By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
MURS, a card-carrying member of the Cali-centric rap crew Living Legends, just released his third record, titled The End of the Beginning. Meanwhile, a recent bacchanalian binge in the city Bugsy Siegel built almost spelled the beginning of the end of his still-burgeoning career.
"I had a wild night in Vegas," he says. After a night spent prowling the streets and various boudoirs like a hip-hop Caligula, MURS was returning to his suite in the wee hours of the morning when he realized he had an early interview with a writer from Vicemagazine. Eschewing sleep, he approached the interview like a smooth hybrid of Hugh Hefner and Freddy "The Hammer" Williamson putting the mack down on Playboy After Dark. Still in player mode, he had more on his mind than just talking about the new record.
"Since it was from Vicemagazine, I thought it would be all right to be a little out there," he says. "I propositioned the writer in a joking manner, and she said no, whatever, and that was it."
Or so he thought. Unaware of the writer's esteemed reputation as a feminist punk-rock scribe, the artist did not anticipate the backlash that followed. "A couple of days later, I get a call from my publicist [Kathryn Frazier], and she's yelling at me about propositioning a writer of such stature. She's telling me she's a punk-rock feminist, and how could you treat her like this," he recalls. Even so, he hoped the incident would pass, like a bad hangover.
Unfortunately, it was one of those hangovers that lingered long after the liquid poison had dissipated. Before the issue went to press, the editors at Vice apparently decided to embellish the writer's story, changing her response to MURS's playful advances from a "no" to a "yes."
"She got a severe response from all of her feminist readers," says MURS. "Like, 'Why did you let that a-hole get away with propositioning you, and why would you say yes?' She's mad at Vice, she's talking about lawsuits, so she e-mails them, and they tell her to F off."
Given the looming potential for litigation -- and the sorry state of his relationship with his publicist -- MURS could foresee The End of the Beginning dying a slow, painful death. Fortunately, he has since mended his relationship with Frazier, and a friend of the writer's has informed MURS that she doesn't harbor any ill feelings toward him. "He was like, 'She doesn't think you're an asshole; she thinks you're just a guy,'" he says, laughing. The rapper would like to dispel the notion that he's a misogynist. He points to his collaboration with Slug on Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci, as proof positive that his attitude has changed. Many in the indie-rap community view the actress as the feminine ideal for her beauty and intelligence, which are reflected in her maverick film roles. MURS is a guy who, regardless of what others might think of him, always says what's on his mind -- a quality that defines him as much as his moniker, an acronym that stands for Making Underground Raw Shit. These two elements can be found in abundance on The End of the Beginning, put out by rapper El-P's Definitive Jux Records. MURS is the first West Coast artist to come out on the New York-based label, which has assumed deity-like status in the hip-hop underground.
At first the rapper's more traditional, laid-back Cali flow seems to be in stark contrast to the claustrophobic dystopian sounds generated by El-P and his crew of artists -- Aesop Rock, Rjd2, Mr. Lif, and Cannibal Ox. However, what links MURS to these Def Jukies is his commitment to creating music that is a true alternative to the materialistic hip-pop that dominates the airwaves today. Moreover, the addition of the left-coast MC has helped diversify the franchise.
"Not that I'm a big help to Def Jux, but I thought it would be good -- before they got pigeonholed as this weird, abstract avant-garde label -- that I come with my style of rap, which is extremely straightahead," MURS explains. "I thought it would be good for the label because it would add depth. Not only am I from the West Coast, but I'm a whole different style of hip-hop."
A number of producers, both known (Shock G, El-P, Ant) and lesser known (Belief, Oh No, Blockhead), stack the store with jazz, funk, soul and old-school breakbeats, helping MURS define his style. The supporting cast serves him well on tracks like the Belief-produced "Brotherly Love," a song in which the artist addresses his little brother and the other kids in his L.A. neighborhood. "A lot of people make songs directed toward saving the youth, but that's a bunch of crap, because none of these rappers -- Mos Def, Talib Kweli -- they don't know these kids. They're not on a first-name basis with their mother, like I am," says the rapper.
On the first verse of the song, MURS speaks directly to his brother: "Man, you 21 and I still can't believe it, been living on your own/Just hard to conceive/That you on the right track, out pursuing that knowledge/But a few years back, I couldn't see you in college/You was all out crippin', brought a gun in the house/My first thought was to take it, give you one to the mouth/But never that, we been through way too much."