Some might call Murs a confessional rapper. Some might call him a battle rapper. Some might even call him -- this one's my personal favorite -- an emo rapper. In his search for accessibility, Murs's "sitcom rap" (as he calls it) is lyrically as multidimensional as hip-hop gets. On 3:16, Murs's second full length with NYC's Def Jux, he merges sensibilities from almost every quadrant of hip-hop: Tupac, KMD, Common, Slug -- they're all there.
Just as amazing as Murs's lyrical breadth is 3:16's brevity: it's only thirty-five minutes long. Considering the bloat that's suffused the average hip-hop album, 3:16's 10 tracks are a welcome change. There's one brief intro, no outros, no skits; there's no exaggerated pomp, no unnecessary drama. While this makes 3:16 seemed rushed at times, it makes for a record of self-contained ideas. He didn't have to go overboard to prove a point. He'll probably get compared to Nas (whose legendary debut Illmatic was just ten tracks) for cutting such a short record, but so what. When there's nothing left to tell, the story should be over.
With a delivery akin to Del, Murs's everyday lyricism walks the line between ignorance and intelligence (as he claims to be doing on the title track), and spurns the late '90s underground ethos of condescension for anything mainstream. It's rare that you can juxtapose a cut like "The Pain", which has the much quoted line about his sexual ineptitude ("I'm more Coldplay than I am Ice-T"), with the gratuitously graphic "Freak These Tails": "When it was time to get down to B-I-Z / She let me stick it in her asshole, lyrically".
But some of Murs's best rhymes have nothing to do with his exploits or alienated love. Two of 3:16's most memorable cuts are "Walk Like a Man" and "And This Is For...", both of which are epic in scope. The first is reminiscent of Common's "Stolen Moments" off One Day It'll All Make Sense.
Spread over three beats (which imitate the lyrics mood, and range from pimp swagger to dark choral harmonies to gospeled-out wake music), "Walk" captures a sad human truth: you can learn how to act like a man, but there's a damn good chance you'll throw that out the window in the face of a life-altering, mind-jarring experience. The chorus' progression from the second to third part imparts a haunting nugget of wisdom: "It was a year to this day that my best friend died / For weeks I sat alone in my room and cried / I tried to pretend that everything was fine / But my soul couldn't rest until vengeance was mine". During the third part, the last couple of lines are changed: "It was a year to this day that my best friend died... I thought that's what I wanted 'til the problem was confronted / Now I'm haunted by remorse that I wish I hadn't done it".
"And This Is For..." is a reflection on hip-hop's recent evolution. Think of it as a more thoughtful counterpoint to Mos Def's "Rock and Roll". Yes, white people have once again aped a musical medium and kept guys like Murs, who have long been mining the same territory as Eminem, Slug, Sage Francis, Sole, and other white boy rappers, "aborted" by their own people and relegated to underground legend. "I feel I should have the scans white rappers have", he says, though he ultimately belies his frustration with a Zen-like rumination on the power and transcendence of music.
Tracks like "And This Is For " and "Walk" balance the obvious and the graphic; they're a pointer for hip-hop's progression -- at least lyrically. Even while The 9th Wonder's production tends to lag, Murs is worth listening to on every song. He's produced a paradox in hip-hop's one-dimensional pose, proving that it's okay for an MC to be cerebral, subtle, reflective, perverted, and goofy. Let's just hope he gets a little respect for the 10-plus years he's spent paying dues.