He is the only rapper with his own music festival. Each album he releases sells more than its predecessor. He toured the world without having a major record deal. So, there's a reason why independent rap stalwart Murs decided to name his major label debut album Murs For President. Murs wants to be rap's leader and spokesperson, the artist who helps give rap a credible face to fans, the media and critics. After all, the Los Angeles rapper is articulate and well read. He doesn't use drugs and his platform consists of peace, love, unity and having fun.
"Let me speak for hip-hop. I'm the one guy who is qualified to represent us to the masses -- which are obviously tired of us because hip-hop often can't sell records. It can only sell ringtones. It's become a mockery of itself. It's become club music. For us to lead back into the marketplace and to be a respected art form, I feel that I'm the most qualified person. It's time for hip-hop to have a change."
From front to back, the eclectic, genre-bending, politically charged, musically adventurous Murs For President illustrates a change of direction for rap. The vibrant, optimistic "Can It Be" marks Murs' return to music, and his dedication to make a change for the better with his words and through his influence on others. The bouncy, horn-propelled "Looking Fly" finds Murs paying homage to his forward-thinking fashion sense, while "Science" breaks down blacks' history in the United States and how it is tied to hip-hop's evolution.
As he has done on his earlier albums -- which include such acclaimed releases as Murray's Revenge and Murs 3:16 The 9th Edition -- Murs examines his own love life on several Murs For President cuts. The angst-filled "Part Of Me" documents the immediate, often turbulent time when a relationship dissolves, while the soulful "Breakin' Up" details the mixed feelings people have once they have some distance from what had been a long-term relationship.
For Murs, it is important to make credible relationship songs because so few exist in rap. "For young black males, being in love has such a negative connotation," he explains. "Usually, your mother has been screwed over by some guy. The first time you get hurt by a girl, you use that as your reason to mistreat women for the next 20, 30 years of your life. I'm trying to hold up the mirror to myself."
Indeed, part of Murs' background is the reality that he was raised in the gang-infested streets of Los Angeles. Thus, he's a product of and fan of gangster rap. Murs pays homage to his city's love for heavy funk on "Comfortable," which features hardcore rap crooner Kokane and documents Murs cruising throughout Southern California's streets in his '96 Cadillac. Then, on the heavy "You Think You Know Me," Murs raps from the perspective of a Crip, a Blood and a Cholo, showing that gangbangers often have more to their lives than their street affiliations.
"I know a lot of great men who, at first glance, you might be scared to death of, or you might not want to give a job to," he says. "But, they're trustworthy. They're loyal to a fault. If you show them a little bit of love and trust and let their family grow, then they're going to be loyal."
Being that Murs had the time and resources to record an album on a major label, he wanted Murs For President to explore all aspects of his personality. Thus, he worked with a variety of artists and producers, from Snoop Dogg to punk band Whole Wheat Bread to will.i.am to DJ Premier and DJ Quik. "This one is for all the marbles," Murs reveals. "If this don't go, it don't go. This is it for me. I'm almost 30. I've been doing this forever and if I don't know how to do it by now and I can't make a platinum record, I've failed. If I can't get a Grammy, sell a million records and initiate some type of change in the culture and the music that I love, then it's time for me to step aside."
Murs is so passionate about his music and his place in the rap pantheon because he's one of rap's best independent success stories. As a member of the Living Legends, Murs learned the art of independent self-promotion by selling cassette tapes of his music out of his car and touring with Living Legends in Europe and Japan.
Given his underground status, Murs also embraced the power of the Internet long before most artists realized the power of the burgeoning medium. "When rappers were screaming don't download, I was screaming, 'Do it,' because that was the only reason people would know my music in Texas and I could go do a show there and that would get me paid," Murs explains. "I needed them to go to the show so they could buy the T-shirt and get on my mailing list so I could build something. There's not many rappers who have built their fanbase like that."
Through the Internet, touring and his flurry of independent releases with Living Legends, with producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder, as one-half of Felt (with Atmosphere's Slug) and as a solo artist, Murs has become one of rap's best success stories. His Paid Dues makes him the only rapper to own his own music festival. But for Murs, the success of Murs For President will dictate his legacy.
"My whole life, I've been trying to be Ice Cube," Murs says. "The little stuff that I've got that people trip off of, I'm not even tripping off of because Shaquille O'Neal has a platinum plaque and I don't -- and I call myself a rapper. That hurts my feelings when I wake up in the morning. That's what I'm here to get. I'm making a decision to leave Planet Underground Hip-Hop. I'm jumping off right now. Whoever wants to come with me, come with me."
And be sure to vote Murs For President.