’t think so. Well, actually my son makes me want to make more pop music because I see that he just want to dance. He doesn’t care about anything else. They could be saying “Ham and Cheese ! Ham and Cheese” as long as he can dance, he would love such a song. That teaches me that it’s about the music more than about what I am saying. It makes me feel less important.
And actually, I guess that being a father had an influence on me and my music,. Because parenthood makes you humble, as you’re not that important anymore. It’s all about this kid. And I want now to make things he enjoys and can be proud of.
But I would still curse, saying bitch, fuck, dick. I would still say to my kids “You’re an asshole” or “shut the fuck up”, because that’s just how I talk. You know, my family and me had adopted a teenager for a while. At the end it didn’t really work out, but he has lived with us for a while. I remember that one time, as he was liying about his homework I told him “Come on, motherfucker !”. He got really pissed, threw his Ipad and said “you don’t curse at me !”. I’ve firstly apologised and then told him ‘First, just remember that you’re listening to Wiz Khalifa everyday and he is saying motherfucker in your ears almost every song. Second, cursing built this house that you’re living in. So fuck you, and shut the fuck up !”.
I would never change my content. I’ve always done “honest music” and will continue to do so. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I could make music about “anal sex” or “sucking dick”, because it’s anyway stuff that he is going to grow with and later experience. And it’s probably stuff that everybody, mom and dad, did. And if you hide it from you kids, then it’s become a problem. I want my kid to being able to come to me and talk about, for example getting his dick sucked, even if it might be awkward. And, once he would hear my music, it definitely might facilitate this, as he’s surely going to feel like “Wow ! Shit ! My dad talk the whole world about it”.
So yeah, parenthood didn’t change the content of my music. Of course for some artists it did. It’s because they talked about murdering people or stuffs like that. But the worst you will get from me is that I’m talking about blowjobs. And I want my son to get blowjobs when he grows up. I want that everybody got a blow job, even Timmy (he points out his deejay). But not from me though !
In many videoclips like “Yesterday and Today” or “What’up tho ?”, you seem to really enjoy your time in front of the camera and having a lot of fun. Never thought about being an actor ?
Yes ! Definitely ! I like acting. I made a movie last summer that will probably come out this summer. And I want definitely to make more films. I would love to, and I think there is a need for it.
You know, speaking of acting, I have an interesting story : I was actually acting when I was younger, even before I rapping. I was in an acting troop, and I was one time asked to write a parody of Vanilla Ice. And that’s how I’ve started rapping, in sixth or seventh grade.
« that’s my job as the vocalist to speak for the people I collaborate with »
You are the lead vocalist of a rock group called “The White Mandingos”. How did you come to rock music ? Was that already appealing to you ? And was it different to record a rock album compare to a rap one ?
I got introduced to rock music for a while. I was in Greenday a little bit, but not so much. And Atmosphere took on a world tour in 2003, and I got to see a lot of punk rock everyday. I loved this. So Atmosphere gave me some music to listen, like Radiohead, The Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age. So I started learning about this whole thing and I loved it even more.
One day, Ted Bawno asked me online if he can give my number to Sasha Jenkins. Sasha is a legendary hip hop journalist so I was pleased to. Later, Sasha called and told me that he has this group called The White Mandingos with Darrel Jennyfer from Bad Brains, and asked me if I would like to be the front man ?. I’m a big fan of Sasha, and Bad Brains are probably in my Top 5 Bands so I was really excited about it and told him “Yeah ! Whatever you want !”.
Sasha, Darrel and I, we have a lot of in common, where being in a rock band is not really cool for black people. So we put all our experiences and putted it on our music. And to me, that’s my job as the vocalist to speak for the people I collaborate with. Like for example with 9th. He doesn’t get to say a lot of things. So I’ve said “Yes 9th made these beats on Fruity Loops” or “They kept him out of Little Brother”. That is things we got to talk about and that he is not able to publicly say. So I tried to put in in the music for him. And It’s the same thing with White Mandingos. To me, a good front man is not only speaking of himself, but for the people he making music with.
Reverie has told us that you are her favourite rapper.
Whooa ! Really ?
Yes ! How does it feel to be a role model for young MCs like her ?
I love it ! I love it when young MCs gave me credits !
