Keith Murray has been misunderstood his whole rap career. He has been called everything from a menace, to a sh** starter. None of these qualities Mr. Murray completely denies, but what you can’t deny is that the man has talent.
He is a self-described “lyrical genius” and definitely someone whose vocabulary alone is more than enough to put any new school rapper in his place. What Murray has that a lot of new school rappers lack is a sense of talented charisma. Yeah, he may not be your first choice for role model, but when you get down to the basic requirements of a legendary MC, Keith possesses those elements — the expanded vocab’ to the stage presence, all the way to his sheer ability to command an audience at his whim. This is why Keith can still sell out a venue. This is why he can be out the game for damn near ten years, come back and drop a single and it goes to the top of the charts.
This is why Keith Murray is still, and will always be, our favorite rapper.
BallerStatus.com: Keith, they call you a master of vocabulary. Why do you think you were given that title?
Keith Murray: Because I have an extended vocabulary and my lyrics separate myself from other MCs. You really don’t get a lot of rappers that play off words and articulate all five syllable words and all that sh**.
BallerStatus.com: Did you do anything in particular to make yourself wordy? Did you read a lot? Did you read dictionaries? How did you develop that skill?
Keith Murray: I started writing rhymes way before I ever thought of a record deal. In the course of writing rhymes, I was a real studious student. I use to write rhymes in class when the teacher was talking, or I would read a book and catch on to words that stood out to me and incorporate them into my raps. That’s all I basically did was create these paragraphs of vocabulary mixed with street life.
BallerStatus.com: You saying it was mixed in with whatever you knew? Whatever was going on around you?
Keith Murray: Exactly.
BallerStatus.com: What’s the meaning behind the title of the new album?
Keith Murray: Rap-Murr-Phobia. The fear of real hip-hop. It coming out July 31st. It’s produced by Erik Sermon. The new single is called “Nobody Does It Better,” featuring Tyrese.
BallerStatus.com: That’s hot by the way.
Keith Murray: You like that?
BallerStatus.com: Yeah I do honestly.
Keith Murray: Thank you. I appreciate the kindness. Rap-Murr-Phobia is the fear of real hip-hop. Hip-hop is taking a real beating right now. The media is attacking it. The Liberals are attacking it saying hip-hop is the cause of the woes of society. At the same time, Murray has been through controversy as far as hip-hop goes. So, I put it together with my last name and Rap-Murr-Phobia. It’s time to let real hip-hop shine and stop being scared of it. Stop being so touchy f***ing feely all the time.
BallerStatus.com: Right, extra sensitive and attacking it.
Keith Murray: Yeah because they fear it. They fear it’s going to come on and they are not going to be able to control it. They not going to be able to bring money from it. They not going to be able to tell the artists “don’t do this” and “don’t do that” and it’s gonna shine. So Rap-Murr-Phobia is now an analogy to the fear of the haters and the so called establishment.
BallerStatus.com: Why we on the subject of people hating on hip-hop? What’s your opinion about Nas saying that “hip-hop is dead?”
Keith Murray: I understood what Nas said when he said that “hip-hop is dead.” It means it’s dead as we know it. It’d dead as anybody just can’t do it. It’s dead as being original. It dead as representing the real feel, it’s commercialized. Different society’s go on they own form of hip-hop. They don’t even f*** with our hip-hop.
BallerStatus.com: Do you think at this point in hip-hop that anybody can do it and be successful at it? Is that the point we have come to in hip-hop where anybody can just come and call themselves a rapper?
Keith Murray: You don’t even gotta be talented to be considered exceptional in the profession. Mediocrity is the standard status quo.
BallerStatus.com: There you go using those big words! (laughs)
Keith Murray: (laughs) A man jump out and be like, “This n**** got a little look. Ok, we gonna get you a management and label.” And then the label be like, “Can he do this and that?” Then they shape and mold it and put it on the airwaves and there you have it. It’s to the point where the sh** is so mediocre and so redundant and so much fallacy involved, that it’s haywire. But yea, there is no originality. Everybody is doing the same thing.
BallerStatus.com: Okay, I can agree with that. What do you think is the biggest difference between you being on Koch records as opposed to Def Jam?
Keith Murray: Well, God damned, I got the no. 2 added record in urban radio across the country. Def Jam did not do that for me. They gave me two million up front. I’m looking at it like, “I can get that on the back end by supplying my core audience and getting them to go get the record.” It’s always the good and the bad. Koch has did more for me now with less money than the major has in my last go around. The money is different. You got enough money to play around with on Def Jam. On Koch, you gotta be conscious about your bottom line dollar because it all goes on your back end. Def Jam get on your back end and you still be in the motherf***ing hole if you sell two million. You know what I’m saying?
BallerStatus.com: Right, I get you.
Keith Murray: Money up front in the majors and in the indies, you get it at the back end.
BallerStatus.com: Was that the main reason why the relationship between you and Def Jam fell through? Was there any other reasons?
Keith Murray: The main reason why the thing at Def Jam fell through is because seeing as Kevin was leaving and if you look at Def Jam now, they are not there. The artists that was under them that came out, like Mariah and 112… I became dissatisfied.
BallerStatus.com: So do you feel like you wasn’t getting enough attention on Def Jam?
