As his boxing in the new "316 Ways" video suggests, Murs moves fast and hits hard. The L.A. rapper has racked up more than a dozen releases in as many years, for labels ranging from Def Jux to Warner Bros. He's also done numerous collaborations, including three Felt albums with Atmosphere leader Slug.
And on the newly released Love & Rockets Vol 1: The Transformation, Murs and his producer, Ski Beatz, deliver an infectious collection of tracks that cut through a broad swath of lyrical and music terrain. Celebratory odes to married life and West Coast rap are juxtaposed against character-driven songs that range from comic to tragic, culminating in the closing "Animal Style," which may just be the most powerful condemnation of homophobia in any musical genre.
Murs doesn't pull any punches in conversation, either, as he talks about Oakland police, Odd Future and the commonalities between hip-hop and Wall Street.
Indy: When you sing about 316 ways to kill the industry, is that a reaction to your experience with Warner Bros.?
Murs: It's just a blanket statement about the industry being a dinosaur and unwilling to adapt. Warner Bros. is just a part of that, you know? There are some independent labels that are still doing business the same way, so it's definitely not anything personal against Warner Bros.
It's just that old way of doing business, where you put out one record and you try to find the single and you try to shop it to radio.
And then you wait 18 months and you release another record, and a video and a single. I just think that way of doing business is dying.
Indy: Whereas a lot of indie labels can move faster?
Murs: Definitely there's a faster response but, you know, there are ups and downs working with either. The majors, when they finally make a move, it's gonna be a major move. With an independent, it's gonna be a lot of quick, small moves. You know, it all depends on what kind of results you're looking for and what type of person you are.
Indy: While "316 Ways" is pretty intense, other songs like "International" and "Hip Hop & Love" move into softer, almost yacht-rock territory. Is that whole era of both white and black music of interest to you?
Murs: As a fan, yes. But as for me rapping over it, I hated it. I kept telling Ski, "Give me something 95 or 100 bpms. Give me more '316 Ways.'" Like, get me off of this smooth bullshit, you know?
I'm not Curren$y, I'm not Camp Lo. I was like, have you seen my live show? Are you crazy? And definitely on a song like "Eazy-E," I think that's real smooth as well, but that was my middle finger to him. Like, OK, you wanna keep giving me this smooth stuff? I'm gonna make the most West Coast gangsta song ever.
But I'm actually really pleased with how the album came out, and we've been getting some of the best response in a while from people who've heard it. So whatever it was, it worked.
Indy: The album ends on a very socially conscious note with "Animal Style," which got me wondering how you feel about the controversy around the Odd Future collective. When I interviewed Slug, who I know you collaborate with a lot, he attributed it to people not remembering how they felt about Eazy-E and N.W.A. when they were kids. Would you say your own approach to lyrics has changed as you've gotten to be not 19, like those kids?
Murs: Yeah, I've become "not 19." Right, I love that, I love that. Um, as I've become not 19 — as I've reached the ripe age of 33 — I definitely have grown.
I think it's great for something like the Odd Future collective to exist, because hip-hop and every music needs its youth. But I definitely feel a little bit anxious for them. Because when I was their age, I was doing stuff just as wild as they're doing, but there wasn't YouTube to make me out to look like that forever.
And I know hip-hop promotes this culture where you can't grow. And you know, I went from fist-fighting to womanizing to getting wasted to now, where I can talk about being married. But Ice Cube and a lot of my other favorite rappers never grew up, so I didn't get that benefit of growing with them. I wasn't allowed into that part of my favorite rappers' lives.
But I know that they're intelligent, brilliant young men, and I look forward to seeing what they contribute to society and to the world. I hope that they keep that door open.
Indy: I'm sure you're familiar with what happened with the Occupy movement and the police the other night in Oakland. What's your take on that?
Murs: I think the Oakland Police Department has been notorious for being heavy-handed, even more so than the LAPD. And I don't know how they've gotten away with it for so long, going all the way back to the Panthers.
And in our age, with our icon 2Pac, you know, that's how he got his first big check, was a settlement from being beat up by the OPD when he was 15 or 16 years old. So of course, it's gonna be them who are the biggest idiots in responding to the Occupy movement.
And I think our media first started out trying to ridicule it, and now they're trying to marginalize it by making it out to be a left-wing movement, which I really feel it isn't. I think that the bankers may be a little scared. It's not as funny as it was. And if we can get more people from the right out there with us — because I definitely support it — then I think it will be really powerful.
Indy: It's always amazed me how right-wing people who are lower-middle class or retired still seem to identify upward when it comes to things like taxing millionaires. Do you see an analogy with hip-hop, where so many lyrics tend to celebrate wealth?
Murs: Yeah, hip-hop is definitely a major contributor to the culture of greed that exists in our society. And you know, I'm borderline. I want to say "Occupy Hip-Hop." But I also enjoy listening to that stuff; I'm just not that impressionable.
I went from driving a new SL 500 to trading it in for a Prius, because I just felt like a douchebag, you know? I did it because I am a ghetto kid and I had enough money. But after eight months of driving around in this car, I just didn't feel like it was me, like I was the kind of person that should be getting out of this car. And it's not that I don't think I deserve it, it's just the excess it symbolizes.
But if it works for Ludacris, great. If it works for 50 Cent, great, stay with it. You know, it's hard for me to condemn another black man doing anything positive.
But at some point now, what goes for big bankers goes for my community as well. And you know, it's not cool to have more than two cars, I think, unless you have a family of 14. It's just excess and greed. If it's bad for big business — if it's bad for Wall Street — it's bad for hip-hop.