You know, Reverie is like my sister. I’ve seen her around for years. She came to my shows, she was a beautiful young girl. She did a video, wearing one of my shirt. I saw it and so I asked her about it. I’ve tried to connect with her, and be a mentor because I know that being a female MC is difficult. And a lot of people, when you’re talented and beautiful like her, they will only try to have sex with you, or exploit you. I’ve always tried to be there for her, as a friend. You know, her brother, Louden, he does the beats. I also know him very well. They have another brother that I’m friend with. And even their mother come to the shows. So I’m friend with the whole family.
So yeah, I like that someone that I respect, her and her music, says I am her favourite rapper. So, thank her. I am a big fan of her, and I will never let her down. And hopefully we can continue to work together.
Speaking of female MCs, you have also collaborated with Rapsody for example. What’s your opinion about this new generation of female MCs ?
There are a lot of talentuous female MCs right now, Rapsody, Reverie, Nitty Scott, Fluffy, and Jean Grae of course, Queen Latifah, . I’ve always been a fan, and I just want to help if I can, to get to the point where it doesn’t matter that they are females. We need all kind of people to make it move, cause the more different kind of female MCs there are, the more is not only a matter of females MCs, they would just be considered as MCs.
And I want to see gay MCs, latinos MCs, French MCs… I want that there is more in Hip Hop than black American guys being angry. So I’m trying to help wherever I can and I think female MCs are on the up rise. And hopefully there will be a time where you don’t have to add “female” before “MC”.
You did a song, called “Animal Style”. It’s about a tragic love story between two gay men, John and Roderick. In the videoclip, you portray Roderick and you kiss the guy portraying John. It was really controversial and really ballsy from you to do it, as speaking about homosexuality is kind of taboo in hip-hop. How the inspiration to do such a move came to you?
The inspiration actually came to me from a situation I was currently living : Someone close to me I felt was gay, and I didn’t know how to reach out to him and say “It’s ok”. My friend that are gays and are out told me “You cannot go to somebody and say “Hey ! I know you’re gay. It’s ok. I love you.” You have to let them come to you. So I started to wonder how can I put it out in the right way to let that person knows. And I thought that if I make a song that might work. So I kind of did this song for him.
However I have to say that I wanted to do it for years, since 2006 or 2007. But every producer I’ve tried to do it with was like “Nah ! Not on my beats”. Then, later, my cousin Embassy gave me a beat, and it was perfect. So I asked to him and Ski (Beatz), the owners of the label, if I can do it. Both say “No problem! Go ahead”.
Then I wanted to do a videoclip where I gonna kiss a guy. My wife said “No way ! you won’t even be able to do it !”. That’s because she know that even when I see gay guys kiss in a movie, it makes me feel uncomfortable. But I still wanted to and I asked her “Would it be ok for you ?”. “Sure” she answered, “I don’t care”. Then I was like “Allright, then I really gonna do it”. So you said it was ballsy. Yeah, it was not easy for me to do it, as I’m not into men at all. But I had to do it, cause I felt there was no other way to make a strong, important and impactful statement.
« If you want to tell shit about me, tell it right in front of my face, and be prepared to fight about it »
The guy who I kiss on the video was my wife’s boxing trainer. Hanging out with him all day and doing the scenes in the park helped me realised how people react. Some took the kids away from us, looked at us. And I was like “Men ! You have to deal with that everyday ! That’s crazy”.
After the kiss, I’ve sais “I hope you got it cause I never going to do this again! !”. I was more afraid of the kiss in itself than the reaction. I expected it. And I wanted people to be pissed off, I wanted people to call me a fag, I wanted people to get upset, and I wanted people to take notice, because it’s unacceptable.
And no one shows up to my shows, gay-bashing me ! Not that I want that, but I’m not afraid of that. I love to fight. I make peaceful music but I love to fight, really. So if someone would do that, or if a rapper would talk shit about me, I would just run up to them : “If you want to tell shit about me, tell it right in front of my face, and be prepared to fight about it”. Nobody has said anything to my face. But you know how it is : I’ve heard this guy saying this or that about me.
And how your entourage reacted to it ?
They were mainly worried about the consequences, that people would do something against me. Some were also mad. For example, a friend told me “I believe it’s against my god and it’s again my religion”. I can’t say anything to that. But he didn’t stop being my friend. He just made a statement “I didn’t like that, I disagree with that, I don’t support that but I saw what you did and I know that you think it’s important”. He didn’t say any hateful thing. It was just against his faith. And I respect that. Cause if your god’s words are expressly against something, you have to follow that. But you don’t have to attack them, or event stop them from getting married.
« I would like to be versatile like Elton John »
You are able to make funny and non-serious music, like for example the song “Freak These Tales”. And in the same time, you make also conscious music, like on “Animal Styles”. How are you able to juggle with these 2 aspects of your music?
