In celebration of his 40th birthday, MURS dropped his fourth album on Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label last week, titled A Strange Journey Into the Unimaginable.
The new album archives the last few years of the L.A.’s rappers life, showing his true colors, reflecting on a time of adversity. Produced entirely by longtime Strange Music in-house producer Michael “Seven” Summers, the record is led by single “Same Way,” featuring Tech N9ne. Featured guest appearances range from rapper Propaganda on “Powerful,” John Givez on “Midtown,” and Fashawn and Prof assist MURS on the recently released “G Lollipops”, among others.
We met up with MURS on his special day at the Strange Music offices in Los Angeles for an in-depth conversation about his latest work of art. MURS opens up about wanting to touch lives, encourage and inspire people with his new music, while he also detailed the opening track on the album “Unimaginable,” where he raps about depression, his recent divorce and the death of his newborn son.
Happy birthday, happy release day! 3:16: you’re like the Stone Cold Steve Austin of hip-hop. How are you feeling?
That’s a great one, I love being the Stone Cold Steve Austin of hip-hop. F*ck man, yea it’s good. It’s a good day. 45 is like — How people celebrate 40… I’m going to celebrate at 45. They say traditionally over the hill is 40. I feel like it’s been pushed now. I think it’s cool, you can rap well into your 40s now and rap well. So, I’m ready to see what comes.
Did you enjoy your birthday party last night?
Too much. Yea. It’s the first party I can recall enjoying ever, I think. You know what? I turned 20 one year at SXSW, and that was a rager. Last night was less of a rager for everyone, but more of a rager for me. I don’t think everyone was having as much fun as me. I don’t know if that was possible. I had a great time.
Let’s talk about the album. What can you say about the album title, A Strange Journey Into the Unimaginable?
It was something I came up with after seeing Hamilton. I’m really into musicals and I remember Hamilton was talking about losing his son and they use the word “unimaginable” in the song a lot. I was like, “That’s how you describe it.” My wife and I just lost our newborn and it was a way to put it into words. I wanted to use Strange because this is my last contracted album on Strange. Who knows what’s next. I wanted to put “strange” in the title ’cause it’s been a strange journey. I think originally it was going to be My Strange Journey and then I made it super long and un-hashtag-able, but it felt right.
You said this was your “most personal album.” Why is this album so important to you?
‘Cause I don’t know where it’s going to go after this, my career. I know I want to rap longer, but to me, this is my free agent year. It’s my last contracted album. What I’m going to do next depends on how well this album does and what it does. Also, it’s the most important album of my career because it’s coming off my worse commercial performance as far as an album.
It had a lot to do with me not being able to support the record. My son died two weeks after the album (Captain California) came out. So, it was partially the reason it didn’t perform. ‘Cause I didn’t support it. Now, this is like coming back from that and coming back from one of the worst moments of my life. This album means a lot. It could dictate the rest of my career.
You stepped into the studio more towards the end of the year in November. What would you say was your most memorable studio session?
We got to do a session where they did Life of Pablo. We did a couple days there. Those sessions were good, like that whole moment. One of those days we did “Unimaginable.” Seven made the beat there, I wrote the lyrics. We kind of just did that one in the moment. It’s the first song on the album. It was also the last song we did. It’s also where John Givez came through, Propaganda came through, Patrick Paige from The Internet played bass on a couple songs. All the musicians, Chuck Treece, my cousin Kris Bowers, everybody came through there to add stuff to the album. Just good memories of those sessions. It was two days I think.
There’s a line in “The Unimaginable” where you talk about laughing at Tyrese’s tears. Can you explain what you meant by that, and why his situation resonated with you?
‘Cause it was a thing on the internet. You know he was going crazy over the custody battle for his daughter I believe. People kept posting memes about it. It’s so sad. The last album had a song called “God Bless Kanye West” that didn’t resonate with people at all. They were just like, “F*ck him.” People hate Kanye West a lot and I’m like, “Why? People are going through things and you don’t understand people.” They ridiculed him. To me, it’s so cowardly the way they treated Tyrese during that time. I don’t agree with him dissing The Rock and all that sh*t. That’s whatever, but when someone is talking about their child and their pain and they’re putting it out there, they don’t deserve to be ridiculed. So, I didn’t think it was funny at all.
You know, you see something trending — #Tyrese. I’m like, what happened with Tyrese? I look and I’m like, “This is it? This is what we’re doing? We’re shaming this man for being emotional?” Maybe he was over the top. Maybe he was going crazy, but have you ever been separated from your child? I was just going through that with the divorce and I don’t see my son as much as I have to. I’m driving 32-hour round trips to see him once a month to spend a week with him. Sh*t gets hard man. You have to go to work every day and for him (Tyrese), people expect you to take selfies with them. You’re gonna snap at some point. We have to stop shaming people, you know? But, people say you have to stop putting it out there.
