With Have A Nice Life, MURS is not only bringing a new sound to Strange Music, but his entire catalog (and now that we think about it, hip hop as a whole).
The charismatic and legendary emcee sat down to talk with us about the album and how it formed into what he calls his definitive album. You would think definitive MURS means boom-bap and underground. Well, think again.
Read below to find out why MURS’s album has very high expectations.
The title of your album is Have a Nice Life.
Why is it that?
I called the album Have A Nice Life because it was something I just said to people often. Ubi wants credit for helping me with that, so okay. Bernz wants credit. Everybody wants credit, y’know? I’m giving them all credit, but it’s something I came up with. It’s a nice way to tell someone to “Fuck off,” but then it’s also a nice way to tell someone, like, “Yo,” ’cause you never know, y’know?
Yeah, so it can be taken either way. It’s one of those good phrases that has–
Has a duality to it.
Very bi…kind of like you.
What got you away from the Love and Rockets thing? Because that was going to be the title for the longest time. When did you make that decision?
Once I started recording this record, it sounded bigger than anything I’ve done in the past. The Love and Rockets one was called The Transformation. I’m like, “Yeah, I would just transform. I’m in a whole different place.” That series of albums was supposed to be done with another label. It was just another time, and I kind of had transformed, you know? A lot has changed in my life since then. I’ve become a father, signed to a new label, moved my house. Yeah, a lot of things – certain things I can’t speak on yet, but things had changed for me so I said “You know what?”
I’m going in a new direction, and I feel like we gotta leave that in the past. That’s the past. There will never be a sequel to Love and Rockets probably, but I kept on saying, because there was supposed to be The Rockets 2: The Declaration, kind of like “This is me.” I feel like this is my definitive album. This is my defining work from here on out. This is what you can expect from me, and I finally feel like I have production that fits who I am, rather than me just getting beats from people.
Interesting. So this is sort of a statement piece that sets up whatever is going to come after it?
Yeah. I feel like it’s this portion of my career, whether it be the last portion, or just the Strange era. This is me. This is just me having the resources, the confidence, and the skill-set to kind of define who I am as an artist.
How long have you been working on this album, because I thought this was many years in the making. Now you’re telling me that you’ve changed the title when you started working on what would become this album, so…I’m a little confused.
No, no. You’re not confused, you’re not listening to me, okay? Jeff? Tune in. Hands up, mouths shut. Alright? When the hand goes up, the mouth goes shut. Asterisk raise his hand. No…Asterisk, I’m raising my hand, you shut your mouth. Alright, there you go. Hand up, lips down, closed. Thank you.
So, I have been working on this album and it just became something else. I’ve had song concepts. “Black Girls Be Like”: I’ve had the hook in my head and written down in different places, and different lines written down over the past, probably for four or five years. I’ve been working on that song. “Okey Dog, Crip” is the same thing. I’ve been working on these songs for years, but hadn’t found the right beat and hadn’t found the right music, but I knew it would hopefully be for the next record, which was Love and Rockets 2, but as the songs came together, it just became Have A Nice Life.
It’s kind of cool that you have that approach to songwriting, because we know Tech has his mantra, when it comes to making records, and it’s “the beat tells me what to do”, but you seem to come from a writer’s approach. A lot of the time it seems like you’re looking for beats to match your story.
Yeah, I used to just write and force it. “Oh, I have this rap, I’ll force it on whatever beats are available.” Now I just keep the songs until I hear the beat that brings out the song.
I definitely get my ideas from a writer’s perspective, but I just won’t lay it until the beat’s right. I’ll let a song sit on paper, or in my head, for years until I find the right beat.
So do you do you craft songs like that often? Do you have like a stockpile?
Yeah, I got a stockpile of ideas, and lyrics, and shit I started. I’ll wake up in the morning like, “Oh!” “I Miss Mikey” was like that. I was like, “Cuz, I miss Mikey.” I miss him often. I just got up on the bus one day – we were on tour, and I done a couple tours with the Eyedea in my ears, and I was just like “Fuck, I miss Mikey, cuz.” That’s just the way it is, y’know? That’s why I had to tell myself to, like, get out of bed and keep going. That’s just life bro. Like, “Ahhh.” Then, at the same time, Jesse, my producer, was kind of forcing me to write to that beat. I didn’t know what to put to it, and I was just like “Aha!” Listening to that beat all night, trying to come up with something – because I had to rap 3/4 time in that song. I’m rapping 3/4, kind of like Migos. Migos do, y’know, 3/4 rapping, and I don’t rap like that. So that was hard.
