Rapper Murs seeks to maintain a unique perspective

Ali Breland

At age 33, underground rapper Murs possesses both the composure and collectedness of a nearly jaded veteran and the vitality of a kid fresh to the expansive world of hip-hop. He has his plate full with a tour and his new album Love & Rockets, Volume 1: The Transformation, out Tuesday. On Love & Rockets, he enlisted the help of legendary producer Ski Beatz, who boasts a resume featuring collaborations with Nas and Jay-Z, among others.

“I didn’t know [Murs],” Ski said. “I hadn’t heard his music, but when we got in the zone, it turned out good.”

As he sat with his head cocked back against the couch in his tour bus, Murs spoke with a lazy confidence. Murs’ peculiar and contrarian traits manifest themselves in his habits as well: On tour and at home, Murs will research artists, listening to their catalogs and watching interviews and documentaries about them in a near-obsessive manner. When asked his rationale for this tendency, he responded, “I don’t like to listen to rap when I’m writing a rap album. I like to maintain a unique cadence and perspective.”

This technique has certainly served the rapper well. The famous novelist Francis Wyndham once said, “An artist should appear no more in his work than God in nature. The man is nothing, the work is everything.” This is the balance Murs is able to strike as he has managed to produce a sound all his own but familiar to hip-hop.

Love & Rockets serves as an example of this, highlighting his ability to create wildly vivid narratives very much within the genre of hip-hop, while simultaneously maintaining an otherworldliness. The song, “Cutlass 67,” highlights this quality, illustrating a story of violence during an altercation with the police, a relatively common theme within rap. Murs’ subtle uniqueness comes forth in his articulate narration of the fictional event. Murs draws such a powerful image in the listener’s mind that he makes the story of a cop’s murder believable.

“I think my storytelling has gotten to the point where I don’t need to base it on fact to make it seem real,” he said. “Now that I’m creating a whole new reality, that’s a testament to my growth as a writer.”

Murs’ persona is very unique. Despite a general air of confidence and assuredness, he exhibits cracks of vulnerability. On one of his songs from Love & Rockets, he speaks of his former love of flying and how it served as an idyllic escape in his hectic life. When flying on tour with indie rap legend El-P, he experienced such a traumatic flight that it shook his comfort on every subsequent plane ride.

“It was ridiculous. There was serious turbulence, and there was no water on the plane. I long for the days where I didn’t fear flying,” he said.

Despite its longevity, Murs still has points to hit within his career. He is planning a final, forthcoming album with longtime collaborator 9th Wonder. The future of Felt, a rap project he made in collaboration with fellow underground rapper, Slug from the band Atmosphere, is ambiguous. Although there are no plans for a fourth Felt album, the project has not definitively been laid to rest.

On his way from the tour bus to backstage, Murs briefly stopped during McKenzie Eddy’s performance to spit a verse, surprising the crowd. As he took the stage, his reservedness dissolved, and a new, exuberant Murs emerged. For the remainder of his song and much of his later set, an unshakable smile was plastered on his face. In those moments, it was clear that the stage was where he felt most at home.

Despite Murs’ prowess onstage and in the studio, the rapper has plans beyond rap music. Vague but ambitious, he said, “I want to make movies, I want to make babies, I want to make love, and I want to make a difference.” 

Printed on October 10, 2011 as: Tapper adds unique aspects to familiar hip-hop sounds