Murs is on that, “positive-get-a-lot-of-money-quick-Rasta-ass-gang-bangin-backpacker-Crip-shit” on his entirely Ski Beatz-produced album, Love & Rockets, Vol. 1: The Transformation. At least that’s how he describes it on “S-K-I-B-E-A-T-Z” (featuring Locksmith) - a futuristic shout out to the seemingly limitless range of the BluRoc beat maker, littered with nimble quips over a disgustingly anthemic backdrop. The entire song is awesome really, but two subtle bars within form a resounding parable for this album and the broader industry simultaneously: “Rap is easy / Career, that’s the hard part / Niggas starting out this year and think they Mozart.” Murs has seen it all - and just about said it all - in his nearly two decades of professional rhyming. On L&R, he somehow still finds ways to come out fresh.
It’s impressive to hear the southern California Emcee consistently embed life lessons in his raps, putting his years of experience in perspective for newer generations. “Reach Hire” tells the story of the independent artist made good - his own story - over Ski’s jazzy blings and keys and live drums, while “316 Ways” demands individuality as the means to break a consolidated record industry’s lockdown on artistic integrity. Louisiana's, Dee-1 resonates exponentially on “Dream,” as he and Murs trade verses on future fatherhood. It’s enough to stand and applaud in the presence of reality raps that truly rep for real people. Murs, Ab Soul and O.C. all sound like lyrical super heroes on “Life And Time,” teaming up for a cross-generational run on the establishment. The Living Legend implores heads to “Clean your money up / It’s a recession / It’s the perfect time for coming up,” while O.C. derides the ubiquity of 360 deals over Ski’s climactic horns and scoliosis-inducing snares. Ab Soul snatches the spotlight on this Collaboration Of The Year contender, ironically kicking originality in a Slim Shady-esque octave:
“If it wasn’t for this Hip Hop ish / I probably lose it / The real thinker / Don’t confuse me with Confucius / Cut on your blinker / Get it right I’m the prototype / I spit like I mix chemicals in beakers / Way before I heard my words thumpin out of a speaker / I knew I was too cool to play follow the leader / Everything thing I do goes over the head of over achievers / We can discuss this over lunch / It’s over when I dump my feces”
Murs’ storytelling ability is a large part of what’s cemented his longevity. He’s always honest; always outside the box; always willing to address the seldom addressed (think: “Dark Skinned White Girl” off Murray’s Revenge). L&R is loaded with narratives - some lively (“Eazy E” and “Remember To Forget” ), some lackluster (“Hip Hop & Love” featuring Tabi Bonney and “67 Cutlass”) - but none more compelling than “Animal Style.” Embassy the Hitmaker and Royal P craft some extraterrestrial concoction sounding like a minimalistic melding of Jimi Hendrix meets Rick Rubin and Murs improbably tells the tale of a closeted high school homosexual who murders his boyfriend then commits suicide, just so the two could be together. It’s brave. It’s visceral. It’s unheard of in Hip Hop. Bravo.
L&R’s shots of riskiness and emphasis on contextual relevance propel this project past it’s humdrum offerings like “International” and “West Side Love,” keeping replay value intact. Joints like “Animal Style” and “Life And Times” and “S-K-I-B-E-A-T-Z” are welcome reminders of how fresh rap can still sound, even in an over saturated industry; even by an emcee and a producer both approaching twenty years of activity. If maintaining a career really is the hard part, Murs and Ski Beatz are still making it look easy.