(For today's Reader Review, Dag Diligent tackles Murs For President, the major label debut from the west coast stalwart title character. If you enjoy this write-up and want to see more like it, be sure to leave some comments below.)
Since his debut in 1993, West Coast rapper Murs (also known as Nick Carter) has dropped seven solo albums and has been part of too many groups and collaborations to list. He has kept busy building his credentials and gaining a rep in Los Angeles as the underground hip hop king. He's even been looked at as one of the hardest working emcees in the industry, due to the sheer amount of product he has pushed out during his career. Recently, he was found teaming up with producer 9th Wonder, dropping tracks which have caught the ears of a slightly larger audience, all while remaining an underground star. In 2008, Murs released Murs for President, his first major label release and what many consider to be his crossover album.
If you're not familiar with Murs, you should know that he is a smart emcee with an ability to speak on behalf of the common man without coming across as corny. Some people believe his skills to be subpar, but I think that his effortless delivery masks his true abilities, kind of like when you see Tony Hawk do some skateboard flips and you think, “Oh, that’s easy”, and then you try it and end up on life support. He makes fun of himself and his weaknesses often, but still comes across as sharp. He definitely maintains a west-coast style, but incorporates the best of conscious rap, raw hip hop, and even the old school. He is often described as having a fresh sound because he’s not afraid to take risks. His recent albums have been generally well received by critics, but haven't caught on with the mainstream.
But are they as good as the reviews claim them to be? Has going mainstream cost him his credibility? Will his skills appeal to heads in the east? Is this album good at all?
Let's find out...
A typically lousy and overproduced rap album intro. Here we have some fake news coverage of presidential candidate Murs and his motorcade, and the press conference that follows. The only real question asked by the fake news media is if Murs is planning on changing the way he does things to please more people. He acknowledges his attempt to cross over to the mainstream.
2. I'M INNOCENT
9th Wonder shows up to help him sort out his campaign by contributing a slamming beat. Murs comes out swinging, clearly wanting to prove himself right out of the gate with some high-octane conscious rhymes. He makes it clear that he is not sacrificing lyrical quality for fame: "I'm anti-thug and anti-drugs / brought peace to the party and got anti-love"; “It's sicker than syringes streamlined with strychnine / Vegan diet, healthy heart and soul with a sick mind / Inclined to flip, split minds when I spit rhymes / So go ahead kick yours, hope I don't kick mine”. The song ends with a cold drop off on some professional hip hop shit.
3. LOOKIN FLY (FEAT WILL.I.AM)
This song definitely keeps the momentum up from the previous track, but the style switch from the last song hit me like a punch to the chest. The beat is clearly aimed at clubs, with its down south bounce. will.i.am, from the sell-out supergroup Black Eyed Peas, drops in for an early appearance to co-produce to motivate the “crowd” by spouting some inane nonsense. I was impressed with some of the lyrical content, but I was also disappointed with some of the garbage. This is all a little too slick for me, and the chorus is indefensible: “I’m looking fly / ooh, I’m bout to spread my wings”. Skip.
4. THE SCIENCE
Ladies and gentlemen, we're back. Thanks for sticking with us through that dance break: now we have some science in the tradition of the old school. Featuring some intelligent lyrics, a decent flute and bass beat, and relevant content about just about everything, hip hop heads should be loving this one.
5. CAN IT BE (HALF A MILLION DOLLARS AND 18 MONTHS LATER)
Scoop DeVille produces his second song in a row and delivers again. Murs is on fire all the way through: "I coulda done a Nas and screamed hip hop is dead / I got up off my ass and I did something instead / signed with the devil, brought the scene up a level / killed the beast from within, I'm a born again rebel". Conscious rap over a great beat. Nice.
Now this is how you do a positive song. It's got a slick epic sound that typically wouldn't appeal to me, but it delivers some essential elements (scratching, sampling, real emceeing) and sounds alright. The lyrics are amazing and easily make up for the beat. Great job.
7. ROAD IS MY RELIGION
The beat is a step down from the previous three tracks, but is still okay. Once again our host's rhyme skill and honesty help him make the most out of a subject that doesn't really interest me (touring). Not bad for a filler track.
8. SOOO COMFORTABLE (FEAT KOKANE)
The title should read “featuring a fake George Clinton”. Here we have a typical G-funk beat, with a nice hint of ruggedness, but that isn't even close to enough to save the track. Murs does his thing well enough, but you should still skip this song.
