[21 October 2008]
It has certainly been a busy past couple of months for the rapper who, in his own words, is better than your favorite rapper. Murs, who you most likely know from his work with 9th Wonder and his crew the Living Legends, pulled a Trent Reznor late this past August by offering up Sweet Lord for free. It was a brilliant move for several reasons. He was able to appease his fan base which instantly cried “sell out!” when he signed to Warner Bros. On the flip side of that, Murs more than likely ushered in some new fans with the free album, which was a fantastic, quick-paced record that stayed in line with past releases while introducing a slightly laid-back Murray. It was also a welcome and solid addition to his catalog. And even if you thought the album was weak, it was free, so quit your bitchin’.
Now the stakes have changed, as it’s time for Murs to enter a whole new ballgame. After plugging away in the underground year after year, he has officially jumped headfirst into the mainstream. And there is a lot to be said about an emcee like him taking such a bold leap. The question of whether or not he sold out to sign with WB is both unnecessary and foolish. Of course he didn’t sell out. Since his arrival on the West Coast underground hip-hop scene in the ‘90s, he has spit much the same sort of lyrical gems you can find on nearly all his albums. Although some claim that Murray has simplified his flow a touch as of late, can you really blame him? If he had stuck with the same delivery all these years, the haters would have argued the other side of the coin. Rather than pissing and moaning that he has dumbed down, they would say he couldn’t keep up with the times. Either way, there is going to be some liberal sipping of the hater-ade. It is the whole “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” cliché.
It also goes without saying that signing to WB was a risky move for Murs. Though some fans are sure to declare him a sell-out, the fact of the matter is he has just released an album that is simply not up to snuff. And no, it has nothing to do with him trying too hard to reach a greater audience or make a few more dollars. If anything, he made more as an independent artist anyway. Murs for President doesn’t deliver simply because it’s not a well-rounded album, case-closed. Unfortunately, it isn’t totally Murray’s fault. A lot of the production feels dated and dull, both huge blunders for anyone trying to reach a broader audience. His hardcore fans might give him a pass, but newcomers are likely to see him as just another underground cat trying to bat in the big leagues.
And there are four main reasons why someone might feel that way while spinning Murs for President. First, there is the snoozefest “Road Is My Religion”, which has a decent, self-explanatory concept but just fails to impress. “Think You Know Me” falls into the same trap, as Nottz provides what sounds like a knock-off Dr. Dre beat. This comes as no surprise since Nottz is mostly hit or miss, which I will get into later. It doesn’t help that the the hook for that song is one of the album’s worst. The same goes for “Sooo Comfortable”. Although Josef Leimberg’s beat is above-average, it’s weighed down by an awful chorus. The only track in this blunder-ridden foursome that stands out is the Will.I.Am-produced “Lookin’ Fly”. And it gets a pass solely based on Murs’ clever wordplay. But he is backed by what is basically the beat from “This Is Why I’m Hot”, minus the samples of older hip-hop tracks. What is most frustrating about all of these songs is that Murs mostly brings the same lyrical fire he is known for, but the beats just aren’t there with him. Surprisingly, the same problem arises when he is paired with his best buddy, 9th Wonder. It would be a crime to call “I’m Innocent” or “Breakthrough” bad, but they are not up to the level of quality displayed on Murray’s Revenge, 3:16 The 9th Edition, or even Sweet Lord, Murs and 9th’s prior collaborations. “I’m Innocent” is definitely the stronger of the two, simply based on Murray’s nonstop flow and candid lyrics. One track, however, does fall flat on its face. “Love and Appreciate II”, the sequel to the track of the same name off Murray’s Revenge, drags on too long and Murs seems uninterested as he spits about the love of his life.
Those weaker efforts are nearly saved by seven tracks that range from simply good to stellar. First, there is the pair of cuts like what we have come to expect from Murs. “Me and This Jawn”, which provides Nottz with a chance to redeem himself, and “Break Up (The OJ Song)”, a relatable relationship tale, are enjoyable, but neither truly challenges Murray. They are both about one of his favorite topics, the fairer sex, and the production isn’t anything he hasn’t rapped over before. When Murs oozes emotion and pours it into his music, his familiar lyrics and topic begin to branch out and mature. “Can It Be (Half a Million Dollars and 18 Months Later)”, which features a great Michael Jackson flip by Scoop DeVille, has Murray at his most confident as he injects positive images into his flow. Then there is one of his best political statements ever in “The Science”, where he touches on everything from crack to oppression to equating poor whites and blacks over another fantastic beat from DeVille. Also, the line “I drop science while they drop bombs”, which gets repeatedly scratched at the song’s end, is a nice touch.
Standing head and shoulders above these tracks, though, are “Everything”, “Time is Now”, and “A Part of Me”. Interestingly enough, they are all well outside of his comfort zone. “Everything”, which is absolutely huge, features a James Blunt sample; yes, you read that correctly. But Murs uses it wisely, as he addresses how he has taken “everything” from hate to love over the years while becoming the man he is now. The two others, both produced by Terrace Martin, are equally impressive. “Time is Now”, which could have done without the guest Snoop Doggy Dogg verse, is extremely poppy and over-the-top. Yet, the track remains steady, never leaving Murs sounding uncomfortable or timid. Instead he spits with an urgency only matched on “A Part of Me”. As for that track, it’s easily the most emotional of them all. Murs nearly breaks down during the second verse, and his sadness/anger is further accentuated by a building guitar riff. It all makes for a heart-wrenching moment that might remind you of “Walk Like a Man”, though not quite as riveting.
As strong as many of the tracks on Murs for President are, they are inevitably marred by the aforementioned duds. Without those, it would be a different story for Murray. Hell, I might have even decided to write him in for the presidency. Instead, he serves up an unbalanced major-label debut that might catch the ear of some new listeners, but probably not as many as Murs deserves. Maybe next time he can cut back a little and put out the type of album that hip-hop truly needs.