Album Review: Murs – Murs For President

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Murs For President, the major label debut of long time underground hero Murs, features a 27-minute mockumentary entitled, “Murs Administration.” If you don’t feel like watching the whole thing, you can check out the trailer on YouTube. The basic idea is that Murs is running for president of hip hop against two opponents. Swaggerty is a middle-aged, white record executive who has pimped rap out and reaped the benefits. Eniggama is a stereotypically shallow mainstream rapper with street cred. All you really have to know here is that Murs says a lot of things like, “If elected I promise that only ‘real’ hip hop will be played on the radio.”

The message here is clear. Murs sees his arrival at Warner Bros. as a victory. And of course it is, but not for the reason Murs thinks. This is a personal victory for him. He will make more money and his name will get out to a larger audience. And good for him…he deserves it. But the idea that this is a victory for “real hip hop” (whatever the hell that is) is naive.

Murs’ imaginary opponents are symbols of real-life, legitimate members of the rap world. What is imaginary is the rivalry that exists between them. Murs and his underground ilk are continuously cowering under the supposed rule of the evil record executive and the materialistic, platinum-selling artist, as if these figures represent some sort of a direct threat to their existence.

Major label record executives are capitalists. It is that simple. They are in the business to make lots and lots of money. I suppose that this can (and does) cause them to do things that can be regarded as “evil,” with their own best intentions in mind, but there is no widespread conspiracy to keep the conscious rapper down. Record labels get their money by giving the people what they want. If droves of suburban kids were driving around bumping Talib Kweli, you can bet conscious rap wouldn’t be getting pushed to the back. If Murs has a problem with corporate greed he should take it up with the American economic system.

Worse yet is Murs’ furthering of the cliche that all mainstream rap is morally devoid and/or talentless. Of course there are some terrible artists on the radio, but to lump them all into one category is disingenuous. Furthermore, it is an irrelevant argument. Radio is a medium on the way out and artists who don’t get airplay have never been as popular as they are right now. So called “underground” rappers would do well to quit whining about the radio and realize that the Internet has benefited them to the point where the moniker “underground” hardly fits.

So Murs and underground rap are in no way threatened by evil record execs and shallow MCs who can’t wrap their minds around issues larger than the booties in their videos. Ironically, the people he takes issue with are some of his new bedfellows. Murs didn’t get signed to Warner Bros. because upper management thought it would be nice for a conscious rapper to get an opportunity. No, Murs got his shot at the big time because some evil executive saw dollar signs in his eyes (once again, thank you Internet.)

And what better way for Murs to announce his arrival than a duet with legendary misogynist Snoop Dogg. Wouldn’t Snoop qualify as one of those brainless commercial MCs only concerned with mistreating women and stacking paper? Well, probably, but anyone familiar with the sociology of hip hop fans knows that pre-Diddy artists get a pass for some reason. So it’s okay for hip hop heads to listen to rhymes about sex and drugs and gunplay when it comes from an artist they grew up with (even if that artist, as in Snoop’s case, has become little more than a caricature of himself), but they still ramble on and on about the empty morals of today’s mainstream artists. Ageism is rampant in hip hop culture. And that’s why it is perfectly acceptable for Snoop to jump aboard an overall preachy album to spit a lazy-ass verse on “Time is Now”. The song is dull and the appearance of the washed-up legend does little to pull it out of the doldrums.

Oddly enough, the one use of a mainstream artist that does work is the James Blunt-sampled chorus of “Everything.” It’s a little whiny, and it seems like I should really dislike it, but the beat is jubilant and I just can’t help myself.

Murs’ underground success is due in large part to 9th Wonder’s production. The beats on 3:16 are simplistic (as Murs said himself on the intro, “Yes 9th really does make these beats on Fruity Loops”) but they worked so well with what the rapper was trying to do. It’s only fair that the North Carolina producer be given the job of producing the opening track on Murs’ major label debut. “I’m Innocent” is vintage Murs/9th material; an easy-going beat backs up Murs’ claim to be “the best thing for Black youth since the basketball.” It’s a hilarious boast so I’ll do the rapper a favor and not make any sarcastic comments about the racial make-up of his fan base.

Elsewhere, Murs does what Murs does. The move to Warner does not seem to have changed his style a whole lot, aside from the previously mentioned issues. Murs has always been a good (not great) rapper who has gained a lot of mileage off of the creative, personal, and humorous themes of his lyrics. “The Science” is a history lesson to a younger generation of rap fans. “Road is My Religion” joins Lupe Fiasco’s “Paris, Tokyo” as proof that rock no longer has the market cornered on tributes to the trials of the road.

One bad habit Murs picked up at Warner Bros. is a bloated album length that is typical of commercial rap. Murs For President checks in at just over an hour, a heavy contrast to the 35 minutes of 3:16. This results in a whole bunch of disposable content, whereas 3:16, and other previous work, succeeded in being tight, fast-paced listens that left listeners wanting more.

As much as I enjoy a lot of Murs’ music, I am still rubbed the wrong way by the incessant “real hip hop” chatter that drowns out what he, and a whole lot of other highly capable MCs, really have to say. (I feel like I have to mention that Murs is far from the worst offender in this area. I may owe Murs fans an apology…I’ve sort of used this review as a soapbox for a lot of things that have been on my mind.) There is no such thing as “real” and “fake” hip hop. There is one major genre, and like any successful genre that has been around for over thirty years, it has split up into many subgenres. And none of these subgenres are inherently “good” or “bad.” They just are what they are. Gangsta rap poses no threat to hippy rap. Political rap is not diametrically opposed to party rap. These are all elements of a whole. “Real” hip hop fans are the ones who can embrace, or at least tolerate, the diversity of the culture.

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