It’s hard because I feel like…
(Il marque une pause et fixe la table de la pièce où se trouve la nourriture qui lui a été fournie avant le concert)
I’m crazy so please excuse-me for what I will say.
(Il montre la bouteille de ketchup sur la table)
So, ketchup ! In America, there was a time where the world-famous brand Heinz made their bottle blue. It didn’t do well. And it was still ketchup. But we’re humans and ketchup has to look like this. You know what I mean ? Another example, Heinz produces both ketchup and mustard. But the latter doesn’t sell as well as ketchup. You know why ? It’s because they’re only known for their ketchup. And people want their ketchup from Heinz and their mustard from another company. It’s the same in rap. It’s like “I want conscious from Common or Kweli, and I want funny rap from Afroman, and I want Gangsta Rap from Ice Cube”.
You need to categorise distinctly people, to put them in boxes.
Exactly. And it has been probably the downside to my career : People can’t never put me in a box.
But I think now with people like Macklemore, or Kendrick, you can’t put them in a box. Especially Macklemore. He can make a conscious song and then a funny song, like Thrift Shop. You know, he’s from the same area that I am. He used to open for Living Legends. And so he is a real inspiration to me cause that’s exactly what I want to do : I want to make a song people can dance to, a song about fucking girls but also a song about killing homophobia. I just want it all to be music.
I think it’s all about being creative and packaging it well. And I don’t think it can’t be done because people are too narrow-minded. For example, I don’t think Elton John has any boundaries. He is a gay man but he can make a song about loving a woman. He could also make songs that are upbeat and fun. I want to have that type of versatility. But in hip-hop, we unfortunately think that you can only do this or only do that.
Following the Ferguson’s events, some hip-hop artists like Killer Mike or Talib Kweli raised their voices, made impactful appearances on national broadcast and thus were really able to be influential. On the other hand, during an interview, Young Thug answered to a journalist who asked his opinion about Ferguson: “It’s not the artist place to speak about social issues”. So, in your opinion does a black artist, especially a rapper, HAS to take a stand regarding such issues?
Hmh, I don’t think so. I agree with Young Thug, as I don’t want to hear the fuck he has to say about anything except his own music. It’s because he’s not educated on those topics.
I don’t want people to ask Young Thug or Lil Wayne their opinion about such topics, because they don’t represent me ! But if we nominate a representative, then I would like Killer Mike to speak for me. I agree with him on a lot of thing. I know he is educated. So I’m glad to see CNN reaches out to him instead of Young Thug. And I like that Young Thug said what he did, as his opinion might be more harmful than helpful.
To conclude, let’s speak about the recent development in your career : You recently signed on Strange Music, Tech Nine’s label and your upcoming album is your debut record on it. How did you met Tech Nine and decided to sign on its label?
I’ve been a fan of Tech for years. I heard him for the first time on the « Gang Related » Soundtrack. « Questions », dope song ! And I own a festival called « Paid dues » so I had to have him perform there. After his show, he asked me to come and see their building and facility in Kansas City. It was amazing ! Then, he offered me to tour with him. That was great. I also loved the way they handled their business, they paid very well and on time (laugh). So we did a lot of business together after that : bringing a lot of other artists to Paid Dues, bringing Tech N9ne to Rock the Bells, things like that.
For this last portion of my career, I wanted to settle down, to be in one place and one label that would be a « good home ». I know they thriving to not just stay independent, they want to conquer the mainstream as well. And that’s also my plan. ! And they don’t want to fit in, they want to do it their way ! Same as me. So Strange Music was the “good home” I was looking for.
Tech 9 is really famous and respected in US as a successful independent artist, but he’s not that popular here in France. What would you say about him to people that don’t know him?
I guess to tell something about Tech is that he has always been doing it his way and he’s pretty respected for that. Technically he is a great rapper. He raps so fast and so intricate like Kendrick or Eminem. And he’s the best alive performer I’ve ever seen! And not just in rap ! I’ve seen Prince, the Spice Girls, Jack White, Vampire Weekend, I’ve seen all kind of stuff ! And Tech is the best ! If you see his show, no matter if you like rap or not, you’re going to be amazed.
Murs’ next album, Have a Nice Life, will be available next 19th of May.
Bonus: our Murs selection, for the good of your ears.
Special shoutout to Antoine Monégier for the pics. Find the whole album on his behance portfolio @Antmo.