» The Living Legend weighs in on transformation and having Damon Dash as a running coach.
Only a couple years shy of the 20th anniversary of his first single, MURS might not have strived for longevity since day one, but he rolled with a crew that recognized its value by calling themselves the Living Legends collective. Recently married and anticipating the release of his album produced entirely by Ski Beatz, MURS sees himself in transformation. We discussed his transformation, which is a process that includes growth as a rapper in order to not fall into the stagnant persona of the rapper that never ages. But we began with getting to the bottom of why he's the first rapper to ever agree to an interview time before 2 p.m. He shattered the record by taking a phone call at 10 a.m.
Are you a rapper who is up early to greet the day?
Oh yeah, I’m all about it, man. I just ran a few miles.
Considering the injuries you’ve sustained on tours it sounds like you’re doing your best to take care of your body.
Yeah, I’m trying to stay healthy. On a perfect day I’d like to get up and run about four miles. Light weights. Push-ups. Sit-ups and eat something healthy. Been trying to do that. I’m almost vegan. I eat eggs.
Were you able to maintain that regiment while working with Ski Beatz on your album out at Camp Blu Roc?
I was kind of dreading Dame putting out that footage because he gets up early too. But, he woke up in the morning, saw me running and he was like “what the fuck are you doing?” (Laughs) But, I was like I’m running, man.
He started saying, “run this route and this route”, you know, he started being my coach. I was just jogging laps around the pool, but he was like “naw, go up the hills and around. “I was even like, “I can run on your grass? You’re not gonna be mad?” But, he said to go wherever. So yeah, he got some footage of me running one morning.
I try and run wherever I’m at. On tour I don’t do it because it’s overexertion from the show that night. But when I don’t have a show I try to do some type of cardio every day.
How was working with Damon Dash? He’s changed people’s perception of him after the early 2000s he was known as the dude pouring champagne everywhere in the Jay-Z videos. What sort of preconceptions did you have that broke down as you began working with him?
With him, I don’t know what to say and what not to say. It’s such a valuable relationship for me since he’s someone I’ve looked up to so long… for the right reasons. I never looked up to him because he was pouring champagne on women. I thought that was not cool. But his business acumen has always been something I admired.
He was everything I thought he’d be and more. He even said, “If I could go back and slap myself I would.” He understands that was not the way to live and that he put a lot of negativity out there for the hip hop community and black people in general. He’s way more spiritual now; eats healthy, exercises. He gives me tips on anger management now. He’ll tell me, “that’s your ego talking. You’ve got to let that go.” It’s weird to hear that coming from the ego maniac that was.
So not only in carving new routes in DD172 and Blu Roc, but in general he’s reinventing himself?
He’s someone that’s learned from his mistakes and successes. He’s someone that’s changed and I can’t say that for a lot of people, especially rappers. They start off as being a pimp and a gangster and 20 years later, you’re still a pimp and a gangster. You may talk a little different, but your message really hasn’t changed.
At least with Dame, no one’s ever said, “Dame rhymed”. You know? That’s amazing to me that he’s never stepped on the mic. Like since Russell Simmons, and I guess Suge Knight – there’s very few. He’s always built people up from Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Jay-Z, Kanye, Beanie Sigel and Freeway.
Going into this project what was your favorite Ski Beatz beat? What’s a track he made that made you think, “I can’t believe I’m working with Ski, he made…”?
As we worked it kind of... well, we shot a video last week and someone said, “I’ve been a fan of Ski Beatz since he did the beat for 'The Rah Rah' by The Outsidaz." He did that? Oh, Shit.
I paid $9.99 for that CD at Amoeba because it was a rare CD to find not on the Internet. It’s one of those CDs I keep around. And there’s [Original Flavor's] “Can I Get Open?”. I know every word to it. I love this song. That was like ’89 [Beyond Flavor was released in ‘94] before Jay-Z was a big deal, no disrespect, and he was rapping super fast.
