Posted: December 23rd, 2009
"For the record—in Thrasher magazine—FTC were always dicks to me."
Interview by Erin Dyer | Photos by Byrnes
If there’s one thing Murs has a handle on, it’s his use of the English language. He’s a lyricist extraordinaire whose topics and rhymes reveal an artist so humble and grounded he can sit at Swingers’ diner counter alone enjoying a late-night meal and magazine. He prefers it, in fact—public appearances sans entourage—’cause as he’ll tell you (and more), “I don’t give a fuck who’s watching me. I do me.” That’s just the beginning.
You’re very candid in interviews. So what’s come back to bite you in the ass?
The only thing that’s come back to bite me in the ass is having to deal with all the bullshit. When I was younger the only reason I wanted to be a famous rapper was so I could get out there and challenge the people I think are full of shit—and that’s 90 percent of rappers. Ninety-eight percent I’d say are black males getting over on intimidating white America or the rest of the world on this image. Like “I know that if I weren’t doing this I would be robbing you, and since I’m not robbing you I’m going to talk about robbing you, and then you’re going to buy it because you like the music, and also some part of you is scared and fascinated with what you fear.”
And this is as close as you can get to it.
And “you’ll never be me, but you’ll never be as rich as me, or you’ll never be as dangerous as me.” It’s all bullshit. Most of them love their families and love their kids. You should see some of these guys with their baby’s mother; someone fucks their baby’s mother and how heartbroken they are and how much they love their kids. And I see them when they go out and skate with their kids, and then they’re asking me to go talk to their kid about skating? Why can’t you just be normal? Like “my kid’s really into that. Can you get him some Hurley gear or can you get him this, or would you explain this, my kid’s really into you.” It's like, what about you, man? When are you going to start being a mirror? So I usually start calling out guys like that, but in the end calling them out doesn’t change them.
You’ve said that you don’t like making music with people that you don’t know, so how do you go about working with somebody that you have yet to meet?
If I am a fan of theirs I’m coming to them. People that I admire usually don’t have the time to hang out with me so if I want them on a song I’ve just got to ask. I’ll make time for someone younger if they ask me to perform, but I always tell kids that are like, “Let’s do a song,” I say, “Put out your first record. I don’t want people to buy your record because of me. Once you have your own thing I’m sure I’ll see if you’re going to succeed.” It isn’t like when I first meet you—that’s what sex is for. You have sex with people you don’t know. You don’t have one-night stands in music. You’re guaranteed to be on that song with that person forever, and what if you turn out to be someone I don’t like? There are a lot of rappers that beat the shit out of their girlfriends or don’t pay child support. If you aren’t a good person, I don’t want to exchange energy with you.
I don’t think there’s enough of that in this shady industry of music.
There are enough of them that do the same thing that can do songs together. Usually if you hear me on a song with someone I vouch for them as a person.
Who’s out there that you haven’t worked with that you don’t really know?
Right now the only thing I’ve been pushing for is Dr Dre. I’m a huge fan, but also I just think I can be of assistance, and it would be of assistance to the whole West Coast movement. He’s our Puff Daddy—no disrespect—but when he’s generating everything around the West Coast, even when Dr Dre came out, Pharcyde was able to come out, the Alcoholics, Soul of Mischief, The Chronic created that. Chronic 2001 created it again. Even in the Bay, RBL Posse, E-40, Rappin’ 4-Tay, DrewDown, the Loonies—if you really look the catalyst for all that was The Chronic. I just want to help Dre get going because it’s going to help all of us. He’s such a perfectionist, and I appreciate that. Puff Daddy hits and misses and he doesn’t care, but it has flawed his record so people can’t see that he’s a great producer. Dre has been really careful not to flaw. But if I could help him write for anything like that I would love to be a part of it.
Wait a minute. The people you work with you vouch for as good people—but you have Mike Tyson tattooed on your arm. How do you reconcile that one?
I admire him as someone who fucked up horribly. I didn’t become a Mike Tyson fan until he got knocked out and lost the title and I saw everybody turn on him. I believe he was set up for a lot of things, and I don’t believe he was mentally stable. It also occurred to me that he puts himself in positions where he’s forced to do things that are extreme, and I’m the same kind of person. So it reminds me to keep myself out of situations where I’m forced—I always tell my wife, I don’t want to jeopardize my freedom. If the police show up I just leave, because I know that I hate police and I’ve fought the police in the past, and I’ve been arrested and I just don’t have the common sense. I will punch you in the face regardless of who you are. I will bite you and scratch you in the face. I’m one extreme or the other. Like I said, on the whole I think he’s a very intelligent person who’s had his ups and downs. As far as him hitting Robin Givens, if you put a person in a situation where you’re calling him stupid—he was wrong for putting himself in that position—but you don’t antagonize him. You don’t do that to him. That doesn’t excuse what he did to her, but I think she’s at fault too for chastising him and taking advantage of him. The documentary explains it more to people.