If you listen to the album, there’s a song called “Pussy and Pizza” where it goes from something that sounds so sentimental to something that sounds crazy. The hook is trappy and then it goes back to being sentimental. That’s kind of like me. It’s like the duality of the title. I’ll go from rapping 3/4 to a hook that’s 4/4. Anyway, it was just driving me crazy, so I passed out on the bus on the ¡MURSDAY! tour listening to that. I got up in the morning and the music spoke to me. I had the lyric, and it just all fit together.
So it can go both ways.
Yeah, definitely, but the music is a foundation. I had to learn that over the years. There was a time when I just stopped writing before, without a beat at all, and I think I found a perfect medium. Once again, the duality. I found balance in, like, “Cool, I can write to let the beat speak to me,” I can also let the beat speak to something I’ve already written, if I keep a catalog, and I don’t necessarily have to use those songs.
What are you hoping this album does for your career? Where do you want it to take you, and what do you hope to accomplish, that you haven’t before?
I want a Grammy. I want a platinum record. I want to compete. Now I feel like there’s people to compete with. There wasn’t really a drive with me to go mainstream before, but I feel like mainstream rap is something to be respected. Say what you want about Kanye, you can’t say that he’s not creative. He can be an asshole, he can be whatever, but he cares about music. There was a time when, in rap, the people that were selling a lot of records didn’t care. Now the people who sell a lot of singles don’t sell albums, but the people who are making albums and making art are being creative. Say what you want about Macklemore, but he’s someone I admire and respect, personally and artistically. A lot of these guys I just respect artistically. I don’t respect them as men or human. I respect everyone as a human, but like, as a man, I kind of don’t respect the way they live or the things they promote. Macklemore is somebody I endorse fully, and so is Kendrick, and they’re selling millions of records. So, now it’s not an excuse of “Oh, I have a message in my music, no one wants to buy it,” it’s just you’re not making good enough music. That’s how I always felt, but I didn’t feel like the mainstream was ready. Now we have 14-year-olds that are listening to “Blacker The Berry” and “i” and they’re getting a positive message, and “Same Love”. So, the challenge to me now is to shake off my underground aesthetic and do something that can be played on the radio with a positive message.
That’s a challenge to me. Instead of just making something message-driven that only advanced listeners are gonna get. I want to make something that advanced listeners respect, and that the masses can consume, and has a positive message. I don’t even just say a positive, an authentic message, because before there wasn’t a lot of authenticity, people were just making – I feel like Jay-Z makes songs to sell. He has an authentic message. He’s never gone pop and tried to be somebody that’s not from Marcy Projects, but also, I feel he’s driven by money. I feel like Kanye is genuinely driven by art…and fame. He wants to be famous – but so did Warhol, and he created great art. Then there’s people like me. I feel like I’m more, he’s overused now, but like more of a Basquiat thing where I do what I do, but I don’t mind it being popular and I’m trying to take this next step.
will.i.am is a big inspiration to me and I don’t feel like he gets a lot of respect as an artist. I love what he’s done with pop music and pop culture. Yeah, he makes catchy music, but he’s also doing the score for Madagascar 2, and I know this is a kid from the East LA Projects that I used to rap with for fun. Now he’s killing it and I don’t think he’s ever sold out. He just makes fun music and positive music that you can play for your kids, but he can rap his ass off and he incorporates all elements. will.i.am can DJ – well not all of it, I’ve never seen him write graffiti – but he can DJ, he can dance, beatbox, and he can freestyle his ass off. You don’t wanna see him in a battle. He’s fucking ill. In recent years – hearing him freestyle, he still has it. I grew up freestyling with him, so –but to see him take that energy and transform it into corporate stuff, and pop stuff, and do a lot for his community – he’s been really an inspiration so I want to do it, but I want to do it in my way. I’m not gonna make “Imma be, I’mma be-be-be-be,” but y’know, that’s your favorite song, can you say it one time for me?
“Imma be, Imma be”. You know that song?
No… I know… y’know, “Let’s Get It Started”.
(Both) “Let’s get it started in here.”
But I also know “We be falling up, never falling down”.
