[5 May 2010]
“Murs is Better Than Your Favorite Rapper” was a bumper sticker for sale briefly somewhere between Murs’ first two collaborations with producer 9th Wonder, Murs 3:16 (2004) and Murray’s Revenge (2006). At the time, with maybe a few big-name MC exceptions, the statement might have been pretty damn true. So I bought one and threw it on my truck. After all, both records were a near flawless, soulful blend of boastful swagger and self-deprecating humor, full of playful lyricism sprinkled with street-wise wisdom. Murs boasted of having endless women but also how they broke his heart. He talked about hustling for money but by selling incenses and soda cans bought wholesale, instead of drugs. He rapped about guns and murder but also about intense regret.
Conflicted? Maybe, but Murs’ brazen ability to couple seemingly incompatible themes with the greatest of ease was impressive and not something many MCs can pull off. It wasn’t just me who was apparently impressed either. Murs inked a deal with Warner Brothers and after much anticipation released his big label debut, Murs for President. It was a strange decision on both sides and didn’t work well in result. While it contained a few gems, Murs for President was mostly an incongruent mess full of radio-friendly production that at times left Murs sounding awkward and stunted. Thus with the arrival of Fornever, his fourth collaboration with 9th Wonder (third officially), it seems Murs was making the smart move by going back to what worked best.
Much like his hair lately, Murs still seems out of sorts on Fornever. Instead of continuing to explore the themes he tackled on previous releases with 9th, Murs continues to lazily rap about his women problems. What was creatively humorous and refreshingly self-deprecating six years ago has now become tiresome. Do we really need a six-minute-plus track on how a porn-star broke Murs’ heart? (Oh, such problems a rapper has to deal with!) One of two tracks not about girls, “Cigarettes and Liquor” awkwardly showcases Murs trying to force a lethargic chorus into your head. One problem: it’s not catchy at all. When once 9th and Murs seemed inseparably on the same page, 9th Wonder’s beats seem at odds with Murs on half this album, as if some instrumental leftovers were sent via email while an old press photo was dug up to plaster across the album’s cover, and they both called it good.
The highlights of Fornever are few and less in part to Murs than his featured guest. A fellow Los Angeles rapper, Kurupt, holds up his end of the mic-work on two tracks that bookend the album, showcasing the cold-hard lyricism he featured on last year’s work with DJ Quik. While “Let Me Talk” (yes, another song about woman problems) features SugaFree getting goofy on the mic and actually pulling off a rhyme with “medulla oblongata” over classic 9th Wonder production full of high-pitched soul singer samples.
In all, Fornever is an improvement from Murs’ last album, but not by much. His topics have been worn out, his lyrics are less creative, and where he once owned the mic with confidence through emotional highs and lows, Murs seems sluggish as he anxiously raps about the same shit we’ve heard from him time and time again. Murs is no longer better than your favorite rapper. This could change, but on this trajectory, it’s safe to say that he might be just another once solid LA rapper having an identity crisis that, like so many before, might never end.