Let’s talk the Bay versus LA. How is it to be back up here?
I love it. I love San Francisco. When I was growing up I was an East Bay kid, and I hated the City.
Most East Bay kids do.
Hated FTC. FTC treated me like shit. For the record—in Thrasher magazine—FTC were always dicks to me.
I don’t know. I would always try and bring in tapes ’cause I was an underground artist, and they weren’t supportive. They were cool with some of my other friends, but they just were never really cool with me. But the SF city kids have a little chip on their shoulder. I’m a poser, I use to just hang out and watch. I had a skateboard but I pushed mongo. I’m no good; I was a ghetto kid. I could do launch ramps and ride bowls. I’m not scared to drop in, but as far as tech shit—no way. So I use to go down to the courthouse and watch people skate stairs, ride around a little bit. I use to do street team stuff for Beastie Boys, passing stuff out. I would watch Kareem Campbell come up, and Daewon would show up and it’d be like “oooh.” When I would finally make it to the City and to EMB and those dudes are being dicks, and “I’m like you, I’m from the hood.…”
It was a tough click.
“I’ll fuck you up.” I don’t care where you’re from. You’re a skater, I’m from Los Angeles, Bloods and Crips, and I'm coming to your funky-ass skate spot to be friends with you and you’re all looking at me crazy, “I’ll fuck you up.” So I was already pissed off…putting myself in a situation where I jeopardize my freedom. And the East Bay didn’t really have a skate scene. I know now they have 510 and I’m really psyched about Telegraph, but there was really no skate scene anywhere, unless you wanted to go to EMB.
It was quite elitist.
That’s why I decided to just stick to my rapping. The Bay Area skate scene, there are some guys that were cool. Karl Watson was just a very peaceful guy. And Satva. Satva from Humboldt, he’s always been super-cool. Satva and Karl always been super supportive of what we do. Down south all the OC crew, the Blind crew, those are my boys. Like Jeron Wilson. They’ve always been supportive. I’m a SoCal skate kid but music wise I love E-40. He’s my favorite rapper. I love the Bay Area music, I love the hyphy movement.
Which home base do you prefer?
Definitely I live in LA, but I’m probably leaving there soon. I couldn’t live in the Bay, it’s too cold. But I love the City and all the City skaters. I was 17 when I was an East Bay kid and it was like “fuck those guys.” But now I can’t get enough of the City. When I go back to Berkeley, last time I went back to Telegraph, I almost cried. Because I was so broke when I lived there. I always tell the story that I came from nothing, and then when I went there I was just choked up and I had to leave. I love the Bay Area. Period.
How do you address the sell out debate? In your song, “This is For,” are lyrics about, “Even if I tried I could never blend into society’s main stream/ the American dream,” and “the numbers kept falling off as my fan base would grow.” You live in Hollywood now but you seem to maintain a strong hold on your roots, to your Living Legends background busting your ass to pay your dues. Did fans’ support change that much when you started growing?
That was more of a comment. We started in the East Bay; our shows were like 85 percent black kids. Then when we started blowing up there were more white kids than black kids, and we never knew where they went. But now as I went to Warner Brothers, as I started doing my shows I got out there and talked to the kids, and they would ask, “Why did you go to Warner Brothers?” I explained instead of complaining about them we want to try and make change, and if these guys are going to help me change mainstream rap then I’m going to try. It didn’t work out, and I’m off Warner Brothers now, but once the music came out the kids weren’t nervous anymore. I got a lot of stuff for doing the dreadlock song with Rick Rock, the hyphy producer. Everybody thought I was selling out, but I love hyphy music. Warner Brothers was going to pay Rick Rock—he wasn’t going to give me free beats like some of my independent buddies—20 to 30 grand just for beats. In the end I just want to do the song. I want to say something positive over this music that’s taking over the Bay, about dreadlocks, because everyone in the Bay is getting dreadlocked. They look like I use to look, but I only looked that way ’cause I was listening to Public Enemy. They have no science to it, they don’t know why they’re doing it. It just looks cool. They got to know who Bob Marley is or Marcus Garvey, you’ve got to know that stuff so it isn’t just about weed. Dreads are being associated with a negative image, associated with selling drugs and whatever you do on your turf, ’cause that’s what it is, but also it’s something else. As long as you know both I think you’ll be a little bit more balanced and you’ll make better decisions.
