Dancing about Architecture
If you get to a birthday party late, the fun has already been had, the presents already unwrapped and the cake eaten. That’s why I’m glad Murs and 9th Wonder are nothing like a birthday party. As a shamefaced Johnny-come-lately to this virtuoso California rhymesayer and his soul-sampling North Carolina producer, I’m happy to say there are plenty of presents left to open and the ice cream in the cake remains unmelted.
On their most recent collaboration, Murray’s Revenge, Murs comes out swinging at his peers and detractors with “a right hook that’ll vacate your Timberlands.”
The self-aggrandizement he pumps from track one is old hat in the rap world, but it seems to be accompanied by a quieter modesty and a genuine lamentation that there isn’t more affective music out there, both of which grab the listener’s attention.
On the opening track, “Murs Day,” he lays it out plainly:
“I’m better than your favorite rapper / But it don’t take much these days for you to master the mic / Most of these rappers are trapped in the hype / They makin’ whole albums, only half of it’s tight / So they never really have an impact on your life.”
The impacts on Murs’ life are evident throughout his music. A number of his songs deal with running with gangs, cleaning up his life and his anger management problems.
He also pays tribute to funk and soul greats who have influenced him, like Curtis Mayfield. It’s no coincidence that his lyrics and 9th Wonder’s vintage sampling sync up so well.
“I always take just three or four records with me when I go to North Carolina to record with 9th: this time [for Murray’s Revenge] I had Marvin Gaye’s Live and What’s Goin’ On, Curtis Mayfield’s Anthology and a Parliament-Funkadelic album,” said Murs on his website.
The only presence on this album as strong as the ghost of soul-funk past is that of Murs’ mother. It was at her request that the album was born free of cuss words and vulgarities. In fact, the rapper’s scolding of his contemporaries takes on an almost maternal quality.
“And I’m the four-letter word that you don’t bleep out / Got a question for you rappers rollin’ wit’cha heats out / Is this really where you wanna be when Jesus come back? / Lyin’ ‘bout your life, over beats comin’ whack?” / And you say I’m backpack, cause I don’t have a gat /...And my momma didn’t raise no fool like that.”
The catchiest track on the album, though lyrically not Murs’ strongest, is the anthem “L.A.” With a beat that bounces like a car with next to no suspension, it is a declaration on 9th Wonder’s part that while he can take a back seat and provide a subtle but powerful complement to Murs’ spitting, he’s also comfortable riding shotgun. Meanwhile Murs, despite his years of obscurity, proudly raps about his SoCal roots without bitterness or irony.
“I’m from L.A. (ahh) Southern California / fool the West Coast, where everybody is somebody / And the game is fame, do everythang with a bang / And everybody wanna know, what set you claim.”
On the whole, Murray’s Revenge is compact and thought-provoking. You can listen to the ten tracks numerous times because it is possible to get equally caught up in the lyrics, which call attention to themselves, and the production and sampling, which do not.
The album is also well-rounded, covering subjects such as idolizing gang members as a kid, the frustration of chaste long-term relationships and issues of racial identity.
One interpretation of Murs’ name is that it is an acronym for “Most Underground Rap Sucks,” and from his lyrics, that would seem to be an accurate reflection of the way he feels.
But another interpretation of his name is that it is an acronym for “Makin’ Underground Raw Shit.” I think this is the better encapsulation of his positive goal — to touch a raw place in people and have an impact on their life. This optimism and good feeling is best summed up in some lines from “Yesterday & Today.”
“Nobody’s perfect, ain’t none of us worthless / We all got a place, and we all got a purpose / Now I’m not taking y’all to Sunday service / But ya clap your hands as you stand up and work it.”
But the best news is that if you enjoy unwrapping the gift of Murray’s Revenge, it is quite likely that both Murs and 9th are in the process of cutting us another present.