9. TIME IS NOW (FEAT SNOOP DOGG)
Murs starts things out horribly with some jazz club style introductions for everyone featured on the track. After that mess, a really bad gospel beat starts working my patience. The chorus is surprisingly bad, especially when compared to the previous material on this album: "The time is now / it's going down in the town" (it sounds worse than it reads. Think about that). I'm sure Murs was glad to have a big name like Snoop come by to help out. Well, maybe not that glad, because Snoop drops a weak verse. Easily the worst song on the album.
10. THINK YOU KNOW ME
Wow, things have fallen apart quickly. The beat sounds like something Nottz found in Dr. Dre's trash can, and Murs' flow might have come from there too. The lyrical quality may or may not be good; I don't have the energy to sort through the musical garbage to find out. SKIP.
11. ME AND THIS JAWN
Nottz takes a sample from the hip-hop staple "For the Love of You" by the Isley Brothers and flips it a little too hard, with the result being a really irritating beat. The lyrics are well constructed and describe the trials of a long term relationship, but the track just doesn’t work. On a side note, this is the exact same sample that Masta Ace used in "The I.N.C. Ride" way back in 1995, but Ace used it brilliantly and made a classic track. Murs used it to make a definite skip. Honestly, I dug up the Masta Ace song to make sure that I had my facts straight for this review, and damn, that song is amazing. I didn't even finish the Murs song; I listened to Ace instead, so I guess something great could have happened at the end of "Me and This Jawn", but I doubt it. (Note: The Masta Ace song was stuck in my head all weekend. Good job,Ace.)
12. LOVE AND APPRECIATE II (FEAT TYLER WOODS)
Thank goodness 9th Wonder is back, I was starting to regret my decision to listen to this album all the way through. But, oh no...Murs starts out this track by announcing that this is a love song. Shit. Can they pull it off? Well, it's got a good slow beat, Murs almost brings his "A" game but not quite, so the only thing dragging down the track is Tyler Woods R&B chorus. Overall, not bad for a love song.
13. A PART OF ME
A marching beat, heavy R&B, and then, uh…heavy rock guitars. Well, this song is at least very well produced. Murs drops rhymes about his lady leaving, and he brings some real emotion into his lyrics and delivery. But this is definitely a rock song, or maybe even a pop song. Think Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s Collision Course album. Skip.
14. BREAK UP (THE OJ SONG)
This song starts on a nice hip hop beat, but quickly goes West Coast in bad way after a hard change up. Once things get slick, Murs talks about a difficult break up. He does a good job considering the topic, but the chorus is awful: “Everything I do, it reminds me of you / Everything I see, it reminds me of we”. The song is a little too smooth for my taste, but as with almost every song on the album the lyrics are solid and surprising: “I ain't gonna lie, sometimes I just don’t feel you / but find another man and I just might kill you”. Um, okay, if you’re that mad I guess I won’t ask why this song is subtitled “The OJ Song”.
Murs starts off the final track by announcing that he is the realest rapper in the whole world because he has his mother in the studio. Okay, well, I’m glad 9th Wonder was in there too, because the beat is solid. This is the type of track where Murs really shows what he is capable of “Man I’m happy as hell / might get a job if this record don’t sell / What? Burger King, McDonald's? Best Buy or Target? At least I’ll get a discount! / Oh well, I’ll be employee of the month / you’ll never see your boy on the tube with gold fronts”. Not bad.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Murs is a rap veteran and he covers a lot of ground on Murs For President in terms of style. There is no doubt that he and 9th Wonder make a great team, but some of the other production work on this album is just weak or uninspired, making for an inconsistent album that swings back and forth between extremes. When the album is good, it’s great, but when isn't working, it’s pretty terrible.
BUY OR BURN: It would be nice to buy this album and help out a rap veteran who is making real hip hop, but at the same time, it might encourage more of the wack shit that is included on this album. So I'll just recommend a burn. Actually if you simply track down the tracks listed below, that would probably be good enough, as you'll be glad you did.
BEST TRACKS: "I'm Innocent", “The Science”, "Can it Be", "Everything"
(Be sure to leave some comments below if you agree, disagree, or flat out don't care about this post. Although if you didn't care, you probably wouldn't have read this far, so I'll give you that.)