Don’t you think that sometimes putting it out there inspires and helps people who are going through similar situations?
It was inspiring for me to see. He (Tyrese) puts everything else out there, but it was not Black Twitter’s greatest moment.
You touch on some deep subjects on this album. Do you think that there should be more talk about depression and mental health issues in hip-hop?
I think there could be. You know what I mean? Maybe hip-hop is not the forum for that, but I feel like it is and I chose to do it. Should there be more of it? I think so.
Tell me how it was working with Seven, him being the producer for the entire project.
Yes, I think I work best like that. I love the albums I’ve done like that. Seven is someone I’ve wanted to work with since I signed to Strange. He does everyone’s album. Usually, there’s not a lot of time for him to do my record. As time lined up, and we had some talks, it seemed like it would work out. So, we just went for it. It was amazing. He was like, “Do you mind if I send you stripped down beats? And then once you come up with a topic and do your part, then I’m going to go back and build the music around you.” He was like, “A lot of artists don’t let me do that.” I was like, “Man, that’s all I want you to do.”
Then he would share with me — even though I don’t understand what the f*ck he’d be saying — he’d be like, “This is kind of like a pink-ish, purple-ish track.” He would send me colors and a whole paragraph or three paragraphs of what he was thinking when he made the beat. Not saying the subject matter but like, “With this sound, I think I’m gonna tweak this and blah blah blah,” then I would intake that. He would always say, “Before you listen to the beat, read the email.” Then I read the email and listen to the beat and then I would come back with the song. It was a real exchange of energy. I rarely got that type of information from a producer, so it was good.
You know when it comes to Strange, they have a real cult-like fan base. How has being signed to Strange Music introduced your music to a new audience?
Working with the Strange label has introduced me to their amazing fanbase. Some people care for me. Some people don’t. A lot of them don’t. I make such different music. I think I injected something different into Strange, a different kind of music. Super more emo. Well, Tech is kind of emo in his own way, but it’s not fast. You know what I mean? I don’t rap fast. Most of my songs are not about partying. A lot of these kids are partying. This album is kind of dark.
I came to Strange to be kind of like, the light. That’s what I wanted to do, bring some levity to the label and a different kind of hip-hop. Some people have been open to it and I’m so grateful for them cause they are die-hard supporters. Strange put me on a platform where I have fans for life now, I think.
On the song “Same Way,” with you and Tech, how much of that story is true?
Um, very little of that story is true. My ex-mother-in-law didn’t care for me very much, but other than that — You know what? Now that I think about it, wow, I’m just old and forget sh*t. Yea, I had a girlfriend who had a racist stepfather and he had half-black kids. I was like, “This is crazy that you say n*gger, and you have black kids but you don’t want your step-daughter dating a n*gga?” So, I guess some of that energy is from there. I don’t think anybody’s sister has ever tried to get at me, I’m not that handsome.
When I heard the beat, I thought it would be a fun song. Tech wasn’t our first choice for the track. Then when the change-up came in, it was perfect. Who else? Also, I was like, “Is Tech gonna have something for this? This is kind of too whimsical and funny for him.” And then, he was just perfect. He smashed it. Seven did the beat, so he knew how to cater Tech, ’cause he’s done 90% of Tech’s albums. It was just dope. It worked.
How did “G Lollipops” come about with Fash and Prof?
We went on a tour called “Road to Paid Dues” in 2013 and we had such fun. We never did a song together and I’ve been waiting. It’s kind of like Tech, I never wanted to force it. I heard that beat and I was like, “Perfect, this is dope.” The chorus just came when I heard the beat instantly. It didn’t make any sense, but it makes sense.
Why wasn’t Fash in the video?
I think Fash was in a car accident on the way to the airport. Yea, so he missed his flight of course, but we had to still shoot. It’s f*cked up what happened to Fash but then, that morning, I had to wake up and come up with a new verse. I had to write another verse for the video ’cause they built a whole set for us with three rooms. The first one was mine, the second one was supposed to be Fash’s. It was supposed to be one continuous shot and they had put all this effort into it. I had to go into the studio that morning and record the verse, learn the verse, and then come downstairs to shoot it.
Talk about “Lo-Fi Nights”… what’s “Lo-fi music?”
Low fidelity. I think it’s less audible quality, kind of dirty, crunchy. That was something Seven sent me. He was just like, “This one is called Lo-fi” and he was trying to describe it to me. “I’m gonna put this sound in there and technically, I’m gonna make it real lo-fi.” It was the first beat he sent me for the album. I just looked at the title and read his email like he said. I was like, “I kind of understand what you’re saying but not really.” He was like, “This is kind of blue-ish, purple-ish.” I was like, “Alright” — And that’s what came out.