That’s one of their best songs.
There is a parallel between you and him if you think about it, because he was underground but broadened himself in a big way.
Yeah, he was limiting…people tend to limit hip-hop, and I was like, “You can’t… if you love something, you can never limit it,” if more people say you have to love something enough to let it go. So many heads are limiting them. I think people do that with Tech the more variety he gains. Some fans get turned off, but when you love someone, you love something genuinely, you can’t limit it, because if you love it there’s reasons everyone’s going to love it. That’s funny that some of the same guys that I’ve seen hate on Tech will be the same guys that put pictures of their girlfriend half-naked online, I’m like, “You love this woman, but you want everyone to appreciate her being half-naked,” and…that’s cool. If that’s your thing, I wouldn’t want, y’know… people are different about what they limit, but if you love something, you can’t limit it and I don’t want to limit hip-hop. I think will expanded. He was starving! Bro, like literally. And he was like, “Yo, this shit is not paying me and I want to do music for a living,” but he didn’t go, “I’m from the projects,” – because will could talk some street shit if he really wanted to. He maintained true to himself and promoting a positive message.
We used to grow up rapping at community centers and, trying to promote peace and love and he’s still promoting peace and love, but he’s now part of the biggest group in the world spreading peace and love. He’s done free shows in Africa for water, and he’s done so much, but because he’s making positive music, they love him in the Philippines. He’s able to do benefits and apl.de.ap is able to empower their community through making positive music instead of making negative music. Which, he’s a black guy, if he cut his dreads off, wore some Dickies and some shit – he’s seen some shit he could talk about, but he chose not to. He also chose not to limit what hip-hop means, and he met Justin Timberlake on some hip-hop shit. They battled at like a Grammy afterparty.
Because Justin is on some hip-hop shit. He could beatbox. Have you ever seen the old N’Sync shit? The muh-fucker’s like a b-boy. He’s into hip-hop, but he can beatbox. He loves rap. He can dance his ass off. So he’s dancing and will battled him. We grew up born in underground clubs watching Wu-Tang and all this shit, and he would – he’s a dancer. He used to beat by Will 1X. He used to go to all the old-school clubs and that’s how Eazy-E met him: being a dancer and a rapper at these clubs and signed onto Ruthless Records. Like, people don’t know. He is LA hip-hop to me. Like, even gangster-ass Eazy-E saw this kid and was like, “Yo, I gotta have him.”
So Justin respected him battling him so much, he was like, “Yo, come open for us. Come open for me.” It was someone that’s pop that still has hip-hop roots respecting someone else’s hip-hop talent. So, it’s through hip-hop that it all happened. He’s never been nothing but hip-hop and he’s getting a lot of disrespect, so that’s my inspiration.
It’s interesting that now that you’re on Strange, you feel comfortable or confident, or that it backs up those aspirations.
What I knew by coming here was that Travis is a man of his word and he doesn’t limit his – Travis wants to sell a million records. He’s not afraid to make money, but he does it with integrity. Everything he does is with integrity, and the music I’m making has integrity. I didn’t come here trying to sound like Tech. I don’t wanna be dark, I don’t wanna be… y’know, whatever. I don’t want to be a Chopper. I want to be me. Before I was Strange, they’ve always shown me respect. When I went on tour with them, for Sickology, people respected my performance. They may not have become fans of my music, but they know I do my shit, and I’m good.
They just promote hard-working, talented people at Strange Music. I was like, “I can get down with this, I can be a part of this,” and there’s no limiting to it. Travis puts the money and effort in his team behind everything, and every artist, the same way. He wants it to go as far as he can. He’s never telling me, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” “Do you and we’re gonna push it.” I thought Strange was perfect for it, because they want to compete, but they don’t wanna compromise their integrity in order to compete. But he’s not gonna say, “Oh, well, MURS, you’re just this, you can only go so far. This is your lane.” No, “MURS, this is what you do and the world needs to hear it. Let’s see how far it can go.”
What is Strange going to do for you on this record that you haven’t had before?
