Murs Talks ‘Have a Nice Life’ Album, Respecting Women and Wisdom in Hip-Hop [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
West Coast representative Murs is a prime example of what a little life experience can do for you.
The 37-year-old rapper may have appeared to be a pretty level-headed guy throughout his career, but he's had his fair share of ups and downs and growing pains along the way, from his relations with women to his theories on the most effective ways to combat social injustice. But throughout it all, the one constant in Murs' life has been his music, which he's been releasing at a consistent pace dating back to the '90s.
With almost 20 years behind him since he emerged on the Cali rap scene, Murs has evolved into somewhat of an elder statesmen and has involved himself in the fight for equality amongst gays and minorities and has brought about a lasting change in his community.
The past few years may have been fruitful for Murs, but the last year-and-a-half found him experiencing a rebirth of sorts. Ever since inking a deal with Tech N9ne and Travis O'Guin's Strange Music label in early 2014, he's become a member of one of the strongest indie rosters in all of music. In addition, he felt a renewed sense of inspiration, which resulted in the making of his Strange Music debut, Have a Nice Life.
But along with the new album and label home, Murs is also at peace with his past shortcomings as a man and is looking to share his story of personal growth with the fans who have been riding with him, as well as the new ones that will surely come on board in the future.
We got the chance to speak to Murs via phone about the making of the album, his trials and tribulations, as well as the importance that love songs hold and why there needs to be more of them in hip-hop.
The Boombox: How did you come up with the title for the album?
Murs: It's funny, like I say every night on stage, it's like... for like dealing with the police and things like that and people in positions of authority that piss you off and know they're already intimidated 'cause you're a black man. Instead of telling someone to f--- off, I usually tell 'em, "Have a nice life." Like, I hope I'll never see you again. But at the same time, you know, when we do these shows and I meet thousands of people every year that are fans and friends for the evening and that's what I mean, "Have a nice life," 'cause I don't know the next time that I'm gonna see you.
It's just a way to be positive I think even when you wanna be negative. Telling someone to have a nice life could be a way to say f--- off, but I hope everything works out for you. I know that you might be having a bad day, officer, you may be having a bad day whoever's working at this store or messed up my order at Taco Bell, have a nice life. It was the best thing I could come up with. And also, it's just about how I feel about everything that's going on in our community. You are black, you are oppressed and all these odds are against you and it's like, "Why aren't you happy, why aren't you smiling?" They throw it all on your shoulders and tell you to have a nice life.
Was there a certain event in your life that triggered you to make this album?
I've been extremely focused [as of late] and I'm always creating. And at the time, I had just signed with Tech and [felt] it was my time to make my solo album and at the time my childhood friend, Jesse Shatkin, who produced the majority of my album, I had just reunited with him and I thought it would be perfect. But for me, this is a time of reinvention and rebirth signing to Strange [Music]. I had been making a lot of underground and art for art's sake projects -- sorta like a passion projects. And after my Warner Bros. experience, I was kinda sour on the whole industry.
This is my first attempt to really put myself back out there. For me, when I'm making an album, it's kinda representing an alternative version to the version of the black male that's being promoted in the media and I think with the J. Coles, the Kendricks, I think there's more of that being promoted and I wanna [help] aid in widening the box that people put young black males in. Or for me, I'm a middle-aged black man, I'm 37 so I'm making music for that perspective [as well].
I was angry and young at one point and was like, "F--- the police" and had a very militant stance and I feel like being more progressive and buying property in my community and providing decent housing for lower-income families instead of being a slumlord and using my money to invest in things like that and adopting children and sponsoring kids in Ethiopia and visiting Ethiopia and not just sending a check and getting a picture in the mail, but actually finding the kid that I wanna sponsor and building with their family and staying in touch with them and being on Facebook.
I've seen one go from elementary to high school and one go from high school to college and my influence on his life has inspired him to continue to get straight As and become a doctor in his community. These are things that both have seen and I want to be a part of it and be a factor so [that] I'm allowed to do things and speak in public. Like Killer Mike, who is now being invited to the White House Correspondence Dinner, I feel like I have to be out and be active in creating music that is truly revolutionary so that there's more people like me so we have a voice and we're not boxed into this tattooed, shirt off, gun-wielding, angry black male image.
