This truly is an historic election cycle. For the first time in history, there are not one, but two black presidential candidates, both seemingly running on a platform of hope, reform, and change.
Well, actually there’s just one, but with his new album “MURS for President,” underground hip-hop icon MURS is trying to shake things up in his own way.
It’s easy to connect the frustration of “MURS for President” and the artist’s inspi-rap of change with Barack Obama’s message of hope. But as similar as the two campaigns may be, “MURS for President” is fundamentally about the struggle of MURS (Making Underground Raw Shit) to maintain authenticity within the hip-hop discipline.
Despite all his rhetoric, the artist formerly known as Nick Carter (not to be confused with former Backstreet Boy and brother of Aaron) mostly strives to maintain the credibility accumulated throughout a decade-long career as an independent rapper and filmmaker. As a result, his biggest fear doesn’t seem to be the destruction of the genre, but the destruction of his cred with a major label release.
For the most part he succeeds in his mission of shaking up the nation. He schools rappers and listeners alike about their heritage in “The Science,” which serves as a sort of Cliffs Notes take on the origin of hip-hop and ranges from slavery to crack.
Similarly, “Can It Be (Half a Million Dollars and 18 Months Later),” which borrows the hook from Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” begins with MURS’ solution to all of America’s ailments: “Love one another / Realize there’s no difference.” However, MURS’ indignation at being branded a sellout takes over before long.
He goes on to respond to the haters accusing him of abandoning the underground sensibility by listing his accomplishments in the scene—for starters, he created a music festival and survived a decade outside the mainstream. MURS adds, “I could have done a Nas and screamed hip-hop is dead / I got up off my ass and did something instead.” Burn.
The problem arrives when MURS breaks from his social commentary.
None of the tracks qualify as potential club hits, except, perhaps, “Lookin’ Fly,” featuring Will.I.Am. If MURS is truly trying to maintain authenticity, using a widely acknowledged sellout on your album is not the best way to go. “Lookin’ Fly” has just enough posturing and repetition to make it danceable. Still, nothing on the album holds a candle to his breakout Madden NFL 2008 soundtrack hit, “Dreadlocks.”
Eighth track “Sooo Comfortable” attempts to be a laid-back sort of stoner jam, and mostly succeeds. But MURS does not actually use drugs, despite his natty Rasta dreads, and is unconvincing as a guy tooling around with his pot-smoking friend.
This becomes glaringly obvious with Snoop Dogg’s guest appearance on the subsequent track, “Time Is Now.” No one has the laid-back Cali vibe down quite like Snoop, and he probably would have been better put to use in “Sooo Comfortable” without the gospel-inspired piano chords and righteousness of “Time Is Now.”
MURS also makes the case for love songs and chivalry. At the beginning of “Love and Appreciate II,” he and producer 9th Wonder bemoan rappers stereotyping women as shrews and hos as well as the lack of rap love songs. To keep a lady, MURS advocates, “Buy some flowers, open up some doors / She needs tampons, homie, go to the store.”
But MURS spends too much time proving his worthiness at the expense of the album’s message. While it’s refreshing to hear a person reject the misogynistic hip-hop image, he sacrifices too much of his “eclectic eccentricity” (touted in “Lookin’ Fly”) for conventional tropes.
In spite of his best efforts, MURS’ shit is not as raw as his moniker promises.
Of course, in response to these complaints, the no-longer-underground Nick Carter would say with uncharacteristically good humor, “Oh you mad cause I’m stylin’ on you / Love songs one minute then I’m wilin’ on you,” but this sort flip-flopping sacrifices both his integrity and message, and could prove to be the downfall of another prominent presidential candidate.
—Reviewer Candace I. Munroe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.