Nobody is more L.A. than Murs. But he doesn't even live here anymore.
He's now based out of Tucson, Arizona, where he says he doesn't stand out. That's for a few reasons. For one, gone are the thick ropes of dreadlocks that formerly sprouted from his head. Also, he drives a Prius. And he likes watching SEC football on Saturdays.
But he's back in his Mid-City hood today, where he's recognized even without his signature hair. Dressed in green Adidas pants and a black t-shirt, the rapper sits at a table in his mom's house on a quiet, pretty block. He's arrived only an hour ago, but he's already made the rounds to see friends and family.
His latest album, Love & Rockets Vol. 1, was released today on Damon Dash's label DD172/Bluroc. Over a take-out breakfast from his grandmother's new restaurant A Taste Of Chi Bas, Murs talks about the shooting of his two friends, why he can't live in L.A., and what it's like to be handed the keys to Dame's house.
So you were the bad kid in your family?
I was the one that was never gonna be shit. End quote from my mother. When I was 15, I told my mom I was gonna rap. She's my number one fan now, but she was working at Kaiser at the time, and wasn't really in tune with what was going on. This looks like a nice neighborhood, but it's lower middle class. That's what's wrong with Los Angeles.
What do you mean?
Rappers talk about being from the hood in New York, and it's rough. I've been there–but it's not insane to me. People are poor. They'll take your things, but L.A. is the only place where there's warfare. Like, these kids are insane. And there's no reason. It's like Muslims and Jews. It's not about the religion. It's about, “Your uncle killed my cousin.” It's blood. And blood in the streets. I applaud my mother and brother for trying to fight it here in South Central.
Even now you feel that way?
Yeah. I moved to Tucson because we used to shoot dice three blocks down on this corner. One night I went home early, and five minutes later, two of our friends got shot. There are bloodstains on the concrete of that house on the corner, and they tried to sell it to me for $899,000. Are you fucking kidding me?
And if I lived here, [I'd] still have to have a gun because people over here know what I do for a living. There's neighborhood shit I'm still a part of, or could be a part of, and I wouldn't feel comfortable living here without owning a firearm and carrying it illegally with me at all times.
How long ago did you leave?
About two years ago. I'm not fully cured. I go in cycles. I've moved to Tucson, I've moved to the Bay. I tried living here. I had a sports car; I was going to Hyde. Sure, I could move to the Valley, but I wanna be in my neighborhood. If I can't be here, I don't wanna be anywhere. I'm insane just like the kids who grew up here. I love my hood. I got tattoos. I judge them, but I'm just as crazy. A lot of my songs that people think are about girls or relationships are about L.A.
Is that what “Remember 2 Forget” is about?
Kinda. It's also about real relationships, cause the girls I dated were also from this neighborhood. I just love the accent, the way they talk, their attitudes–you're attracted to such the wrong things! I still go to the Slauson Super Mall, I still eat at Earl's. I don't look like I have money, I don't rap about that stuff, but people are like, “You're on MTV.”
When people are looking at me, I'm not thinking they're looking at me cause I'm on MTV. I have post-traumatic stress. I've been shot at, had guns pulled on me, been jumped, beat up. I'm a product of my environment. So my instincts kick in. I'm always nervous; I'm always looking around.
Is your wife from L.A.?
No, she's from Tucson.
Do you have to explain how you are, like you did to me?
No, she understands. Tucson is kinda like a suburb of L.A. I remember when I first moved there in 2000, I was at the bus stop and saw an 18th Street tatt.
It's not like she's from New York, where it seems like people are raised to hate L.A.
Before you're born, it's a lullaby. [laughs] I didn't understand it until recently. But they're all stacked on top of each other, and we're all spread out. Public transportation is amazing; ours sucks. We need our cars. I get mad there. People are walking all over me like fuckin' ants! It's just the opposite of L.A. I started telling people it's okay they hate L.A., cause they have to. I don't really like your city that much. But I love hip hop and that is where it came from, so I find things to like about it. But after two weeks there, I fucking start to lose it. No right turns on red, argh! How are you living like this?!
So how did you link up with Bluroc?
Not even a year ago, I went to the space Damon Dash used to have in TriBeCa, and Tabi Bonney introduced me. I go into the office, and I see their list of artists, and the first thing I say when I meet Dame is, “How come you don't have any West Coast artists?” He said, “Wanna put out a record?” I was like, yeah. This was all in two minutes. He doesn't use the term manager or mentor. I see him as a mentor, but he introduces us as business partners. He's just so different than people believe him to be.
So he's not the same Dame spewing champagne in the “Big Pimpin” video, huh?
He says, “If someone would have come and slapped me in the face, it would've been so good for me.” But who is still the most successful rapper ever? Jay-Z. And do you think he got there by himself? He got there with the help of a fucking brilliant, raging maniac named Damon Dash, and I get the benefit of learning from him.
I lived at his house for three weeks. He gave me the keys. Literally the only time we met was that brief conversation I told you about. After that? “Here's the keys to my Jeep if you need to go to the store.” He just left me alone there. And I didn't know this man.
How do you deal with the politics and choose who's gonna be on the Paid Dues bill?
I remind myself it's a compliment that people get upset [if they aren't on the bill]. I never said this was important to your career. I never said you had to be on Paid Dues to make or break you. I'm not a tough guy but I'm still an urban kid. I'll never really diss anybody, but I'll meet you at your house and ask, “Did you really say that?”
How did you decide to book Lil B?
He's a fan of mine. He used to come to my shows and give me songs: “Can we do this together?” I'd be like, what am I supposed to do with this? But I had to book him. He came up after his show and said to my wife, “Murs is a genius and you're a queen.” He totally charmed her.