What's the first song you recorded that jump-started the making of this album?
It was the song "No More Control." It was the first song I did with talking about what's going on right now. It was just telling my story of how I started out selling tapes on the street without the support of my mother and my father was never there and kind of being my own man and learning for myself and how that's evolved and being progressive, but just telling people, "No more being in control about what society says you have to be or what America expects you to be as a young black male just apart of this new generation." It's kind of [about] having respect for yourself and that's kind of what "No More Control" is about. And the third verse is speaking to actually what we've been talking about as far as people protesting police brutality and not protesting black-on-black crime.
Who produced "No More Control"?
Jessie Shatkin, a childhood friend of mine. We decided to work on this album together. Me and Jessie had stopped working together and he had started doing more pop stuff, so in the midst of us getting ready to work on this album, he had co-written and co-produced "Chandelier" for Sia, which was nominated for a Grammy and all this stuff and I was like, "Oh, do you still wanna do my little hip-hop record?" I mean he had the biggest pop record in America and was nominated for a Grammy, but he was still down to do it. So I'm really thankful to him and he's also provided me with a bigger sound that hopefully will appeal to more people which will help give my message a larger platform.
Did Jesse Shatkin handle all of the production or did you work with other producers as well?
I worked with a young producer out of Southern California named Curtis King on one track, another producer by the name of the Arsonist on the title track, "Have a Nice Life," and then my boys Mayday out of Miami did four songs. So Jesse did the majority, which is eight songs and then kind of oversaw how we picked out the beats from the other producers.
Do you have any guest features we can look forward to on this record?
The lady singing the hook on "No More Control" is named MNDR. She's a vocalist living in Los Angeles. She helped me write the hook and sung it beautifully. I also got something with Killer Mike as well. My home girl Raquel Rodriguez is on a song called "Mi Corazon," which is a Spanish/English song that I did which, for me, I had wanted to do for a long time since I heard a song called "Mentirosa" by Mela. And being from L.A. and being black, I still feel like part of my culture is Chicano culture and Mexican-American culture.
So I wrote the song in Spanish and English and wrote all the lyrics and had my homegirl come in and sing the hook, which is in Spanish and English as well. And me and my brother, King Fantastic, who just got out of jail. I went to visit him, had records for him when he came home and we had a conversation that turned into a song called "Two Step." And the only other feature I have is E-40, who as an artist is like my Rakim. We've become friends and associates over the past few years so I wanted to have him on a song, it's called "P T S D."
What was the one song you had the most fun doing as far as the recording process?
I feel like "Mi Corazon" was that song because I just always wanted to do a song in Spanish and English, but I wanted to sound like I had attempted it before and it came together perfect so it's like achieving a goal I felt I had for a while so that felt good to do that. And as far as other fun working in the studio, all the stuff I did with Mayday was extremely fun. You know, we could have a couple drinks and just so many people adding to the creative energy and my favorite song from that session would probably be "The Worst," which is a song about trying to stay faithful while being on the road and I kind of got to sing the hook like ODB or Biz Markie -- I can't sing for s--- [laughs]. So it was fun to just get in there and kind of let loose to have my homies encouraging me.
The subject matter is real and a temptation that I've felt trying to be a faithfully married man on the road and going from wilding out, whether it's Roxy Reynolds, giving her head live on Sirius Satellite Radio or dating porn stars and all kinds of other s--- I've done in the past to the past five years [and] only having sex with one woman. But I'm still in the same environment, I'm still touring and meeting all these girls, but just having the self-discipline and respect for myself and for my family to stay faithful and how hard that can be. 'Cause like I've said, I've met a lot of my favorite rappers growing up and found out they're married and I'm like, "Why'd you never talk about any of this s---?" you know.