You’re off Warner Brothers now, but you’ve experienced life on a major label. How has it been since?
I thought it was going to be a lot freer, but still it’s a lot. You have so many people anticipating things it backs up your music. We have so much we want to release but it’s too much for everyone to consume. I have a punk rock band and an electro record, a blues record; I have all these done. With Warner Brothers it was a lot slower, and now that I’m off I just want to go crazy and release everything. I think in October of next year I want to release a box set of 10 albums, or 10 songs on each album, on the 10 of October in 2010. I got a call from Bad Brains and they want to do a record, which is phenomenal to me. I already did a punk rock record but now this is the real deal. I’m not worthy! And I’m getting calls from people on major labels, Grammy award winning bands that want to do a side project with me.
How do you feel about being on your own now?
It feels good, man. A lot of people think that I was making a lot of money with Warner Brothers, but I’m making a lot more being independent.
You don’t have to slice it all off to different people.
Exactly. What I’m focused now on is finding ways of giving some back. Not that I’ve made it platinum.
But you aren’t in the East Bay anymore slumming around.
I don’t need three cars. To me I could buy as many comic books or CDs as I want and that’s great. I’m working with this program called NFTE, an entrepreneur program for inner city kids. I go and speak at middle schools around the areas where I grew up. I’m hopefully also starting a chapter of Snoop’s football league in my neighborhood for the inner city schools. So I’m trying to figure out ways I can participate in programs and be active in the community over the next few years, because I have everything I’ve wanted. I don’t have anything else I want to do; I don’t have to win a Grammy, I met E-40, I’m done! It’s time to give back. Seeing how E-40 gives back and how amazingly intelligent and discipline his children are, I’d just like to raise my kids like that and be a part of my community that way. I don’t need 50 thousand cars and gold chains. I mean, I have money now and I’m comfortable saying that, and with it comes a lot of responsibility.
And that opens up the scope of what you can do.
Exactly. So I do want to make more money but my focus right now is establishing places where that money can flow to benefit people. ’Cause now I've made it. I had a Mercedes for while and then I wrecked it, and so it’s like that wasn’t meant to be. I never got plates for it, I washed it twice, I only bought it ’cause I needed something to clear my credit. That doesn’t mean a thing to me. I’m really focused on is making music and showing people good music. When you buy my record it isn’t buying my mother a house or it buying me three more houses. It’s going towards helping these kids.
What do you think is your best attribute?
I mean your best characteristic.
I know it’s weird to say, but my ability to stay grounded. I don’t really let too much phase me. My friend Slug from Atmosphere, we’ve done like 200 shows together over the past six to seven years, and he says, “Whether you kill it or you suck, I’ve seen you suck, I’ve seen you kill it and you’re still the same.” Keeping a level head encourages me not to risk my freedom, so I never get too high or too low. I focus on staying humble. The only thing that E-40 has ever told me is that a lot of people are respected, Snoop Dogg, a lot of these people from Cypress Hill, they are the coolest, most humble people. Stay approachable and stay human, and realize it’s a blessing. I would say my best attribute is hopefully the ability to stay grounded and to continue on that.
How do you continue to stay centered when work gets overwhelming and life gets crazy?
I smoke a lot of cigarettes when it gets hectic. My girl gets mad at me for that. But when her mom is getting on me, the studio is stressing me out, my manager isn’t doing what he’s suppose to be doing, someone on Twitter is talking shit to me, I’ll go out and have a cigarette. Maybe it’s not the best thing for me, maybe I’ll do yoga or find God or something that can center me. Another rapper told me you get up and do you everything you can. As long as you know you’re doing your best, then you can’t be mad at yourself.
Then smoking cigarettes is your biggest vice?
Oh yeah, if I had one. But I smoke Ultra Lights. Maybe one or two a day. And that’s it. If I had a real cigarette problem she would beat me over the head.
When I saw you at Swingers diner, you were reading and eating by yourself, really seemingly content hanging out on your own. So when you have time off do you enjoy your alone time or are you someone that prefers to have people around them all the time. Most artists, especially those at the higher level, tend to forget how to be themselves on their own.
I come from skate culture, but even before I was a skater I was always by myself. Skating’s something you do independently. Your progress is what you’re happy about. It’s the support that also encourages you to be stoked about your friends succeeding even if you can’t do the tricks they’re doing. It’s a community of individuals. I love that and that’s the way I've always been. So when you see me at Swingers or wherever, I go everywhere by myself; I don’t need security. I grew up part of the skate culture being by myself. You get on your board and you go wherever you want to go. You put on your headphones and you go. Skaters with iPods are so lucky. Lucky! Having a Walkman in your pocket and hitting a pebble and flying and bruising your hip because of your tape player and it busting open—you guys have no idea.