It was super slow and it sounds like — There’s a sound in there that sounds like a baby crying and I was like, “Yo, you know my son just died, and you sent me this beat with this f*ckin’ baby crying in it and it bugged me the f*ck out.” So, it took me to a really dark place but I was like, “Alright Seven, this is the first song we’re gonna do together.” I was literally watering my grass, listening to this beat crying. I was like, “Alright, here we go.” Then when I told him, he was like, “It’s not a baby crying and I didn’t even think that. That’s so f*cked up. I’m so sorry, that’s not even where I was going with it.” I was like, “Yea man, that’s exactly where I went.” It’s one of his favorite songs. I didn’t even know if people were going to connect to it.
On the song “Powerful”, you mention letting rappers rap and storytelling is an essential skill that rappers should have. For example, you do a really great job of storytelling songs like “Superhero Pool Party,” or even “A Lean Story.” Do you think storytelling is important in making good music?
Oh yeah, I think it’s our basis, what music was originally for. That’s how especially people of color communicated. We weren’t written people. When I was younger, I went on tour in Australia and rented a car and drove to the outback. I was fortunate enough to have some friends doing a hip-hop workshop, ’cause you’re not allowed to just go to visit the reservation or make contact with the native people really, unless they welcome you in. So, they invited me and I got to meet them and learn their history. They don’t have a word anything over two — like the number two. Anything over two is a mob they say. Like, “Go grab that mob of bananas.” Or “You mob come over,” instead of “you three,” cause it just didn’t matter how much you had. If you had more then two it’s too many. That’s the mindset of the people and they didn’t have a written language and their religion was called Storytime or Dreamtime and it was never written down. There’s no bible. There was just oral tradition and you tell the story and that’s it. This is one of the cultures that are super untouched, you know what I mean? This is how people originally did things. Songs were meant to carry tradition, legacy, message, meaning, the story of your tribe, the story of your people. I feel like we’ve gotten away from that as we’ve gotten too much into the written word or just relying on technology and books. Especially for people of color, history and printed history is not always fair to us. So, I think it’s important we tell our stories and get good at storytelling and it can even be silly stories like, “Superhero Pool Party.”
How do you feel about being a husband and a father? Those were two huge themes in the album.
Yea, as I got into this business, I’ve met some of my favorite rappers. Turns out they’re great fathers and great husbands. One particularly being E-40, he’s my Rakim. I love E-40 and he’s a great dad and a great husband. So, I wish I knew more about that as I listen to his music. Some people keep their personal life a personal life. I completely get it but I’m like, “Yo, I want to put more of that out there.” ‘Cause I’m a failed husband and I don’t think people talk about that. I don’t like to put a fault on anyone else you know? It’s not my ex-wife’s fault and in my marriage, we broke up not because infidelity or not because of abuse. It just wasn’t working. We weren’t able to make it work and it’s okay to say this isn’t working.
I felt like a failure at the time and it’s okay. You fail and then you try again. That’s the most important thing that my mom taught me. I would call her and I’d be crying like, “I don’t want to get a divorce. If I’m gonna get a divorce I’m going to feel like a failure.” She was like, “Am I a failure? I’ve been divorced two times, so what are you saying about me? You’re the one who convinced me to get a divorce the second time and you gave me the ultimatum and you told me it was okay to move on and it took me a while to hear that. So, now I’m here reminding you of what your 13-year-old self told me so many years ago. If you feel like it’s time for you to move on I’m going to support you and you can’t beat yourself up about it.” I wanted to give that strength to others in my music. However you see it, it’s okay to be divorced, it’s okay to be married and it’s okay to want to be monogamous again.
When I got divorced I was like, “I don’t hate being married, I just didn’t like being married to that person.” Another thing too was not being venomous about my ex-wife on a record like so many other guys. I didn’t want to be that ’cause that’s not how I felt. You know, when you’re not connecting with your partner, it may be time to move on. Some people stay together for their kids, but then the kids are not around love. It’s okay to move on if you feel like you really have to. That’s why I like saying “failure” ’cause I gave it my all and it just didn’t work out. Sometimes in life, you give your all and it’s not gonna work and it’s ok. I learned that.