They’re going to take it to radio. My friend I grew up with, out of nowhere he became a fucking pop sensation. He produced, co-produced and co-wrote “Chandelier” with Sia, and numerous other records. He has records coming out by the time this interview comes out. He has two songs on the new Kelly Clarkson record, but we grew up in his house on a four-track bumping Bone Thugs, Pharcyde, Wu-Tang, and doing mixtapes together. He would actually mix my side of the mixtape, and I would just rap and host. I would have some homie, and go with the homie, and steal a bunch of tapes, and we would dub them and we would sell mixtapes on the street, like real mixtapes. We’d sneak in some of our rapping on songs, so people could know who we were. This was 1994, ’93. We were kids.
He stayed true. He did some production for me on End Of The Beginning on a song called “God’s Work”. He did a song called “I Know” and a song called “Brotherly Love”. They usually tend to be my most heartfelt songs because we’ve known each other so long. We’ve slept at each other’s home growing up, y’know? I kind of like crushed on his big sister a little. He’s the reason that I’ve always wanted to have a dog in the house. Black people usually don’t have dogs in the house, and especially in that era, but I was like, “Wow, I love dogs”, but my mom’s allergic. I loved this dog, Nina.
Before, when I came back to Strange, I was like “I want to do my defining work and I need someone who’s been with me from the beginning to kind of help me get that sound.” He also makes sure I’m on point, because he feels comfortable telling me “You’re not on pocket. That’s not dope.” I respect him. He also respects the duality of me, because he knows there’s the hip-hop. He’s a white, Jewish kid from West LA and I’m from mid-city and he would come stay with me. He knows both of my worlds. He’s able to, I think, bring that out, and give me that authentic feel. Yeah, he has a pop smash hit, but I feel like he works with artists that don’t compromise. Sia is definitely unique, and them teaming up together was perfect. I didn’t plan on working with him because he had a hit record with Sia.
Nah, you’ve known this guy and you guys have always had a great rapport.
Yeah, and when he got big he didn’t go “Yeah, I’m kind of doing a session with Sia today. You can’t come by.” (Laughs) He’s like “Yo, come on, Bro. I got you”. He wasn’t like, “Yo, you know I just went double platinum with my last record. Tell Travis to write me a million dollar check “. He’s like “Let’s just do this and whatever the money is, whatever. I’m going to block out time for you.”
I think we made amazing music and hopefully I can stay with him. You know, I’ve done shit with producers, who, we’ve become friends through the music, but me and him were friends, not through the music, but because of music we were friends. It wasn’t business.
So you’re bringing it here and you’re saying that Strange is going to help push that on the radio and get that out?
Yeah, Travis is like, “Yeah, this sounds like it could go on the radio, and it doesn’t sound like the message that’s being promoted in a lot of radio hits or pop music.” There’s more substance to it like the first single, “No More Control”. We didn’t sit in there and go “Yo, let’s make a radio hit.”
What I do with the label is I let people like Dave and Paula, and people that work here – I just make a bunch of songs that I love, and then I say “These are the songs that I love the most. Here’s 14 songs. If you guys want to go to radio with any, that’s fine. You don’t feel like there’s a radio hit on there, fine.” Then they were like, “Wow, this is the radio record. You guys made this for radio?” I was like, “Nah.”
“No More Control” is not one of my favorite songs on the album to be honest. I love every song on there, but, it’s not my favorite kid. However, that’s the one they chose. I’m like, “Well, if that speaks to you. I want you to believe in your work, so I’m not going to tell you what to go to radio with and I’m not going tell you to go to radio.” But if Travis hears a record and he’s like, “I think that could work, go for it.” I try to make music that people will love, but I’m not trying to listen to what the formula is.
Or approximate that feel or trend.
Jesse and I just sat there and I was like, “Yo,” and he was like “I have a friend named MNDR and she’s dope.” She had sung for Killer Mike recently, but she’s also done pop shit too. She loves authentic stuff. We came over, got some organic sandwiches, and talked. She heard the song, she was like “What are you trying to say? Cool.” Then we all wrote the hook together. It wasn’t like “Well you know the buzz word right now is…” It was just like we’d sit together like two, three artists in a room and she collaborated with me, and she made a hell of a hook. I was like “Wow,” and I think that’s what makes it more radio or pop-friendly. But you know, I was using words like “circumnavigate” in the song and that’s not very pop.
Yeah, no. Not at all. Circumnavigate…that’s to go around something.
You got it.
Are you circumcised?
There’s like a thing. You know what? We’ll have to get to that on another interview. Um, about the anti-circumcision sentiment that’s going on right now.
I don’t want to talk about that right now.
Alright, let’s not.
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