If we’ve learned anything from music History, it’s this; not all collaborations are created equal. Not every album is going to come out as outstanding as Madvillainy, and more often than not we get something akin to Wu-Massacre. Sure it looks great on paper, but the final product is sorely lacking. Be it from label pressure to release the album as fast as possible, or just lack of studio chemistry. The more people and elements brought together on a single project, the more variables you have for something to go wrong. Even albums that seem like a sure thing crumble under the pressure to deliver. To be perfectly blunt, I’ve been more disappointed than not when it comes to collaborative efforts, and in a way I’ve become almost jaded. I feel like no matter how good the actual release is, it’s probably going to fail to live up to the epic masterpiece I’ve built in my mind.
Being a longtime fan of Murs though I jump in to this album head first, with no hesitation whatsoever. Murs has been no stranger to collaborative efforts over the course of his impressive 19 year career. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that his most popular and critically acclaimed work has been when paired with someone to bounce ideas off of. Living Legends affiliation aside, Murs has also been known to crank out fantastic albums fully produced by Little Brother producer, 9th Wonder. On top of that he’s released a trilogy of fan favorites as one half of the Hip Hop group Felt, alongside fellow underground hero Slug of Atmosphere fame. So really if anyone is going to make the most out of a dream-team collaboration, it’s going to be Murs. It doesn’t hurt of course that Murs linked up with fellow California native, Fashawn, who is also known to thrive off the collaborative process. Fashawn only has one official lp to his name, but has been putting in work on the mixtape scene for years, with nearly a dozen projects under his belt to date. He may not be as solidified in the music scene, but he’s made an impressive impact in his relatively short career.
In truth, Murs and Fashawn working together seems like a no-brainer. Not only are they from the same state, but they take very similar approaches in their musical stylings. Both favor the same down to earth, reality based storytelling, and often pick strikingly similar production. It’s not only a natural move for the two mc’s to come together, but an inevitability. Really the biggest question here is, who would be lending production to the album? Both artists have a large roster of top notch producers they could have reached out to, so I was somewhat surprised when learning that the album would be fully produced by Beatnick & K-Salaam. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to Hip Hop music, but honestly I wasn’t very familiar with either producer. A little digging revealed they had laced the likes of Saigon, Freddie Gibbs, and Rhymefest with beats, but nothing pointed to them being the obvious choice to produce an album for two of the West Coast most revered rappers. Sitting down to actually listen though, it becomes clear that the duo is more than capable of providing the sunny, California styled production that Murs and Fash thrive off of.
“Just Begun” kicks the album off with a fairly unspectacular guitar driven beat that sounds as if it was ripped right out of Jay-Z’s Blueprint 2. It serves its purpose though, and on the track we find Murs masterfully spitting, “They didn’t care if I lived or died/I didn’t smoke weed so I could feel the high/I smoked so I didn’t have to feel the lows”. It’s an okay song, but the lackluster beat kills any chance of replay value. Thankfully the followup track, “64 Impala”, is an early album highlight with an absolutely pitch-perfect backdrop. Beatnick and K-Salaam slide in to a West Coast groove effortlessly, offering a sublime mixture of old-school G-Funk, with some modern vocal samples. The song takes on another layer of complexity when Murs and Fashawn rap over it, since even though both of them are heavy West Coast representatives, they’ve never gone out of their way to select overtly West Coast sounding production. It turns out to be a match made in heaven, and possibly stands as the albums strongest track.
The winning streak of strong production, and equally solid rapping continues with the next highlight coming in the form of “Stone Cold”. The hypnotic beat is absolutely slayed by an on fire Murs who raps, “Salute the general. Man, myth, mineral/Bulletproof pro, no flow is identical”. In fact, the most surprising revelation about this album is just how on point, and show stealing Murs is. He’s long since been known as a talented mc, but here he simply takes it to another level. Going into this I expected Fashawn to drop the majority of the quotables, but instead find that more often than not he’s the one who fumbles with generic, corny punchlines. I can’t even begin to explain my disappointment when “Slash Gordon” rolled around. What initially sounds promising with its mix of Caribbean inspired drums, and hard rock guitar riff, is quickly derailed by what is probably the worst performance on the album. Fashawn drops cringe worthy line after cringe worthy line, including, “You niggas sick, but it’s not the measles/ slanging hard rock like a flock of seagulls”, and quickly follows it with, “I even had that white boy - Ben Stiller”. The problem is compounded when on the second verse Murs completely overshadows the young mc, and effectively shuts the song down with, “West Coast originator, never been an imitator/Full blown, acetone, microphone disintegrator”.
It’s the little things that keep this album from reaching the upper echelon of collaborations. A few weak rhymes don’t ruin the experience, but they certainly don’t do anything to help it either. The production also takes a slightly odd, yet interesting detour through Reggae on the second half of the record. It’s almost refreshing, and while I do enjoy it, I couldn’t help but feel like it broke up the West Coast party vibe they had crafted up to that point. Still, Murs and Fashawn are a more than capable duo, and throughout the lp they display fantastic chemistry together, and while deep down I wish they had pushed themselves to be more creative and take more risks, you can’t blame the guys for giving the fans something they knew they would love. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s not shocking, but it is solid, fun music. It may not be a classic, but it’s damn sure a good soundtrack for those warm, sunny days.
// Notes from the Road
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