The same thing like watching my new wife carry a baby for weeks and the baby dying. Like, looking at your partner and being like, “Ok, the baby is dead and you still have to push this motherf*cker out.” I’m like holding her hand and looking into her eyes and living that moment. There’s nothing you can compare to that. She also inspired me ’cause she got pregnant right away. She was like, “Lets go.” That just blew my mind like, that strength. She’s given me strength again and I wanted to give that strength to people. So, I want to talk about being married. I want to talk about being a dad because being a dad is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m an adoptive parent, so I’ve never had the chance to raise a natural born child. This is going to be my first natural born child or second technically, but it’s going to be my first chance to raise it and it’s going to be amazing. I can only imagine. I love being a dad and it’s not celebrated enough in hip-hop culture and in black culture in general. Monogamy and parenthood are two of the best things that ever happened. Having a life partner and growing with that person, even if it means growing apart, like my ex-wife, still, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
At one point I realized, any kid who was raised on hip-hop has to think about — when you’re with a monogamous person, and you were raised on hip-hop, you were raised to think you’re a sucker. Both of you guys. Man, I’ve listened to countless hours, probably hundreds of thousands of hours of people telling me “Bitches ain’t sh*t,” “Only sucker n*ggas fall in love,” “You’re trickin’ if you’re faithful” — all this sh*t is in our heads. Now, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, this is on your subconscious believe it or not. And you have to try and be monogamous, but in your mind, as a woman, “N*ggas ain’t sh*t,” “He’s trickin” or if he’s really faithful to you, “He’s a sucker.” For the guy, in the back of his head, he feels like a sucker for loving you and thinks you’re some “Dirty bitch,” and it’s there and we’re not talking about it.
Not only are we not talking about it, we’re not making music to the contrary.
20 years in the game, is there any artist that you haven’t worked with yet that you want to?
I just set it wide. Jaden Smith and Dr. Dre. I’d like to write Detox for Dr. Dre.
Sometimes when listening to your music I feel your voice sounds a little like Dre?
Yea, people started saying that and Dre technically was never one of my favorite rappers. He’s not a rapper you know what I mean? I do love his voice. Someone said that and I’m like, “I do.” When I get into certain beats, I want to be Dre. Like “Mid-town”, I wrote that for Dr. Dre. I would love Dr. Dre to say that rap ’cause I don’t do it justice. I would love to have him rap that. So yea, that would be my dream job, to write Detox.
I saw a comment on your new video on Youtube, someone said, “I feel crappy for only knowing Murs from his segments on HipHopDX. I knew he was a rapper but I never heard any of his work, then I saw this video released on my favorite rappers channel? This is pretty ill.” How do you feel knowing young heads are discovering your new music and going back to study your older catalog?
Oh, I think it’s beautiful and I’m really, really, really thankful for streaming services. Now it’s free for kids to go do history on music and not just my music. You know if I wanted to learn about The Beatles, I’d have to spend $20 dollars on The Beatles Anthology. And maybe I don’t really like The Beatles. I did that with The Rolling Stones, and I did not like The Rolling Stones. I spent so much money getting their albums. I bought all these records and was like, “This is not my jam. I’m not into this.” So, I think kids can experiment for free. I’m thankful. For me personally, just in general I think it’s going to be so good for music worldwide.
A lot of heads now know you from the HipHopDX Breakdown videos on Youtube. For the record, can you break down your top five groups of all time and top five producers of all time?
That’s difficult. Public Enemy, Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, Freestyle Fellowship, and I’m going to have to go with EPMD. I don’t have an ear really or production. It will probably sound off, but I’ll say El-P, Anthony Davis of Atmosphere, 9th Wonder, DJ Quik and Shock G.
For producers, I think that there is a different level, like Dr. Dre and Puff Daddy are on a whole other level. I love them as well. I would love to be produced by either one of those ’cause I think they bring the best out of their vocalist. For me, Wu-Tang and Tupac are not to be discussed with top rappers or top groups. When you talk about play writes, you don’t say “Oh Shakespeare is my top five, he just is the god,” and then there are other play writers under. I feel like Wu-Tang, Dre and Diddy are kind of like up there ’cause they’ve crafted so many great rappers. They can make you love a rapper. I’ve been in the studio with Kurupt and seeing Snoop. People that I’ve witnessed rap, coming from that school, there’s just a level of professionalism. Maybe he’s always been that great at his craft, or is it years of working with Dre? I heard he’s a taskmaster and that’s what I love. A lot of people don’t take it that seriously, and I take my craft seriously. I heard it’s fun in his sessions, but I want to get in there and work and I want to become a better rapper. I want to perfect my craft. At this point, I feel like there’s not much that producers can teach me. Anthony from Atmosphere is one of those people I love working with because he grills you. You’re not going to get away with any bullsh*t in his session. He’ll tell you, “Motherf*cker that was wack. You gotta do that sh*t again.” But then, he’ll say “How about you say something like this?” or “Say it like that.” I love that.
A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable is available now here.