[4 December 2011]
If you were going to start a gimmicky hip-hop conversation with the rule that it must be about rappers who became one of the most vital within their niche scene during the 2000s and then inexplicably became equally irrelevant as quick as they become a name to watch for, Murs would probably be the first artist that came up. And the conversation would not be a brief one. You’d get sidetracked gushing over his time spent as a member of Living Legends and his breakthrough solo LP, The End of the Beginning, and then spend 20 minutes talking about all the memories that sprout out of refresh sessions with his first two 9th Wonder collaborations. Then you’d start talking about his hilariously obsessive celebrity-ode series Felt with Slug of Atmosphere. After all the happy memories, though, you’d come to his major label debut, Murs for President. At that point we knew everything we were ever going to know about Murs: his nerdy interests that sometimes drifted into a slightly creepy obsession with porn stars, his ridiculously nappy anime-style hairdo and, of course, his captivating ability to tell a coherent story over soulful beats.
Murs for President saw Murs hook up with a bunch of industry middleweights and west coast all-stars to weave breakup songs, sex songs and some underground rapper on the come up tales, very few of which were capable of leaving a lasting impression. Afterwards he’s been relatively quiet compared to his boon years, but a few weeks ago fans received the surprise announcement Murs had hooked up with Ski Beatz—a legendary New York DJ currently best known for skyrocketing Curren$y’s JETS conglomerate to considerable relevancy—for a full album, and almost as quickly the curiously titled Love & Rockets, Vol. 1: The Transformation was upon us. And as has so often been the case with Murs releases over the past three years, the idea of an album dropping was pretty damn exciting until it actually appeared.
About those rockets and transformations ... they’re pretty much red herrings. I mean, you’re not going to find a more irrelevant album title this year. This album is certainly all about love, though. More break ups, a west coast hip-hop tribute that doubles as an offended east coast bias rebuke (about a decade too late, might I add), more sex and, in the album’s lone surprise jab, an album closer dealing with society’s rejection of homosexual relationships. Hell, there’s even a song about the love of traveling the globe via plane here.
The flaw in all of this is that none of it feels especially labored over. The biggest disappointments are “‘67 Cutlass” (which is otherwise a standout track) for telling a story of near-arrests and murder that begins with an emergency psychedelic mushroom intake but ends just as they kick in (really? really?) and the aforementioned “Animal Style”, a mostly serviceable gay rights anthem that ends with a murder-suicide between lovers set in a restaurant that rings about 30 decibels too dramatic in this decade. It’s the definition of a song with an applaudable message submarined by the artist’s over-exuberance to make a point. On the positive side, “Dream On” is a great song about holding onto your dreams (“What’s a dream without a dream chaser chasing it? And what’s a fear if you have no fear of facing it? It’s not a dream once reality replaces it, so dream on.”); “Life & Time” is a song with as few noticeable faults as any other pretty good rap song; and “Epic Salutations” ought to perk your years the way a good opening track should.
What’s probably most disappointing about this LP is how little of it offends on any level. Ski comes decisively correct with his production, further proving that he’s the one producer right now you can’t anticipate dissatisfaction from. I mean, just listen to “Westside Love” or “International” and tell me you’re not pleased. And Murs, for all his developed faults, is never going to be accused of having a poor delivery or being untrustworthy with his pen. On Love & Rockets, Vol. 1 he’s simply a boring guy, someone who says what he says in a well-spoken way but not in a way you’ll commit anything to memory.
Well, that’s not entirely true. “S-K-I-B-E-A-T-Z” brings to mind when Murs was known as an acronym for “Most Underground Rap Sucks” thanks to its entirely shitty underground rap status quo lyrics. More than anything else, it’s a song like that, that makes one wonder if Murs will ever be capable of capturing our attention like he used to. Love & Rockets, Vol. 1 is a pretty easy album to listen to four or five times, but eventually a creeping suspicion arrives that you’ve wasted those hours on an album that will disappear into the ether as soon as it leaves your playlist/CD drive/other. Which—I’m just speculating here—was not the goal.