Murs talks punk rock, his work ethic, and his experience with Warner Bros.
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Like an indie-rap equivalent to the omnipresent protagonist of LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge,” Murs has been at or near the center of the underground for the last two decades.
Still only 32 years old, he was there: from absorbing the unhinged creativity of West Coast legends Freestyle Fellowship, to an apprenticeship learning the how-to’s of DIY hip-hop from the Mystik Journeymen, to helping found the Living Legends Crew, to going solo with subterranean powerhouse Def Jux, to collaborating with Okayplayer icon 9th Wonder, to his Felt projects with Slug, the impresario of Atmosphere and Rhymesayers Entertainment.
Somewhere along the way, he managed to release an album on Warner Bros. and create the Paid Dues Festival, one of the nation’s preeminent showcases of independent hip-hop.
But unlike the jaded observer of James Murphy’s snob anthem, Murs has cultivated an everyman image. A tireless worker who has released 30-plus albums and EPs over the last 15 years, his live show is the stuff of legend — with the unruly-haired rapper an always kinetic and focused presence, ready to dig deep into his abyssal catalog to play fan favorites. Afterward, it’s no surprise to see him signing autographs and posing for photos for hours.
After an uncharacteristic two-year hiatus from the road, Murs recently wrapped up a national tour in support of his latest album, the 9th Wonder collaboration “Fornever.” While driving home from the last leg of his tour in advance of a homecoming date Saturday night at the House of Blues Sunset Strip (with Nocando and Sick Jacken), Murs spoke to Pop & Hiss about his experiences at a major label, his impressive prolificacy, and his favorite punk bands of all time.
Presumably, one of the things that attracted you to a major label like Warner Bros. was their ability to get you on the radio. Yet you had songs with Snoop Dogg and will.i.am. “Can it Be” was great and had a Jackson 5 sample, but you still couldn’t get on Power 106? What happened?
They weren’t happy with what I was saying or where the album was when it was released. My management was able to force their hand into releasing it. “Can It Be” was supposed to be for the underground heads and the Snoop and Will singles were supposed to be the radio hits. They didn’t want to take the chance on what I was saying and it also came out at the end of 2008 when the economy was in a downturn. The head of the black music department at Warner had been fired and the new guy didn’t agree with what the old guy had told me.
There were lots of changes, but I didn’t get caught up in them. I was able to say, “This isn’t working for me. You promised we would go to radio. I expect you as a gentleman to let me go.” Six months later, I was let go. It was ... with my business. I took a pay cut to come to a major label who only gave me an $85,000 advance, when I was grossing $200,000-$300,000 on my own. I still was able to make that, but only because I put on a festival and a national tour. They were holding me in limbo and it was like, if you aren’t going to make me famous or put me on the radio, then why am I here? I went to a major to make a positive contribution and help stop the killing of the music that I love. Six months later, I was gone.
Your career has been characterized by lots of change, whether it’s your collaborators or labels or just different ideas you want to express. However, you’ve now put out four albums with 9th Wonder. What keeps on drawing you back to work with him?
I think I work with him because the fans want me to. People seem to love when we’re working together -- they’re always asking when the next album is coming out. In this business, there aren’t many responsible people, but 9th always gets things done. We’re very close -- every Thanksgiving our families get together. Whether we’re recording an album or not, we’re always in touch. He’s a committed dude and he works as fast as I do.
I tell him what I want to say, and then I let him produce and pick the music. We have a formula that works and makes people happy.
How did you end up working with Suga Free? Did he come into the studio to work with you guys?
That was a last-minute addition. We usually don’t add anyone who doesn’t come through the studio, but my manager also manages DJ Quik, and wanted him to do “West Coast Cinderella,” but he couldn’t do it in time. So they mentioned Suga Free and I was like “Suga Free and Quik are back together?” I’d always wanted to do a song with Suga where he talks about girls the way he does, and I talk about girls the way I do.
It was reported earlier this year that you were planning on releasing 10 records. What’s the status of all that music?
Basically, I had a lot of records done when I was at Warner Bros. -- songs that didn’t make “Murs for President” for whatever reason. Over 100 of them -- there was a lot of downtime because I wasn’t touring for two years. A lot of people thought I was rushing to record music, but that wasn’t the case. Unfortunately, my computer was stolen with a lot of the songs. Thankfully, there’ a couple projects already finished, and a comic-book project that I’m almost done with.
How was the computer stolen?
The night before Paid Dues, someone broke into my car and stole me and my wife’s computers. We were driving by a club and stopped to get out and promote and hand out fliers.
What are the next releases you have planned?
There’s the soundtrack to the comic book [MerchGirl: The Curse of Yumiko Morales] that I’m doing with the producer Foundation. I’ve got a record coming with producer Terrace Martin -- it’s like DJ Quik meets 2 Live Crew meets Steve Aoki. It’s just nasty sex raps. I also have a record with my punk rock band called the Invincibles, done with the members of a Florida punk band called Whole Wheat Bread.
Who are your favorite punk rock bands?
Definitely Rancid -- I’ve always wanted to remake “Time Bomb. “ Green Day. Bad Brains. I really like the Deftones too, but they’re more of a rock band.
-- Jeff Weiss
Murs plays the House of Blues, Saturday, June 12, with Sick Jacken and Nocando. 8430 Sunset Blvd. 9 p.m. $17.50
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