A lot of these rappers were popular in high school and were jocks who didn’t make it to the college level and got hurt, so now they’re looking for a new way to get attention. I don’t give a fuck who’s watching me, I do me. My mom wasn’t into skating so she never came to my skateboarding things so I was always very independent. I was never looking for anyone’s praise or adoration or respect, and I’m still not. I do what I do because I enjoy it. Even some skaters, if you’re Jamie Thomas, your super gnarly dudes that are like “1 million stairs, rrraaarrrr!” Or the super tech dudes like Rodney and Daewon, or Tony Hawk and Jake Brown, there are different sects of this one thing but they all respect each other and go hard in their own ways. They do what they do because they love it. Bob Burnquist skates vert in his own way and it changed everything. He brought tech to vert. You bring your own thing to the table. I’m going to skate and do this trick whether you’re watching or not. I have friends that are pros that’ll go out with their team and take photos, but regardless if the team ‘s there or not they’re still going to be doing their tricks. And that’s me rapping.
What’s the strangest encounter you’ve had with a fan?
I was just going to say, walking around by myself people always say, “What are you doing? What are you doing here by yourself?”
The illest shit I’ve ever seen was Tony Hawk get on a plane and sit coach behind me. That humbled me to know end. Every time I think about upgrading I think about Tony Hawk. I’ll never have as much money as him, I’ll never be that tall, I’ll never be that uncomfortable in the middle seat! I was like, yo, this dude is real. The more of a production you make the more of a production people make, so if you make it hard to go anywhere it’s going to be hard to go somewhere. I don’t know the craziest interaction. I’ve learned by nature, and the more excited the person is the calmer I am. I’ve seen people burst into tears, and you’ve got to, like, grab their hand. Then sometimes they’re like, “Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!!” and make a big scene. Then you get the looky-loos. I think the weirdest thing, or maybe the most irritating thing is the people that have no idea who you are but because that person took a picture they’ve got to take a picture. That happens to me at Dodger games a lot. Kids are kids, but they saw me on the Trinitron or from across the way and walk all the way over and wait ’til the end of the game. Then they’ll come up and now I can’t leave because 50 people saw them take a picture, and they’re like, “Well, whoever he is, get in the picture!” I guess those are the strangest.
What’s something people don’t know about you or wouldn’t expect?
I thought about that the other day. People probably don’t know I read comic books and I go to Comicon religiously. Like serious nerd. Battle Star Gallactica, shit like that. I think I’m kind of a nerd rapper anyways. I don’t think people expect me to love gangster rap as much as I do. I don’t really listen to any of my peers. I think that might surprise people.
If you’re a fan of comic books, would you consider yourself an art fan in general?
I don’t think I’m sophisticated enough to be an art fan.
You don’t have to be sophisticated.
My friend has Gallery 1988. I’ve bought two pieces from him. So what, I don’t care if people hate. I have a Sex in the City piece. Carrie in a slip and the City, and it’s painted on tin and her dresses are magnetic and so you can change her dress everyday. My girl doesn’t want that going in our daughter’s room.
Do you have some hidden art talent, like some wicked drawing skills?
No. I can write rap songs. I can’t make beats, I can’t DJ, I can’t skateboard very well, but I can read comic books. I can read very well.
What do you call your rhythms “sitcom raps”?
Do you hate this?
I wish I would have never said that. I guess its because I had nothing to relate to. Growing up I started listening to country music; I would say I’m more country because they talk about real things. They are more specific about how their wife left them, then she a dog, but now I miss the dog, and those are the songs I like. I’m more country rap. I realized that when my DJ and me got stuck opening for Willie Nelson one day.
We were late for this TV thing during South by Southwest. We were late and Willie was suppose to go on, but they were like, “well, we have 15 minutes.” This one guy put his neck on the line, and said, “you can go on. We would love it if you go on, but no cussing and all your people left, and this is a room full of Willie Nelson fans.” But I’m a huge Nascar fan.
How do you come up with your material?
