Positivity gets a bad rap. More specifically, positivity in rap has been out of vogue for some time. It’s not that there aren’t artists still giving it a shot. Talib Kweli even still manages to make the “conscious” tip sound interesting on a fairly regular basis, though his onetime partner Mos Def has been more successful acting than rapping, of late. But in the long run, it’s artists like Ghostface, with his darker narratives and lyrical abstraction, and Jay-Z, with his ever-evolving persona, who keep their shelf lives evergreen. Los Angeles-based emcee Murs isn’t deterred by this fact. On his latest album Murs For President, he’s bringing the positive verses like it’s 1993, only it sounds surprisingly fresh and certainly endearing. As he confesses in leadoff track “I’m Innocent,” “hey man, at least I’m trying.”
Released shortly before the Nov. election, Murs For President comes at an all-too appropriate time. Murs’ own presidential themes and forward-looking lyrics seem to mirror the motifs of `hope’ and `change’ in President-Elect Barack Obama’s campaign, only with a bit more cynicism, as only a politically driven emcee could bring. Still, his hope is infectious, and his songs are pretty good too. In “I’m Innocent,” Murs lays out the difficulty in being an emcee of his ilk: “I’m anti thug and anti drugs, brought peace to the party and got anti-love.” And yet even as he calls out the haters, Murs sounds fierce, and stronger than ever.
The will.i.am-produced “Lookin’ Fly” drops a misstep pretty early, as Murs lays out a throwaway sex jam over a fairly forgettable jeep bounce. All is forgiven one track later with the head-spinning “The Science,” in which Murs gives a Black History course that touches upon everything from the drug wars to the origins of hip-hop, and Scoop Deville’s flute-laden production makes it even more stunning. “Everything” makes something useful out of a James Blunt sample (no really), while “Sooo Comfortable” has a smooth, smoking-jacket-and-brandy sound to be piped into every Pleasure Dome. Yet it’s not until “Time Is Now,” with a guest appearance by Snoop Dogg, that the album hits its next greatest height. The woozy scratches of “Me and This Jawn” make for an unusual treat, its wobbly melody creating a sort of organic glitch sound. At the beginning of “Love And Appreciate II,” Murs sets the record straight again, calling out hip-hop’s most misogynistic by saying “nobody’s man enough to talk about love,” before he does just that, further casting aside rap stereotypes by spitting, “you ain’t a pimp, you’re just pissed off.”
Murs is a rare breed, unafraid to be who he is. Perhaps he may come off corny to some, but he’s refreshingly honest, and though Murs For President is by no means perfect (some of the shout-out intros go on a bit too long, in particular), it’s a solid effort by an artist with a strong track record. His chance at being president may have come and gone, but if nothing else, he’s got the best campaign soundtrack of any candidate.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.