My third favorite is probably, I hate to say it, but it’s probably “Swing”, the b-side to “Luchini” by Camp Lo. That beat is just so hard. And finding out that he came up with a lot of the choruses for those hits he produced. It’s like wow, give me a fucking hook! Give me “This Is It”!
Where was Camp Blu Roc located?
Upstate New York.
Have you ever worked in an environment like that? Where you are tucked away from civilization?
I did a record like that awhile ago with 3MG (3 Melancholy Gypsies) where we rented a house out in the suburbs of London, but it wasn’t as beautiful as this. There’s a fucking Warhol on the wall of that place.
There’s a drum set. There’s a speaker system throughout the whole house. So you can write to a beat anywhere. I wrote songs on my iPad, while walking through this mansion looking over the side of a mountain, feeling like I was in some remote tropical jungle. You can go swimming any time you want. They have groceries delivered or you can drive the Jeep down to the town or explore the mountainside. So like that? No, never. To have luxury and wilderness is the perfect thing, for me. Some people like being in a tent and shit, but that’s not for me.
You titled this record Volume One: The Transformation. I’m curious as to what the conceit is behind that. What makes this record the transformation?
In cutting my hair and also coming to grips with meeting a lot of the younger people who do look up to me whether for business or as an actual musical influence has made me recognize that I am a veteran in the league now. I feel bad if Ab-Soul or one of the younger rappers were to say “I look up to you, man” and we’re out chasing the same chick or battling for the same tours.
The only thing I can think to say, and I’m trying not to use this term anymore, but it’s like How To Swag Out Your 30s, you know? A lot of rappers stay the same age forever. But, I’m married. I do charity work. I talk to [young rappers] like, you don’t have to do this now, but know you have to do this someday.
I’ve done my standing on tables in clubs nights, doing wild shit, and I lived. You live knowing you have something to get to. That’s why we lose people to O.D.s and HIV, shit like that. Or you know the kid from Cali Swag. Eyedea. We’ve lost a lot of rappers from people just not taking care of themselves. Hip hop has never grown up really and the people that do are outcasts. That doesn’t have to be the case.
I’m still figuring out. I’m not there, but hopefully by the next record it will be the declaration and after that is the emancipation.
You close the album out with the song “Animal Style”. Obviously it’s a song that’s going to raise some eyebrows since it’s a hip hop track that weighs in on a homosexual relationship. You’re basically taking a big leap by recording it. How you feeling about that?
(Laughs) Well, first of all thank you for listening to the record.
Definitely. I thought about cracking a joke regarding In-n-Out’s secret menu and that being the controversy of the song.
Yeah I don’t know what’s going to be worse or what they’ll be more mad about.
I won’t know until the record comes out. I’m not really concerned with what straight people think. I’m not gay. My big thing was asking, “should I write this?" It was just on my heart as weird as that sounds. Brother Ali touched on it on his last record and I feel like more of us need to start saying things.
The funny thing is, I’m not completely comfortable with homosexuality. It still weirds me out. But, unless we’re talking about it… I’m not here to say it’s right or it’s wrong. I’m not here to tell you what’s in the brief case, I’m just here to show you the light. If the song makes you uncomfortable, then why does it make you uncomfortable?
We can’t live in this hip hop bubble where homosexuality is wrong and that’s strictly how hip hoppers feel about it. I’m hoping it encourages other people to take a stand and hopefully somebody to come out because there are people living double lives and that has to be painful. It only ends poorly. If I can get the ball rolling in that direction, I’m all for it.
At the same time the song operates in a classic hip hop story-telling format, which you do several times on the album. If people are being judgmental of that song, you can look at it strictly as a story. Just like you said, you’re not living that life and by my estimation you’re probably also not living the [“67 Cutlass”] life of stuffing a cop in your trunk and driving out the desert. I hope…
I felt kind of weird about saying “pig in the trunk”. I don’t like using derogatory… in my mentality at that age, that’s the way I was. Everything is spun off reality, but definitely no cops in the trunk right now. That’s how about “Animal Style”, at the end of the day it’s just a story.