Keith Murray: It just wasn’t a good fit at the time. I’m not here to bash anybody. They gave me money to feed my family for a while. They gave me a shot. The way they wanted me to make records, I’m not accustomed to making records. I don’t have A&R’s telling me to go do this and go do that. Instead of saying, “Go back to your original formula and give us what you make.” Here, I’m making sh** and going to the label and they loving it instead of saying “Oh, it’s okay.” That discourages a person; it takes the fun out of it.
BallerStatus.com: Yeah, especially an artist.
Keith Murray: Yeah, especially an artist.
BallerStatus.com: How do you think you have managed to have such longevity in rap?
Keith Murray: Erick Sermon.
BallerStatus.com: Why do you say that?
Keith Murray: He is the producer of over 99 million records, so he knows how to make records for Keith Murray that will transcends boundaries of time.
BallerStatus.com: How did you come to meet him?
Keith Murray: I’m from Strong Island and Kesoro was older than us. He used to ask me “Do you wanna do an album?” Because he from the hood and he heard me flowing. He be on the block hustling and he come through and I just be out rhyming, rhyming, rhyming. One time I was like “Take me to E house.” I went over there, knocked on the door and E came to the door. I was like “Oh sh**.” He brought me downstairs and put me on. Every since then, I been tearing sh** down.
BallerStatus.com: Do you think you changed your formula on this album?
Keith Murray: I went to the original formula. I sat down. I looked at what my history was. What I made? How I made it? What my mind state was like at that time before the jail stint and all that. When I was at my freest. I captured that moment. I listen to records and I could remember where I was at. How I did it. I went back to that formula.
BallerStatus.com: Right, right. Which one of your albums would you say is your favorite?
Keith Murray: Well, Most Beautiful is my favorite, but Enigma is my hardest.
BallerStatus.com: Why do you say that’s your hardest?
Keith Murray: The subject matter. Most Beautiful was more lyrical, but Enigma was harder.
BallerStatus.com: As far as your formula and how rap is being more controlled by the big record labels, do you think that that puts more pressure on you subconsciously to want to change your formula?
Keith Murray: Well, before when I was on Def Jam, it did. They wanted me to be something that I didn’t know how to be. I just know how to be myself. I went and made this album by myself with Erick Sermon and handed it to Koch and they produced the hit.
BallerStatus.com: Okay. They give you freedom.
Keith Murray: It’s every where now, it’s blowing up. I never had it in my mind like, “Yo, I wanna make a crossover record.” I just wanted to make a record and then it crosses over. That was the formula, but Def Jam wasn’t feeling that.
BallerStatus.com: It’s like something was missing with Def Jam?
Keith Murray: Yeah it was something missing. I was looking for a boutique situation, but it was more like a corporate one.
BallerStatus.com: Okay, I feel you on the not fitting. At what point did you know that music was what you wanted to do with rest of your life?
Keith Murray: When my uncle use to bodyguard Big Daddy Kane. So me and my cousin was in the cafeteria, I’ll never forget this. I was in like tenth or eleventh grade. I was nice because I was doing it since I was like twelve. He used to b-box. God bless the dead. His name was AKA Knockout, he passed away in 91, he got killed. So, I was like, “F*** it, let’s just go to Uncle Paul and get a deal. He can put us on.” We use to go with him to the shows, but they really never knew I got busy. Uncle Paul took us on our audition for the Juice Crew. Nothing never happened with that. I just went in Brooklyn and was battling at every project and then Erick Sermon came along. I never really made a demo or nothing like that, I just was rocking.
BallerStatus.com: So everything happened fast?
Keith Murray: Not really. It happened when I pursued it. I was with Erick for like two years before I got on a record. He was just breaking up with EPMD. He went to Atlanta for a while; I was still doing my thing in the streets or whatever. Then he came back and we made that record “Hostile” and it blew up.
BallerStatus.com: Ok, I know you said that there are some things about rap now that you don’t like. What are some of the things about rap that you do like?
Keith Murray: Black people making money expressing themselves, traveling, setting trends, showing the world that we are capable of handling our business.
BallerStatus.com: That’s true because rap is cross cultural. It’s in India, Pakistan, everywhere.
Keith Murray: Everywhere and they know Keith Murray too. That’s the sick sh**. They know this man. I spend a lot of time over in Europe and if I could tie all my fans on one page and get them to buy records, then I’m good.
BallerStatus.com: How does that feel when you go places like Europe and people over there know you and your music?
Keith Murray: It’s crazy because I want people over in the U.S. to know how big I am overseas. It is huge.
BallerStatus.com: How do they react to you?
Keith Murray: They be like “Oh sh**! It’s Keith Murray!” I could be in Paris, n**** get on they feet and hop. I could be a Buddha. It’s crazy.
BallerStatus.com: (laughing) It’s gotta be kind of humbling too.
Keith Murray: Yeah because these n****s over here be swearing they the sh** and they don’t even know them out here.
BallerStatus.com: Damn, that’s so true. They think they are so hot because of the notoriety and they getting their singles here, but they haven’t really made an impact on rap yet.
Keith Murray: Yeah you be like, “You know such and such” and they be like “Who? Nah, but we know Keith Murray.”