Piers Barber meets Murs and attempts to identify the source behind the endless ambition of one of the West Coast’s most important rappers.
As an artist motivated by so much more than music, Murs is no ordinary West Coast rapper. Greatly respected yet remarkably down to earth, he is a character who bubbles with infectious enthusiasm and ambition. Currently on his “13th or 14th US tour” (he’s lost count of the precise number), his career has taken him across the world to countries as far away as Australia and Japan and seen him release a host of solo and collaborative work with some of hip hop’s most respected talent.
His latest tour, which sees him come to San Diego’s House of Blues on 25th November, coincides with the release of latest album Love and Rockets Vol. 1: The Transformation. Gone are his recognizable dreadlocks, but his unique delivery and storytelling style remains characteristic of his music. Following a brief spell at Warner Brothers, Love and Rockets Vol. 1 is released on BluRoc; a label, as Murs admits, with an entirely different philosophy to his previous partner. “There was definitely a more familial atmosphere” he recalls. “There were lots of creative people getting their tasks completed in a very chaotic way. It was like a reality show with 18 brothers or sisters living in the same house. But with added weed! It was certainly an interesting change of pace.”
Murs is consistently praised for his willingness to tackle issues which the vast majority of rappers instantly shy away from. Accordingly, ‘Animal Style’, the last track from his current album, directly confronts homophobic attitudes through its touching story of a tragic homosexual relationship. Murs points to personal experience when explaining his motivations behind the song. “I have friends and family that are gay,” he comments “or that I feel are gay and leading an ‘alternative lifestyle’, that haven’t come out or feel uncomfortable. As an artist I want to be an advocate for gay and lesbian teens across the world and help empower them.”
Love is a main theme on the record, although not always from a romantic point of view. Clearly articulated throughout is Murs’ passionate love for California and for true hip hop, most clearly demonstrated on Eazy-E, a heartfelt homage to the West Coast. Murs is clearly a rap connoisseur; “This morning I’ve been in awe of Redman” he enthuses “I know every song he has done and the words to every skit”. He also enthuses about alternative styles, citing Curtis Mayfield, Vampire Weekend and Jack White as particular current favourites. Having already collaborated with British dubstep producer Skream, he is keen to maintain links with the electronic music scene across the Atlantic. “It’s a whole other world over there and whenever they reach out to me I’m going to say ‘yes.’”
Now an experienced and successful figure, Murs is eager to do what he can to pass down his understanding of the music business. “I’ve put albums out on every type of label, I’ve made my own t-shirts and created my own tour. I pretty much know the rap business inside out and I feel inspired to share my knowledge” he says. In the long run, this aim involves plans to branch out into management and label ownership. In the meantime, he continues to aid the development of young talent through his annual festival Paid Dues. “Last year was our biggest year – we had an attendance of over 10,000. Organizing the event can be very frustrating, but when I walk the grounds and I see the kids that have come and they’re happy and having such a good time – it definitely makes it worth it.”
I want to keep entertaining and making a lot of money because when people buy my records, it all goes to someone – adopting more kids, sending kids to school or donating to autism research. These are things that keep me inspired.
Despite his undoubted love for hip hop, it is when conversation turns away from music that Murs reveals his true enthusiasms. Emphasizing the importance of education, he speaks passionately about his desire to develop the projects he has already begun in poverty-stricken Ethiopia. He explains how “we want to help older children help their communities in ways that they see fit, listening to them instead of telling them what they need or dropping food from the sky”. Closer to home, Murs is also involved in work with disabled children, experiences which have clearly significantly touched him. “It was indescribable” he recalls of time spent at an autistic summer camp earlier this year. “I cried a few times and laughed a lot. All of them are just so pure and loving and positive and funny in their own ways”.
Murs plans to release an installment of the Love and Rockets series annually, and also has plans to produce free mixtapes, “just for the fans”, every six months. It is the reward of his humanitarian projects, however, which appear to explain his relentless enthusiasm for making music. “I want to keep entertaining and making a lot of money because when people buy my records, it all goes to someone – adopting more kids, sending kids to school or donating to autism research. These are things that keep me inspired”. As a key player in an industry typically renowned for extravagance and self interest, it is clear that Murs is an artist assured of a unique legacy.
Follow Piers on Twitter @piersbarber18