At the 2018 Soundset Festival The Real Hip-Hop got the opportunity to chat with MURS. Earlier this year MURS released “The Strange Journey into the Unimaginable,” an album produced entirely by Seven and released by Strange Music. The project is an intimate and emotional look into the life of an emcee that we often perceive as being happy-go-lucky.
Always an affable person to interview, the discussion with MURS at Soundset ranged from being jovial to pensive as the Los Angeles emcee touched on the blasé attitudes of rap fans, his desire to be rewarded for his work in rap, to the unique way the bond with his wife was strengthened following a family tragedy.
TRHH: What does it mean to you to perform at Soundset 2018?
MURS: To perform at Soundset is a family thing. It’s more a family reunion. It’s kind of like a Paid Dues that I don’t have to work as much at. I get to see a lot of people I know and love. I bring my whole family – my son, my wife. I’ve known the Rhymesayers family for years so we make it a five-day weekend.
TRHH: Is there anyone that you’re excited to see as a fan?
MURS: I was excited to see Jaden Smith, but I missed that to come do this interview.
TRHH: I’m sorry.
MURS: That’s all right. I’ll forgive you eventually [laughs]. And Brockhampton, but they didn’t show up due to circumstances beyond their control. I’m just here for the family and friends now. Jaden Smith is done. He started with my favorite song. As I drove away in the cart I heard it. It’s all right. Hopefully he’ll be around for a while.
TRHH: Are you pleased with the reception that The Strange Journey into the Unimaginable has received?
MURS: No, but it’s okay. I feel like everything I put out should go platinum, but I’m happy with it. I’m not happy with the response to it. I’m okay with it. I know I did my best. Also, most rap fans have the emotional depth of a puddle.
MURS: I’m probably the most educated and well-traveled rapper. I’m in the top 1% of that. If I’m in the top 1% of that I’m probably in the top 1% in the nation. At this age I’m realizing that I’m not making music for everybody. What I say is a little over people’s heads. It’s to be expected. I wish I could go platinum, win a Grammy, and all that shit. I’m happy with it. I think it’s an amazing album and I’m happy with the people that are responding to it. That is definitely something I’m grateful for because it has touched people’s lives.
I met a lady recently who said her husband introduced her to my music and the album really touched her because he died a year ago on the day the album came out. That meant a lot to her. I. don’t know what it feels like to go platinum, but that feels great. The competitive 18-year old rapper in me, I want to be recognized as the greatest rapper in Los Angeles. I know I am but I need a plaque. Shaq has a plaque and I don’t have a plaque. I’m never going to get an NBA championship ring. How many does he have, four?
MURS: But he has more platinum plaques than me – that’s unfair. I’m working on it though.
TRHH: Well, Vanilla Ice sold 17 million.
MURS: Yeah. “Vanilla Ice platinum, that shits ridiculous.” Rest in peace Phife Dawg.
TRHH: How frustrating is that for you? I know a lot of emcees like Phonte and J-Zone are frustrated and are kind of moving away from Hip-Hop. Can you see yourself moving away from Hip-Hop due to the frustration?
MURS: When I’m done with it. I was a weird child. My mom gave me a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” when I was younger. Because of Jeru funny enough where he said, “Poisonous, Taoist” so I was like, “I want to read a book on ta-o-ism,” and somebody told me, “It’s da-o-ism.” I was like, “Oh, this dude got me out here sounding uneducated.” So, I bought a book and learned about Taoism. From there Zen, and just be, and bla bla bla. From a very young age I was into skate boarding, comic books, and things that weren’t competitive-based. I was definitely a battle rapper coming up, but as a I grew into those philosophies I realized I didn’t need to compete with anybody. I want to go platinum and all that, but I also recognize that that’s out of my control. I’m not going to get frustrated with something like that – it’s silly. I won’t say it’s juvenile like a lot of people do, but why would you be frustrated with something you can’t control?
That’s like being frustrated with the weather. You just accept it. You get up, you get dressed, and you do it. That’s how I put out my albums. Of course, I want every day to be sunny but I can just look at the forecast. I read at a college level, I rap at this level, I rap about these topics – oh shit, there’s cloud in the sky, it’s winter, it’s going to snow! I dress for it and I go out. I live where I live, this is where I am, and I’m comfortable where I live. Or I can move. I know what platinum hits sound like these days, I can go get one of those producers, I can go play those games. If you hate cold weather get the fuck out of Minneapolis! You sit in Minneapolis and you’re going to complain, “Every year it snows!” Motherfucker, yeah! Wesley Snipes in Mo’ Better Blues said, “’Cause you high sadity motherfuckers don’t play what niggas wanna hear!” Amen! They’re not going to frustrate me to leave. I’m here to stay like Rock & Roll. When I’m finished, I’m finished. Until I’m finished fuck all these sales, followers, and views. Motherfuckers ain’t about to make me feel less than. I know how good I am.
TRHH: On the song ‘Melancholy’ you talk about the depression that you’ve suffered from. Was it difficult for you to be that vulnerable and share that part of your life with fans?
