Keith Murray is not a subtle guy. If he doesn't care for your music, he's likely to punch you in the mouth or hit you over the head with a bar stool, coastal alliances be damned. If he doesn't like how you're marketing his album, he'll assault the street team while they sit in their offices in the label's own building. And if he doesn't like your review...well, I'd imagine that he would probably go after the critics, too. Not that any of this behavior is rational or justified, of course, but it's important to know where we stand.
After having been dropped by Def Jam Records for assaulting their marketing department, who failed to do a good enough job pushing his lone Def Jam release, He's Keith Murray, onto the paying masses, Keith Murray found himself, briefly, without a label to call home. Due to his violent temper, he was no longer welcome at any of the majors: how he skirted past multiple potential assault and battery charges by simply accepting his resignation remains a mystery to me to this day. Despite these setbacks, Murray felt that he still had something to offer the world of hip hop music, presenting the few fans that remained after He's Keith Murray tanked with a mixtape, Kickin' Ass Inc. Vol. 1, which featured his rants alongside those of his Legion of Doom team.
Somehow, that mixtape, which isn't very well-known in Blogland, was well-enough received that the Koch graveyard came calling, bringing a contract and several spicy chicken sandwiches from Wendy's over with them. Murray quickly signed up, considering that this was probably the last corporation that would dare do business with him at this point, and he set about recording what ended up being his fifth full-length release, the ridiculously-titled Rap-Murr-Phobia (Fear Of Real Hip Hop).
Now at this point, most rap critics were declaring Keith Murray's career as all but dead in the water. His anger issues (which he claims don't exist) had continued to get the best of him, and he alienated damn near everyone that had ever considered working with him. (This includes his former coworkers at both Def Jam and Jive Records, who released his first three albums: you may recall Britney Spears, also signed to Jive, once petitioning for Keith Murray's release from prison simply because the label wanted to show solidarity to their comrade.)
Luckily, Keith Murray had an ace in the hole: he was still an original member of the Def Squad, which mainly consisted of himself, Erick Sermon, and Redman. So no matter what, at least he could count on his boys to come through with some beats and rhymes, and come through they did: Sermon actually produced the majority of the songs on Rap-Murr-Phobia (Fear Of Real Hip Hop), and the album features the obligatory Def Squad collaborative track that fans have looked out for with each subsequent release. He also still had his friends in L.O.D., who stuck by his side through thick, thin, and back to thick again, and he still had enough charisma to convince a couple of bigger names to extend a greeting.
The other think working in Keith's favor was the fact that he is a genuinely good emcee. Ever since he made his debut on Erick Sermon's "Hostile" back in 1993, he's been wowing audiences with his wordplay and lyrics that are twisted up just like the tip of a blunt. Throughout all of the strife, he hadn't lost his edge in his writing: it's just his beat selections that suffered greatly whenever he tried to branch out, such as on He's Keith Murray.
I never cared to listen to anything else in Murray's long and storied career, but Dag Diligent's write-up on the Canibus/Murray collaboration EP a few months ago sparked my interest enough to hunt this down. So is Rap-Murr-Phobia (Fear Of Real Hip Hop) (an anxiety that I'm sure isn't currently cataloged) good enough to warrant a Keith Murray revival? I'm not sure yet: I just barely finished up my opening paragraphs.
1. WALK UP (SKIT) (FEAT. TONE CAPONE)
Tricking consumers by not calling your rap album intro an “intro” is actually worse, Keith.
2. DA FUCKERY
Well, the title is both funny and apropos, and the chorus uses the phrase “Back up off of me and sit your ass down”, so there was potential for this track to not suck all that much. But Erick Sermon's beat creeps by like a reluctant hitman, one who has been hired to do one last job but is suffering from an existential crisis, so Keith's lyrics (which include some half-assed story about how he “had” to leave Def Jam Records because his immediate superiors moved on to better things – yeah, I'm sure attacking the marketing department had nothing to do with your “departure”) sound flat and pointless, turning the title into a self-fulfilling prophecy. This isn't good.
3. WEEBLE WOBBLE (FEAT. ERICK SERMON)
I'm pretty sure the stupid-ass title (which also lends itself to a shitty hook) was chosen only to draw attention to the sheer audacity of Keith Murray, as he twists a jingle for a children's toy into a hip hop hook, because this song actually works: this track was pretty good. In fact, this is the best Murray performance I've heard since his verses on Def Squad's El Niño. Sermon's beat is a simple loop, but Keith doesn't let the party die down, spitting clever bar after clever bar and proving that he can still captivate his audience using only his words. Nice move, Murray. Things are looking up.
4. DON'T FUCK WIT EM
Keith Murray apparently doesn't trust anybody, if this Mike City-produced track is to be believed. He's even smart enough to include himself in that classification, lest he sound too judgmental. Luckily, Keith doesn't fuck with the beat (he doesn't trust that, either): he rides it with ease, and the entire song is more focused than his previous two albums. I guess he's been fucked over a lot in his lifetime. Well, boo hoo, Keith: we've all been there. You're not special. This wasn't bad, though.
5. I LOVE IT WHEN IT RAINS (SKIT)
6. U AIN'T NOBODY (FEAT. DEF SQUAD)
The obligatory Def Squad collaboration, which is also the first song that every single hip hop head reading this write-up skipped to when they picked up or downloaded Rap-Murr-Phobia (Fear Of Real Hip Hop). (And if someone tells you otherwise, they're lying to your face. Are you going to take that shit from them? Huh?) Unfortunately, if Erick Sermon's lackluster verse (and beat) is any indication, this holy trinity has grown weary of this mortal coil. Keith sounds okay, and Reggie Noble tries his hardest to inject some energy into his verse, but this will never be counted among the Def Squad's finest work. So I guess we won't be seeing that second group album. Sigh.