It's funny 'cause my wife grew up listening to Suga Free, Too $hort, DJ Quik, Wu-Tang, and all this stuff and I can admit that sometimes subconsciously, when you're loving one woman and being faithful, in hip-hop culture, unfortunately, you're taught that you're being a sucker. You know, you're a simp, you're a trick. It's not too many songs celebrating fidelity. So even my wife might talks about it, it's weird so even some woman think subconsciously, "Oh, if he's treating me right and being faithful, then he's a bitch ass n----."
And then he's like "I am a sucker. F--- this bitch." But we have to overcome that. It has to be more songs about genuine love and respecting ourselves and respecting our women and respecting the sanctity of marriage, if that's what you choose to do. I respect Suga Free for the lifestyle he chose and I think it's entertaining and he's an amazing artist, but I'm not a pimp. We're all not pimps, we're all not gangsters, so where are the songs for those people? And I've challenged myself to make those songs.
So "The Worst" is about being on the road and seeing a girl in the front row with double Ds and how it can bring out the worst in me. But I know that's the worst in me, so I'm not gonna celebrate it, like "Oh, I'm a player," because I f--- all these girls on the road and my wife doesn't know about it. I think that can be a bad thing. And whether I stay married or not, I want that to be a part of my journey and my public life so everybody's not just seeing the glam and the glitz. I'm not Kanye, I'm not Jay Z, if I cheat on my wife, it's not gonna be TMZ [there] to let anyone know. I feel I have more freedom to f--- up than some of these other public figures. But that doesn't mean I should.
What kind of content can new listeners as well as longtime fans expect from Have a Nice Life and how does it fit in comparison to your previous work?
I feel like there was an article or a Venn diagram they did in Spin magazine where they labeled me a "blue-collar rapper" and feel that I make country-ish or maybe white American type music, but it's just everyday music for the everyday man. It's not for the ballers, it's not for the thugs, it's not for the left-wing, militant, revolutionary. It's just music about love and life. I feel like reggae music is kind of like country music for black folks, it's just honest music from the heart that hopefully can get you through some hard times and that's what I feel we're doing at Strange Music.
There's so many kids come up to Tech [N9ne] and come up to me, like, "I was gonna kill myself, but I heard this song and felt like you were speaking to me." So my fans can expect songs that speak to their life experience even more so now because me and my wife have gone to marriage counseling and our marriage counselor happened to be an older gentleman from the Bronx that's about 50 [years-old] and he said "Oh, you rap? I am hip-hop. I grew up on Coney Island and we used to have to soak our shoelaces in water overnight and then stretch 'em out and iron 'em in the morning and that's how we made fat laces."
But I'm not mad at some of these younger rappers like some of my other friends are because Melle Mel made "The Message" when he was 22. Chuck D was 25 when he made his first record. He had [the life] experience to make those kind of songs, he was going to college. But now you're just throwing a microphone in the hands of a 18-year-old, so of course he's gonna say, "S---, bitch, motherf---er, kiss my ass," you know.
But as an older male, I actually have something to talk about now. I'm not disregarding my past catalog, but the fact that I've been married and I've been raising children and I've traveled the world a couple of times and I've been in and out of relationships and I've f---ed up then I got it right, now I feel like I can be someone like a Smokey Robinson, to be grandiose about it. Or a Stevie Wonder where I can write music with my experience 'cause a lot of the kids haven't experienced s---.
Rap is one of the few genres where young people write and record their music. Like, Jackson 5 wasn't writing those songs. Smokey was writing those songs. Because he had been in love and he had been through the ups and downs in life. And most R&B is written by someone else [other than the artist] who has experience. Rap is written by a bunch of young people who haven't been through s---. And if you f--- around and get a hit record when you're young, you never really experience real life.
You're still writing from the perspective of a child actor so you don't really have any authentic material. And as a rapper, even a blue-collar rapper, I still have hard work and life experience to share and, to me, an infinite amount of experience and a little bit of wisdom. I feel like I'm almost at the understanding part. I have a lot of wisdom to impart and I have understanding of what I feel life is about so now I actually have something to share. I think this album represents a little bit of the wisdom and the understanding I've gained.
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