Murs, the hardest working man in West Coast hip-hop, has signed with Strange Music, the ascendent underground label that's home to rappers like Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko.
It's not an immediately obvious pairing. Murs has released music everywhere from majors (Warner Bros.) to venerated indies (Definitive Jux), but the more you think about it, the more it makes sense.
We spoke with Murs – who came up in South Central but moved to Tucson a few years ago – about the signing, as well as his recent adopting of a pair of children.
How did the Strange Music deal come about?
We hooked up via booking Tech for [Murs' annual hip-hop festival] Paid Dues. I think they appreciated that, since so many people compartimentalize Strange Music in this weirdo Juggalo box. The appreciated me reaching out from “the mainstream” which meant a lot to them. Being on Warner Bros. at the time, their building rivaled that of Warner.
So, this was 2008?
Yes. And, not only did they appreciate who I was and my art, but they offered me a tour with Tech N9ne, which was a dream come true for me because I was very much aware of his touring empire. They offered me a nice amount of money to do it and they paid me the amount of money they said they would, when they said they would, which was amazing. I was able to buy my first piece of property thanks to that money, so I've always been grateful that way.
Do you recall your first time hearing about Tech N9ne or crossing paths?
I never crossed paths with him physically, but my first time hearing him was on the Gang Related soundtrack. Tech's delivery really stood out. When I heard his rapidfire delivery, it reminded me of Project Blowed, but it was a lot more intense. Back then, if you rapped like that you were backpack, so it was like “what's he doing on the Gang Related soundtrack?” I'm a big industry nerd. Growing up before I wanted to be a rapper, I wanted to be an A&R. People who worked in the industry were stars to me. It was a Death Row/Priority release. Some of the people who worked on that same project, now work at Strange. My friend and A&R Dave Weiner and Dana Mason, who is now my manager, ended up signing Tech to Artist Direct after that, and Dana and Dave are two of the main reasons I was able to sign to Strange.
[You've put out music everywhere from Warner Bros. and Dame Dash's DD1972 imprint to Rhymesayers and Definitive Jux, and now Strange. After working with so many labels, what makes a deal seem right?
I've done some of my best business without contracts and some of my worst business without contracts. The paperwork and how much your lawyer beats people up never really matters, it's always the content of the character of the people in the building, so to speak. I've done business with friends, and it's messed up friendships. They say don't mix business with friendship, but I've never had a friendship that hasn't had rough times and I've never done business that hasn't had rough times. With Strange, I know I'm not going to be shelved, I know they see my value and I know they say what they mean. I'm an underground artist, but I didn't sign to Warner to stay underground. I want to make mainstream music, but I want to make positive mainstream music like Public Enemy and X-Clan. Those groups went platinum and gold. I think we're doing future generations a disservice by keeping this an underground culture, no one gets to hear it. I want to get on TV next to Rick Ross and 2 Chainz because there should be an option, and I think Strange is looking to put me there.
Speaking of the future, you've always made an effort to assist up-and-coming artists. From the Paid Dues Festival to your upcoming panel at SXSW, you've tried to shine light on young artists. Why is this important to you?
It was kind of my way of redirecting my anger of not having a big brother or father who looked out for me. Outside of Mystik Journeymen, nobody really put me on, so I decided that, instead of being bitter, I want to be better than the generation before me. Kendrick Lamar, K-Dot at the time, hit me up on MySpace and Twitter and wanted to do a record. I always say yes, especially after hearing how talented someone is. I just always make an attempt to help because, in the black community, there aren't many men. There's too many 30 to 40-year-olds who dress like children and just want to be homies to these kids. That's why I make it clear, “I don't want to take your buzz, I just want to help you manage it and help elevate you so that other people will pay you what you're worth.”
I never ask for returned favors. I don't feel like they owe me anything, I think they're doing enough for hip-hop and Los Angeles hip-hop and I'm thankful they're letting me be part of their journey and their story. To take it further, that's why my wife and I adopted a 15-year-old and a baby. There's that void in the black community where no black men are stepping up. No one is just being a strong man and attempting to be a role model. I'm trying to say, “You can help the next man because you think they're talented, not just to take their publishing.” I see Paid Dues as a way that helps everyone. I like that I can call these people friends, and when I see them, they're still nice to me.
Has it been a big adjustment having children?
Oh yeah. The baby came out of nowhere, though the 15-year-old we planned for. We got a call that said “Do you want this baby or not” and we had to fly out to North Carolina. Four months later my 15-year-old son came home. Anyone out there who has a teenager in their home can sympathize. It's a struggle and a process and an arduous task every day. It's been difficult, but it's allowed me to value my escape into my art a lot more. It feels even better than it did before. I don't know if I can put into words just yet, I guess it is a difficult path of raising a family, traveling and running a few different businesses. But, it's a challenge that I'm grateful for.