[6 August 2008]
Murs is better than your favorite rapper. Well, at least he thinks so.
Personally, as much as I love his output, Murs does not call my number one spot home. The leader of my hip-hop realm varies daily. That seat is typically reserved for either Pharoahe Monch or Black Thought or Nas or Jay-Z or… well, you get the point. But this isn’t about me. It’s about Murs and third-time collaborator-producer 9th Wonder, formerly of Little Brother. It’s also about the fact that Murs tries his damnedest to become your favorite rapper. He might not be as prolific as his contemporaries, but his presence and talent more than make up for that.
And it’s not just Murs’ swagger, or whatever you want to call it. The “it” factor he possesses is an amiable quality that makes it so easy to relate to his struggle. Just as other rappers try to preach the street life to reach their audience, Murs uses immaculate wit and his “I’m better than you” mindset to appeal to his fans. Also, his everyman mentality keeps his self-confidence from coming across as insecure or overbearingly macho. Even though his cocky proclamations are overdone, they never sound forced or inane.
With 11 years under his belt and plenty of albums and collaborations to fill his portfolio, Murs returned to the studio with 9th Wonder to make Sweet Lord, their third album together. Similarly, 9th was busy with former group Little Brother as well as other duos and guest spots. If you have been keeping track, this album is just slightly out-of-nowhere. To be fair, the only major promotion for the record came during the week before its online release. But it did come out two years after their last stellar effort, Murray’s Revenge, which dropped two years after their equally amazing debut, Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition.
Unlike those albums, however, Sweet Lord is more of a promotion than a standalone record. With his major label debut, Murs for President, coming soon, Murs decided to give back to his faithful fans by offering this one for free. The option to donate via PayPal is available, though. Yes, this has been done before by other artists. Radiohead basically started the pay-what-you-want system, but unlike In Rainbows, this one is just a gift. It’s like what Nine Inch Nails did for their latest album, The Slip. And honestly, is there anything better than good, free music?
Keeping in line with the other 9th and Murs efforts, Sweet Lord is a 10-track, under-40-minute collection of braggadocio, humor, soul, and boom-bap. It all kicks off with the duo busting each other’s balls before getting right into it on “The Intro”. For whatever reason, these two always bring the heat on the first track. It’s followed by the slightly more straightforward “Are You Ready”, a track geared for any hip-hop fan. Want to hear this bang in your car? You got it. Looking to impress your backpacker friends? You got it. And Murs knows it himself: “Cause this jam’s for / You and yours / Another banger that’ll even out the damn score.” He especially kills it lyrically in the third verse with more of that biting wit as he assesses his favorite topic, also know as women.
And what do you know, the next track addresses the ladies as well. And it’s even better than the two before it. “Nina Ross” is a clever tale about a female who uses her looks to hatch her revenge on Murs for his past treatment of women. For those of your keeping count, we are three for three so far for both of our hosts. 9th Wonder hasn’t let up in his work behind the boards, particularly on the bouncy, R&B-laced “Nina Ross”. Although it’s not perfect, “Free” is a solid track promoting a ‘free’ state of mind as a means of truly enjoying life. The problem is it sounded better last year on Pharoahe Monch’s Desire. “Free” isn’t exactly a strike, but it’s not a hit either.
The same goes for “And I Love It”. The whole restart angle taken by Murs for the first verse is a nice touch, but something seems to be missing. That misplaced piece isn’t too huge, though, since Murs and 9th pick up the slack after the chorus. “Push” picks up the pace with a larger-than-life beat featuring industrial, almost tribal drums that bang. It might be another feel-good track, but Murs handles it well. He preaches the “live your life to its fullest” credo with his usual wholesome attitude. And this time around, Murs’ “Push” is up there with Pharoahe’s, though they are completely different.
“It’s for Real” is bigger and grander than anything these two have tackled before. But, for the most part, it works. The beat sounds recycled at times, but the vocal sample suits the track perfectly. Acting as a counterpart to “Nina Ross” is “Marry Me”. Even though it sounds familiar and is simplistic, something about this one just hits home. Remember that “it” quality I wrote about before? It truly comes through on here. Murs is humbled on “Marry Me”, coming across as honest rather than sarcastic. Likewise, “Love the Way” is a down-to-earth, heartfelt love song. Any guy with a special someone can relate to what Murs spits over 9th Wonder’s perfect accompanying beat, which sounds more Little Brother than anything else. The conclusion to our evening with this duo is an above-average effort. Murs describes it perfectly when he says “hot mess.” The track, “Murs Inatra”, isn’t necessarily bad, but there is simply too much going on. But Murs still does a hell of a job on the mic.
I know what you are thinking: Why didn’t I give this a higher rating? Well, it’s simple. There is nothing on Sweet Lord that comes close to the level of “Walk Like a Man” or “D.S.W.G. (Dark Skinned White Girls)” off the first two albums. “Marry Me” and “Nina Ross” almost get there, but they lack that extra punch. Also, a lot of the tracks, no matter how enjoyable, sound rushed. And it’s probably accurate to say that they were, especially considering that both Murs and 9th have been busy with other projects. Criticisms aside, Sweet Lord succeeded with flying colors in making me salivate for Murs for President, no matter how worried I am that it might flop.