Imagine if a close friend of yours decided he would be running for president. The friend would be kind of different, right? Change is bound to face any presidential candidate, and not just in terms of campaign slogans. But, change can be good and/or bad. With the recognition and new position come more demands and loftier expectations. That’s what is currently going on the life of Murs [click to read], a self-proclaimed “underground king” who built grassroots, guerrilla styled success in the form of multiple albums, groups, DVD releases and his own Paid Dues festival. Now, he’s finally on a major label, striving to succeed in a world dominated by teen sensations and glamorized crime. Murs, who has released various solo EP’s and LP’s like Murs is Your Best Friend and The End of the Beginning [click to read], is out to prove he’s got what it takes to take over the mainstream world like he was rhyming over a Doors sample. Still, just to bludgeon the theme, the voters, meaning the fans, would have to decide if Murs could deliver the goods on his major label debut without compromising his DIY image and track-record.
Murs has always been known for his lyrical ability. “I’m Innocent,” “Science,” “Can It Be” and “Breakthrough” all show that he hasn’t lost that sharpness. The ink runs well with “A Part of Me” and “Think You Know Me.” The latter, where he spits from three different perspectives, is a cry against racial profiling and stereotypes. The unfairly judged perspectives show a good father/youth advisor from South Central, a well-read ex-con who is actually trying to get a job, and an educated Chicano tattoo artist who is “struggling” with his own parlor. The beauty of the track is in the connections each person has and how they are all seen solely as gangsters when there is much more to them, adding social commentary to gang life, unfair police practices and racial wars in Los Angeles. Whether spitting about a break up, his life, trying to make a change or about the history of rap, Murs is able to showcase versatility in flow and skill just as well, if not better than he has in the past.
On “Breakthrough,” Murs speaks to the message he is ultimately trying to convey to fans with his first mainstream record. “Don’t need no guns. I’ll take these drums and make the darkest days of your life seem fun. Loving life, I plug in mics to show the mainstream that these thugs ain’t tight.” Make no mistake about it, though. If you’ve been a longtime fan, you have never heard a Murs album like this. The instrumentation picked to back him on For President is plush. The cleanliness of DJ Quik’s mixing adds a smooth element to that beat selection. A combination of Terrace Martin, Snoop Dogg, will.i.am [click to read], Scoop Deville and 9th Wonder [click to read], among others, lay down a slew of strong beats to the LP’s tracklist. One after the other, “So Comfortable,” “Time is Now,” “Think You Know Me,” and “Me and This Jawn” all have a connected, traditional west coast bounce vibe that allows for a different, but welcome take on Murs’ flow. “Lookin’ Fly” may be his first national hit and “A Part of Me” is essentially a Rock song with Murs spittin’ throughout without sounding out of place as a rapper. Put simply, the album is diverse.
Positives can be negatives. With said diverse sound, cohesion is a problem. It’s hard to go from a soothing 9th Wonder beat to a Rock infused track. As good as both songs are, the cohesion is lost. It’s also odd to all of a sudden have that great block of west coast tracks in the middle of the album when the start and ending aren’t in sync with that theme. Lyrically, a couple songs don’t add as much to the pot. “So Comfortable” and “Lookin’ Fly” have a great vibe, but they lack in terms of the lyrical capabilities we know to expect from Murs. Also, repetition drags the album down near the end where four songs are dedicated to love. “Love and Appreciation,” “Me and This Jawn” [click to listen], “The Break Up Song,” and “A Part of Me” are for the most part good, but too much of the same can get old.
Overall, Murs for President has a message of encouragement through a positive perspective. “Don’t let the fact that you can’t be perfect stop you from doing your best,” he says before the album begins. On his major label debut, the underground emcee does just that as he stares down the lofty and new expectations and does his best to instill a good message, dope lyrics, good vibes, a wide-ranging beat selection and a new dynamic to the mainstream. Still, as he said, he isn’t perfect. The album does slip on occasion. But, Murs has the ability and versatility to bring the heat over almost every beat he’s given. Whether speaking on politics, the need for improvement or simply rhyming about his views, Murs is a front-runner in the rap race.
“You’ll never see your boy on the tube with gold fronts/It ain’t me. It never was/ You gotta do you and let it do what it does/I’ma be happy. Fame won’t trap me/ Catch me doin’ this for the money, then slap me/ There’s more to life. I’m better than that/I’m tryin’ to lift you up instead of settin’ you back.”
With that type of outlook for a mainstream album, we’ll see if success follows. With or without success, it’s a good representation of what Murs is about. It’s a good introduction for the mainstream because of its balance. For longtime fans who have been anticipating this break from the indie norm, Murs for President is worth the wait. It’s a change, but for the most part, a good one.