Release shows Murs still has it
Saying that the rapper Murs is different would be a gross understatement. In fact, he’s weird.
Spending most of his career as a rapper on independent labels, the Los Angeles native has put out more than 20 albums since 1997. While he hasn’t hit the mainstream yet, he’s developed a bit of a cult following with his songs about the difficulty of relationships, getting a job, and ironically enough, not being able to hit mainstream.
Now Murs is releasing Murs for President, his first album under Warner Bros. Records, and while the album may have very little to do with politics, it does nothing to Murs’ winning formula of meaningful lyrics and skewed sense of humor. Established fans will surely appreciate this album, and its subject matter and strong lyricism should attract new listeners as well.
While the album features mainstream artists will.i.am and Snoop Dogg, it’s Murs’ solo tracks that shine. "Road Is My Religion" chronicles the life of performing on the road, while in "The Scientist" he candidly uses the scientific method to deliver his thoughts on the origins of rap, going past the turntables and b-boys and tracing its roots to social problems like drugs, welfare and even slavery.
"Think You Know Me" is probably one the stronger tracks on the whole album. It flips the stereotypical notions of what a gangster looks like, showing normal people doing normal things who simply look like they’re on the wrong side of the law. One such character is a registered nurse and youth advisor who simply feels out of place with a suit and tie, while a more suspicious sounding individual is coping with unemployment because of a drug conviction.
"Ten interviews, no callbacks / (Parole officer) asking me, ‘Where my job at?’ / I’m an ex-con, it’s almost useless / I’m a felon, don’t mean that I’m stupid," he raps as he explains how he read books to get through jail. "I probably got a higher IQ than you / These jobs ain’t hiring, what should I do?"
Murs also returns to his usual themes of love and relationships. "Me and This Jawn" is an adequate song about getting the girl and keeping the relationship going, but it really serves as a lead-in to the superior "Love and Appreciate II." The song’s hook proclaims that you must "treat her like a lady," meaning that you should do everything you can for her, even if it means going to the ever-intimidating tampon aisle.
The surprise on this album may just be "A Part of Me." A painful confession following a breakup, Murs starts by recollecting the highlights of a relationship. Crediting his newfound fame, he begins to justify his infidelity, only to break down and confess his longing for her return. While not a departure from previous songs, it has a certain passion about it that makes it much more emotional than anything else he’s done.
While the lyrics pack a powerful punch, their effect is even stronger with the great sounds backing them up. Murs has the luxury of collaborating with producer 9th Wonder, their fourth album together. Whereas 9th Wonder has produced whole albums for Murs in the past, he takes a bit of back seat this time and produces three tracks, one of which is "Love and Appreciate II," which has the sound of a golden oldie from early Motown.
Other notable producers include Nottz Raw, who worked with Kanye West on the song "Barry Bonds" from his multi-platinum album Graduation, and Scoop Deville, who conjured up "The Science" with a simple drum line and jazzy flutes playing Murs’ history lesson on rap. Sure, will.i.am produces "Lookin’ Fly," a very Black Eyed Peas-esque song with a sound sample everyone knows, but the song just doesn’t have the same feel as the rest of the album.
In fact, both will.i.am and Snoop Dogg feel like they just dialed it here. For a song that "features" will.i.am, it only has him mumbling during the last 20 seconds of the song. Also, in "Time is Now," Murs does most of the rapping as Snoop Dogg contributes one verse then subsequently disappears.
If anything, Murs for President is more of the same for Murs – a distinct blend of humor and conscientious lyrics done to tightly choreographed beats. The presence of big label Warner Bros. should help him inch toward the mainstream, even though the album retains much of Murs’ independent charm.