If it offends you, why? It shouldn’t. We need to be adults. You may not be comfortable with homosexuality, but you should never make someone feel so bad that they want to kill themselves. The shit is bullshit that does anger me. I can’t even front.
You’ve got Ab-Soul on the record. You were one of the first to show love to the Black Hippy crew. What kind of future do you see for those cats?
I told them two years ago you guys have the world at your hands. Don’t sell it to anyone. Don’t sell out for anyone. I think what they are doing [at Top Dawg Entertainment] is positive because there’s a lot of bloods and crips and just regular people working together over there. I told them whatever you guys do make sure it doesn’t just benefit you, but extends to your community. Because those guys working together, being from different neighborhoods hopefully makes it easier for other people to see they can work together.
Music wise, they are fucking phenomenal. They are so talented. Whatever I can do to assist them, to aid in their success… even though those guys don’t need me nor do they need anyone.
Was it weird to you at all that O.C. listed himself in his verse on “Life And Time” as one the most important MCs ever?
I didn’t even realize that until you said that. (Laughs) Naw, fuck that. If Rakim can call himself the God, O.C. can reference himself in a verse.
I was listening and it just stood out like, “oh, he’s going to list himself. Alright.”
All these features came so natural. Ab-Soul was on tour with me for two months and we became real good friends. With O.C., I was in Brooklyn at Ski’s house and he lives around the corner from Ski and Dame. He and Dame are super tight, which was weird to me too. The guy who made “Times Up” is cool with Dame Dash?
The first time he and Ski started talking I didn’t say anything. I just walked away. Later on we’re walking back to the store and he’s just outside on the block just chilling. I went to say what’s up and he was already like “I know who you are, man.” Fucking crazy! O.C.!
I’d just see him every day on my way to the store until finally he was asked what I was doing out there. I said I was doing my record, asked if he wanted to get on a song and he said no doubt.
You recently got married. Were any of your rapper friends groomsmen?
No rappers in the wedding, only family and friends. A rapper married us. A guy known as Brother Isaiah. My wife did walk down the aisle to “Tie the Knot” by Digital Underground and Shock G was there, so that was one of my top moments.
It was at a western amusement park and I was dressed in a space cowboy astronaut suit, which was awesome and Shock G dressed like The Undertaker. It was the greatest day of my life.
That’s what it’s supposed to be, might as well shoot to achieve that.
I didn’t even look at it like that or expect that. My wife she got a little minor Bridezilla and I was like this is bullshit. Then the day of, I woke up and it was raining and I was like this is bullshit. And then it cleared up just in time for us to get married and right when it ended it started raining again. People say it’s supposed to be, but my mom’s been married three times and each day I didn’t feel it was the greatest day of her life. But, it definitely was for me.
Back when you started you were slanging Living Legends and 3MGs tapes to get your music off the ground. Now a decade later the cassette tape culture is back in style. Do you have any interest in revisiting the cassettes?
Maaan. I just put out Varsity Blues 2 and I wanted to do it on cassette. The reason I printed up my first CD was because it was cheaper than cassettes. It’s still the same fucking price. I used to go to a tape manufacturer myself, get’em blank, get’em printed on, then dub’em myself and then I found a guy that could duplicate them that had been doing it since the 40s. He was real cheap. I had to go through all these backwards ways because it was so expensive.
Then I go to press up these new CDs, which are getting expensive so I thought, I should just do tapes. They gotta be on sale. But they are still a dollar and fifteen a tape. What the fuck, yo. I still can’t afford to put out a fucking tape. Well, I can afford it, but it’s still not financially wise.
I might do that for the next mixtape or something. Dub them myself and really be old school. I used to do two to four tapes an hour and I’d fall asleep and wake up when the end clicks. Motherfuckers have no idea.
So do you have old cassettes of you snoring from falling asleep?
I wish! That’s my story for young rappers on some “when I was your age I used to walk five miles in the snow to school uphill both ways.”
Are there plans for another Felt record with Slug?
Definitely not planned. That’s always up to Slug. Always up to the big homie.
MURS' Love & Rockets Vol 1: The Transformation is out October 11 on Blu Roc.