I learned a lot from Slug of Atmosphere. As a male’s male, especially a black male, you aren’t allowed to feel anything. You aren’t supposed to, and it’s definitely not okay to share that with everybody; that would be crazy. People are trying to say they wish rap would go back to Public Enemy, but even then Public Enemy was only expressing their anger at the system. It’s safe to respect anger and some type of macho happiness, not genuine joy or anything with any hint of femininity. So hanging out with Slug brought that out in me. When I’m emo, as a black guy that grew up in the inner city in a single mother household, my stories are different. Most people know about my friend got shot, or my friend that’s locked up, and his daughters aren’t there, and he’s more emotional about women with tattooed hands, and cigarettes and whatever, so I think that just turned me on. That part of me is open and I still let the beats say to me what it’s going to say. When I worked with Ninth Wonder—we just finished a record called For Never—and when he plays the beats its usually vocal samples. So a song like “Bad Man” doesn’t say bad man, but I thought that’s what it says, that’s what the songs about. Or I’ll just hear it. I see things when I write, too, which comes from reading. I always tell kids who want to be rappers, the more you read the more shit you have to steal. You know what I mean? You won’t even know that you’re stealing because your subconscious is full. I know I’m taking ideas from various comic book writers or Charles Bukowski and spitting it out in my way. Once you’re good at your craft you could say I’m going to imitate. When Slub and me do our Felt records, we’ll say let’s do a Mobb Deep song, and no one in the world will even know it’s a Mobb Deep song, but to me and him we are so us that’s how we do it. I’ll hear something that reminds me of a Slick Rick song, and decide, okay, I’ll do a Slick Rick song about a girl who works at Krispy Kreme. A real song that just happened, and people are like “wow,” then I’ll meet a girl who’s like “I work at Krispy Kreme,” and I’m like yes!
Are you the push-your-message type versus just putting your opinions, observations, and vision out there for people to take or leave? You know some artists are like “this is how we feel, this is what I’m into, I really need you to understand and conceptualize it.”
I think you know being a skater, calmer, that’s an asshole. Whether you’re saying “peace and love” that’s an asshole, anyone who pushes their opinion on anyone else whether its for the better or not. I’m an asshole in my real life and I think music is there to inspire change, but music is never going to change the world. It has to inspire you to do what you think is best. I can’t be your Bible, and I don’t think music should ever be your bible. There’s nothing set in stone for anyone. It’s like love; people say that long distance relationships don’t work, but I know long distance relationships that have worked. Love is different for everyone, and life is different for everybody, so you can’t say that this is a law. There are general concept—killing is bad, stealing is bad—but you shouldn’t force anything on anyone. That’s bad. And that’s an asshole. So my shit’s always take it or leave it. Agree or disagree. Disagree? Great, make a song about it, or when you see me let’s talk about it, because you might be able to change my mind. I’m not the kind of person who’s set in stone. I may be, but if you’re convincing I’m open for discussion. As long as its not vehemently heated then let’s talk.
Is 3:16 a Bible reference?
It’s my birthday, 3-16-1978.
If you died tomorrow and came back reincarnated, how would you live your second round?
I hate to say this and be corny, but the only thing I was ever this into, besides football, when I was really young was when I discovered vert skating. What stopped me from being a better vert skater was that we had an LA park called Transitions, and we use to go to there every weekend. At the time I was living in Covina for like three years, but in black families I don’t know what it is about the mother not wanting you to do something. “Stay outside, no ins and outs,” or “you went to the skatepark last weekend, you can’t go this weekend,” and I’d be like, “why? You took everybody last weekend, his mom’s going to take everyone this weekend.” So I was like, “Mom, if I don’t go this Saturday and Sunday everybody else is going to be better. I got my axel stalls, I got my fakies, this week they are going to teach me how to air out, I gotta go!” So now my friends are shredding, they spent six hours learning whatever, so I’d be like, “Mom, if I don’t go I can’t practice,” so by then I was like fuck it. Now these guys make a bunch of money doing 3 regional competitions, and I'm busting my ass rapping. It’s not that I don’t love my job, I kind of would have loved to see the world as a skateboarder. I know that sounds corny ’cause this is Thrasher, but people that know me know that I love skateboarding.
Any words of wisdom for your fans?
If you never give up you never lose. That’s corny but it’s true. If you go to your grave saying you want to win a Grammy and you never do, the only thing that stopped you is death. You stopped yourself when you quit, but there was always a chance. So whatever you want to do, do it and do what you love and do it because you want to—before you get in debt because you have to get a degree and you accrew this much debt to the American government, and you can’t find a job in this economy—just go and do what you want to do. There’s no reason not to. The Internet is there so you can teach yourself. You don’t need that piece of paper. Who says you have to have a degree. If you can fix my child I don’t give a fuck about a degree. We have to get to a point where people are doing things because they love what they’re doing. Whatever you want to do, just do it and be the best at it. Give 100 percent and there’s going to be a use for you in this world. So whatever you want to do, do it and never quit.
Download Murs songs or albums from the iTunes store here.
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