Murs Brings Hip-Hop to the Sunset Strip Music Festival
When it comes to hip-hop festivals, Murs has the Midas touch.
In 2006, the rapper had the crazy idea to create Paid Dues, an all-day, outdoor live music event packed solely with underground hip-hop acts. Not only did the inaugural concert sell out, it spawned a 10-city tour the following year. With its bill ballooning to include artists like Macklemore, Juicy J and the whole Top Dawg Entertainment crew, last year’s Paid Dues was the biggest and most profitable to date.
No wonder the Sunset Strip Music Festival, which has been dogged by rumors of financial distress, asked the L.A. native to curate its hip-hop stage this year. And he’s delivered: The diverse roster includes a little something for every hip-hop head, from DJ Quik and Bun B to Riff Raff and Iamsu.
In advance of the event, we talked to Murs about SSMF’s troubles, being a daddy, why Paid Dues was cancelled this year — and if it will ever come back.
West Coast Sound: How did you get involved in the Sunset Strip Music Festival?
Murs: A young lady named Claire Takamatsu gave me a call out of the blue. I’d worked with her on a couple Guerilla Union events, and she said, “I know you’re probably going to say no, but just hear me out.” And I probably should’ve said no, ‘cause I was knee deep in my record, but I couldn’t. The opportunity was too great for hip-hop and Los Angeles.
Sunset Strip is legendary. It’s where I had my first sold out show in L.A., at the Roxy. But I also feel like hip-hop hasn’t cemented itself in Sunset Strip history. We all perform there, but to be invited now? We have arrived. When I look at the flyer and see Jane’s Addiction next to DJ Quik, it makes my day.
Usually, they don’t do hip-hop because the SSMF is a week after Rock the Bells, so it doesn’t make sense. But there’s a void — there hasn’t been a Paid Dues or Rock the Bells this year. I’m just glad they thought of me.
WCS: Speaking of Paid Dues, I know you released a statement in earlier this summer about the festival not taking place this year due to financial difficulties. What went wrong? Paid Dues seems so successful.
Murs: Yeah, no, Paid Dues was absolutely successful. Guerilla Union encountered some financial difficulty outside of Paid Dues. Paid Dues has and continues to be profitable every year. Usually I go curate the talent, I find a date, I do somewhat of the easy work and Guerilla Union has the infrastructure to support. I don’t think they were able to do it, so we had to step back for this year and regroup. Hopefully we’ll be back stronger than ever next year.
WCS: When did SSMF ask you to curate the hip-hop stage?
Murs: About a month ago.
WCS: Wow. How did you pull together the lineup so quickly?
Murs: A lot of it is friendships built through the years. A lot of good people at the Agency Group who went to bat for me when I sent an email saying, “Who’s available?” My go-to’s are like, Atmosphere or the Rhymesayers camp, but they’re booked for the fall. So many people were like, “We’d love to do it, but we’re booked for Halloween, we have contractual obligations.” So it was difficult. Killer Mike is somebody I really wanted. He randomly called me a few years ago and was like, “You don’t know me, but my son’s a big fan. We love you over here, if you ever need anything.” So I was like, “Hey, man. I know it’s short notice...” I was able to pull some strings.
WCS: I read you're a dad now too. Last time we talked, you were in the middle of the adoption process. What finally happened?
Murs: One Sunday we got a random call saying, “Do you want this baby or not?” And we were like, we don’t want a baby, we were applying for a teenager. They said this woman picked us out of a database two months ago: “Did no one call you?” We said no. They said well, she had the baby today and if you’re not here in 48 hours, it’s going to foster care. We got him, and then at the same time we were being approved for our teenager. So one’s almost 16 and the other is two years old.
WCS: Is it weird raising two boys at such different times of their lives?
Murs: Yeah, it’s crazy. To have zero parenting experience and get thrown in the deep end? I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
WCS: How has being a dad changed you?
Murs: Sheesh. Given me more gray hair and made me a little bit poorer. It’s like another job.
WCS: You always seem to have identified with a younger generation. I’m assuming that helps in having a teenager — if anything can help with having a teenager?
Murs: Yeah, that doesn’t help! Instead of having the parents choose the child, I think it should be on the child to write an essay: “I wanna be adopted because…”
My son is blowing it right now. I don’t think there’s anything that would help him. He’s hell bent on being an underachiever. It’s hard for me to understand because I have a passion. When I was his age, I was smoking pot and ditching school to go to [my producer’s] house and make music. Twenty years later, we’ve made millions of dollars off of making music together. If you have friends like that, that’s cool, but it seems like you’re just hanging out and drinking Nyquil and smoking bad weed and making poor decisions. So I can’t relate. Good luck to you, and when you’re 18 you’re gonna have to get out.
In light of Ferguson and the whole Ray Rice thing — I feel like it’s an issue with black men who lack guidance as teens. I feel like as a black man I’m doing the best I can to influence. Aside from the music I make, I’ve gone a bit further and brought two young black men into my house. And hopefully they won’t end up in the news for any of those various reasons. I feel like I’m doing something, and to me it seems a little bit more productive than protesting and marching.
WCS: The SSMF has had some issues — a West Coast Sound article from last year noted that ticket sales had dropped and they needed a cash infusion. Did you know about that when you signed on? Do you think your success with Paid Dues made you especially appealing to them?
Murs: I don’t know any of the backend. All I know is the glamour and the glitz. This is the first I’m hearing of low ticket sales. At this time of year, I’m always so involved in Rock the Bells or my own tours. I know I personally always wanted to go to the SSMF so I figured anybody in their right mind in L.A. was going! I had no idea.
WCS: Well, it probably works great for them — for everybody — that there hasn’t been a hip-hop festival this year.
Murs: Growing up as a kid in West L.A., you wanna go to the Sunset Strip and drink and hang out. Usually I didn’t have the dress code. Me and my homeboys had one pair of Polo boots that were acceptable in nightclubs, and whoever was gonna use them that night — that was it! I didn’t have the “no tennis shoes” outfits that would get me into Dublin’s or Miyagi’s back in the day. And when we’d just go up there and cruise, you’d get pulled over. And none of my friends wanted to drive ‘cause a lot of them have warrants.
But it was a place we all wanted to be and hang out. And now we have that chance to be there, and have some music that we’re into. Just to be standing outside on Sunset Boulevard having a drink and listening to DJ Quik is priceless.
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