MURS: No, I think that’s what I’ve been doing. I didn’t think anybody wanted to hear that shit. The label called and said, “We want you to put out a record still,” I was like, “Well, you know what I’ve been through so you know what I’m rapping about.” They were like, “Go for it,” so I did it. That single dropped during the holidays and my publicist and the label where like, “We don’t think it’s going to do well.” I said, “Technically this is the time of year where there is the most depression, especially in America and people need this record.” I know that I’m not going platinum anyway. We can release it when the stars align but this is for my fans and for people who might be going through something who’ve never heard of me. Someone could send it to them and it touches them in a dark place and it brightens their load. It’s not a song about being depressed, staying depressed, and drinking yourself into stupidity. Know that it’s okay to be sad now and it can’t always be this way – it doesn’t always have to.
TRHH: On the song ‘The Unimaginable’ you speak about the heartbreak that you experienced with your family. How were you able to move forward following such earth shattering situations?
MURS: Oh man, I don’t know anything else. I’ve never known anything else. You just get up and keep going. My mom is always full wisdom. She always hits me with the “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” For me, my wife wasn’t giving up and she went through the worst of it. If she didn’t give up I had to double not give up. I also looked at how blessed I was. My wife definitely wasn’t going back to work and I was in a position where I didn’t have to go back to work and I’m blessed to do what I love. I said to my wife, “Don’t worry. If anybody has to go back to work it will be me.” I have a job doing what I love so the worst thing that happens is I have to do more of what I love to make us more money. Unfortunately, I had just put out a record, but I was like, “fuck that record.” We just sat on the couch, watched TV, and ate. You know your body will hopefully move you. You gotta get up, you gotta eat, and you gotta shit. It goes through the bare basics. My wife and I were just talking about it this morning because I can look through my phone and look at the pictures and see her get pregnant and bigger and bigger and I’m like, “Oh this is the day. After this everything changed.” That colored everything that happened before that.
To be lighthearted, Pokémon GO was something that got us up every day because it was something that we had to get out and do and we did it together. We could be outside and not have to interact with people. It’s not good for kids who need to interact with people, but for us as adults who were going through earth shattering times and people are like, “Hey, how you doing? What’s going on?” if you’re looking at your phone hunting Pokémon no one will bother you. It was a way for us to be able to go out and have a task. It wasn’t too serious where we would interact with anyone that knew us and would ask us about the baby or see us and start crying. That got us outside, it got us to the beach, it got us on hikes, and bla bla bla. That’s the funny thing about art – that game is lame to some people and the people who made it may never know but that game saved our marriage and maybe saved our lives. When we didn’t want to go outside this game unified us. “Did you catch this?!?!” “Did you see this!?!?!” We were having fun and it was something new and different. Everything else was familiar. We’d go to the movies and it would be like, “Oh, I remember going to this theater when we were expecting a baby.” Or, “We can’t go to this place because they saw you pregnant and they’re going to ask what’s up with the baby.” Pokémon GO was that perfect thing. None of our friends were playing it. My mom, her mom, our family, our good friends, if you believe in God, nature of universe, and Pokémon GO it got us out of that situation.
TRHH: I’m from Chicago and I booked my flight and got my ticket for Paid Dues last year…
MURS: Oh wow. You’re the one.
TRHH: [Laughs] It’s all right though. I know the return of Paid Dues didn’t pan out like you planned last year. Do you foresee revisiting Paid Dues?
MURS: No. I will never, ever do it. I tried to sell it, I tried to give it away, but for me personally, I don’t want to do that job anymore. It’s a really difficult job. It’s a thankless job. I’m done, man. I didn’t want to bring it back. That’s the thing I learned too, I did it for the community and for other people, and I didn’t at all want to do it. It didn’t work out. People ask me, “When is Paid Dues?” and I say, “Throw your own.” It’s hard, but I did it for me. Everyone is throwing festivals now but what’s not happening, except for Soundset, there should be more people you don’t know on the bill than people you know on the bill. That’s how it should be.
You should be breaking artists, and not many festivals are breaking artists where you go for a Wu-Tang Clan but you see three dudes that you never heard of and you’re like, “Yo, that blew my mind!” That’s what a music festival should be. So, whoever is coming in to fill that space, I invite them – I think they should. That’s the gem I can give you. You’re doing a service to people, but also, it’s helping you because somebody is going to be the next Atmosphere and you gave them their first show and you’ll be able to build with that group the rest of your career because you looked out for them. No one is doing that. Radio isn’t breaking artists – no one is breaking artists. I think festivals can break artists.
TRHH: What’s next up for MURS?
MURS: I think I’m coming out with a new album in March, some collaborations, I really don’t know. I’ve been sitting with this producer IQ who recently opened for Jaden Smith on his tour — a young dude from VA that’s in L.A. I’m excited to work with him. My boy Eligh from Living Legends, we recently connected after he sent me some beats that are really dope, so I might work on something with him. I think I’m in a great place. I’m not worried about chasing trends or being relevant. I make great music with people who respect me and that’s why I love working with Seven. That’s somebody I respect and we’re just making art. More art is coming and soon.
Royce is proving right now that you can do two really solid bodies of work without them stepping on each other, and without people complaining. It’s great, so thank you Royce and thank you everybody out there that’s being prolific and putting out quality music. We’re changing. Even Tyler, a younger dude I’m a fan of who is just putting out singles and when the album comes out, who knows? Even Drake. From Royce to Tyler to Drake — three very different artists, but we’re living in an era where if you have quality music go head and put it out. This is my last record with Strange, so as soon as I’m contractually clear at the top of the year look for some new music.