Do you think that every single crack dealer in the United States is an aspiring “rapper”? What about those folks that peddle crystal meth? Do they all want to be Emmy award-winning actors who portray high school chemistry teachers? It's a cliché that has grown beyond old at this point, but Keith manages to insert some levity into what is really a dark path to follow, once again giving listeners insight into how his synapses fire, and his attention to detail is what makes this track work, because it sure as fuck wasn't the Sermon beat of the overused soul samples as the “hook”.
8. NOBODY DO IT BETTER (FEAT. TYRESE & JUNIOR)
Keith spits lyrics that attempt to ape his debut album and ends up sounding like the guy who released It's A Beautiful Thing, but that isn't the problem I'm having with the song. The beat sounds like it was intended for a love rap (which I truly hope Keith doesn't attempt later on the album...wait, I just jinxed myself, didn't I? Shit!), and the presence of Baby Boy's Tyrese on the hook only seems to solidify that notion, as he crams unnecessary R&B into what was supposed to be a show of dominance. This was a weird mutation of a song.
9. HUSTLE ON
Producer Shuko lends Keith a strange amalgam of reggae and Southern bounce music (think Juvenile's “Ha”) that poses as an instrumental, and to my amazement, our host actually tries to rap over it. And here I was hoping that he had been undergoing treatment for his tin ear for beats under Koch's employee health care plan. Fuck.
10. WHATMAKEAN---ATHINKDAT (FEAT. LIL' JAMAL)
The artist formerly known as Mally G makes a return to the spotlight alongside his Def Squad coworker (I had completely forgotten that Jamal was part of the crew, but be honest with yourselves, you did the same thing). It's too bad that Keith couldn't have scored him a spot on “U Ain't Nobody”, because at least that Def Squad reunion made sense, and it had Redman on it. This song was barely passable.
11. WHAT IT IS (FEAT. METHOD MAN & 50 GRAND)
I can only assume that Method Man pops up on this track as a favor to Reggie Noble, because this isn't the most natural collaboration otherwise. E-Double's beat sounds like one of the weaker offerings from Meth's 4:21...The Day After, and Keith never sounds quite sure how to handle it, while Method Man sticks with the cameo thing, so he never really needed to commit in the first place. 50 Grand, Keith's weed carrier, actually benefits from rhyming alongside both of these veterans, as he turns in one of his better performances, so at least some good came from this unlikely marriage.
12. WE RIDIN' (FEAT. L.O.D.)
Keith Murray has been showing love to his L.O.D. crew ever since Erick Sermon's “Hostile” way back in 1993, so I have to give him credit for his consistency and loyalty. He even graciously steps aside and allows his crew to have this entire song to themselves (save for the intro and the hook). Sermon's beat is a simple loop that sounded alright at first, but got more and more annoying as it went along, and by the time the nineteenth member of the Legion of Doom made his way to the microphone, I was worn out. But 50 Grand and Kel Vicious (the first and second guys to perform, respectively) sounded alright.
13. DA BEEF MURRAY SHOW (SKIT)
What a wasted opportunity. Keith Murray could have directly addressed his tendency to start needless fights with other rappers, or maybe even have made fun of himself for doing the same. Instead, we get an uninspired and unnecessary skit.
14. NEVER DID SHIT (FEAT. UNIQUE)
This song was pretty stupid. Keith Murray and Unique, who sounds like a cross between Hurricane G and Eve except after having been hit by a truck and suffering irreversible brain damage, engage in a boring battle of the sexes that hits all of the same points as every single other rap song that approaches this type of material. You're on an indie label now, Keith: you don't have to do this kind of shit anymore.
15. SOMETHING LIKE A MODEL (FEAT. JUNIOR)
While I thought it was funny that the song kicks off with an unexpected Beastie Boys reference, this track is what I jinxed myself with earlier: a Keith Murray song for the ladies. Is it bad that I was left wanting to warn any possible female love interest for our host to duck? Yeah, I know, I thought I had gotten all of the “Keith Murray has obvious anger issues” jokes out of my system. But here we are.
16. LATE NIGHT (FEAT. L.O.D., BOSIE, MING BOLLA, & RYZE)
Our host ends Rap-Murr-Phobla (Fear Of Real Hip Hop) with a dark hypothetical tale about what happens to folks who make fun of Keith Murray's obvious anger issues. Alongside his trusty weed carriers, Keith proceeds to torture a snitch, but the session goes awry, and they have to dispose of the body in pieces scattered throughout the city, in case you're a potential serial killer and were looking to a rap album, for some reason, for tips. It goes without saying that this was the most bizarre way I've heard a rap album end in quite some time. It could be argued that the entire track was a metaphor about how Keith feels about music critics or fair-weather fans. But at least he sounded at home on here.
THE LAST WORD: So can this career be saved? Not with Rap-Murr-Phobia (Fear Of Real Hip Hop), that's for sure: there's an awful lot of bullshit to sift through, hampering the entertainment value. But, surprisingly, Keith Murray may still be deserving of a second act. The handful of good songs on Rap-Murr-Phobia (Fear Of Real Hip Hop) are actually really good, and his lyrical dexterity sounds refreshing when compared to most of the artists who are popular today. The production is mostly boring (am I the only guy who feels that Erick Sermon should just fucking retire already? Anyone? Bueller?), but Rap-Murr-Phobia (Fear Of Real Hip Hop) proves that, had he been accompanied by better musical backing, Keith Murray is still capable of making you listen to his every thought. This album isn't very good, so you shouldn't waste your time with it, but t hat doesn't mean that you should count Keith out just yet. Which was not the expectation I had when I found this album. Weird.