Fri, 24 Oct 2008 01:10:57
Nick Carter, AKA MURS (Making Underground Real Shit) has been the voice of confidence and integrity in underground hip hop circles since the mid-90s. With a style all his own and a work ethic seconded by none, the only surprise attached to his signing with Warner Bros. Records, was that it took this damn long. The timing couldn't have been better though, with the country up in arms over the oncoming Presidential election; a race that MURS has mockingly thrust himself into, as stated by the title of his latest album, MURS For President. As outspoken, opinionated and unabashed as anyone this writer as ever spent time with, it's entirely possible that MURS could be the best choice we've got this time around. At least he gives a convincing argument.
MURS For President. Why should we vote for you?
Because I'm sexy! I have a hotel at The Palms for the night, and my fries are crunchy with just the right amount of salt. I also have a brand new phone that's charged. [Room service is heard entering in the background] I have a plate of sautéed spinach coming into the room; hold on one second, brother. Sorry about that, I had to get my food. Anyway, those are all good reasons to vote for me, and they all mean that I'm the right choice.
I can't argue with that. The album has an ere of honesty about it that you don't hear from a lot of rappers anymore.
That's because they're all liars, and God hates them [Laughs]. No, seriously I don't know. I guess I'm always just very blunt and honest to a fault. That translates into the music.
Your song, "The Science," comes across as a sort of history lesson for young rap fans.
Yeah, I try because you assume that these kids know stuff, but they really don't. Ask them about a guy like Ice Cube, "Oh that's the guy from Are We There Yet?" They ask, "He used to make conscious rap?" I'm like, "WHOA! You didn't know that?" They ask, "He used to rap about safe sex?" I'm like, "WHOA! You didn't know that? Are you crazy?" I was surprised, man. I just try to let them in on things. They don't know the origins of all this, and it's not their fault. They wouldn't like Soulja Boy if they knew better—if they knew what came before him. For kids that grew up in the Cash Money Records era, Lupe Fiasco is fucking Einstein. For a guy like me, no offense to those involved, but they aren't as Earth-shattering to me as they are to these kids. Even a rapper like me, you say, "Oh, you're so honest," but there was a time when all hip-hop was like that. Well, not all hip-hop, but there was a lot more honesty in the music. That's why I felt "The Science" was necessary because we've got to get these kids up to speed and raise their expectations.
Even the music behind your vocals is very organic. The flute and the hand drums bring a very unique effect to the song. It's very different from the over-polished, digitally-born backing tracks we’re used to hearing.
That's a friend of mine that came through and played the flute. She was nine months pregnant when she did that. She teaches music in the inner city, and we've been talking forever about getting her on a track somewhere. She's very involved in the church and whatnot. She told me, "If you ever do a track that's clean, I'll come down and play on it." She's been saying that for years. When I was writing, "The Science," I thought it would be perfect to have her flute on the song. It adds something different, with that looping through the song and with me rapping as monotone as I am. It's almost hard for me to listen to. I love it though. It came out great.
Do you think the fact that you were able to grow as an artist over the last decade without the trend-friendly influence of a major label allowed you stay true to yourself and your message?
If you're a punk-ass son of a bitch and you do what other people tell you to do, then you're a weak-minded individual from the jump. I know people in the underground who change up to fit in. That has nothing to do with it. If you're a man of principle and integrity, you're not going to allow anyone to compromise your reputation or art; major record label or not. The Flaming Lips turn in records how they want to turn in records. Jack White goes into the building and tells those mother fuckers what the album is going to sound like, what the cover is going to look like and how the video is going to turn out. It's also about being successful. When you've got success, then you can demand these things, but if you don't have any real level of success, you can't be so direct. I think it had something to do with me being successful on my own.
How did you get your start?
I got started by selling tapes on the streets. It was funny, yesterday we had an in-store appearance in Berkeley, and my mom finally got a CD from me. My mom kind of kicked me out of the house back then, because…man, I just wanted to rap. I wanted to rap and go to community college in the Bay Area. That's where I met these guys who were hanging out and selling tapes. They told me, "We're gonna go to Europe. After that, we're gonna sell tapes and try to get on as many shows as possible. Do you wanna go?" Of course, my answer was, "Fuck yeah!" Everything started with one tape. I had 100 blank cassettes, and I copied them all from that one tape. I went to Kinkos to make the cover, and I sat there in Berkeley on Telegraph Ave. selling tapes. I put in everything I had. There was no label support, no family support, nothing—just 158 percent me.
Did you ever see yourself getting to the point where you're on Warner Bros. Records and hanging out in the Palms doing interviews?
I saw myself getting to this point. I got into this to be Ice Cube. I didn't do this to be some fuckin' independent street artist. I definitely planned for this and beyond. I didn’t see myself right here, right now. I wanted to be farther along. I wanted to have a Grammy by now, be starting in the new Black Panthers movie and have a name that everybody knows. I just work really hard. I definitely feel like, as hard as I work, I haven't gotten everything I've earned yet. There isn't a rapper alive that can say he's worked as hard as me, except for maybe Slug and Sage Francis; definitely not a black rapper. Being a black rapper I feel like I've got a whole different struggle.
The first time I heard the name MURS was from the work you did with the hardcore band, Terror. Looking into it, I learned that you've worked with a ton of different artists. Does the diversity and collaboration help keep you fresh?
Definitely; it makes this exciting and exposes me to new people and different types of music. Whether I like it or not, everything you do influences you. To me, having more experiences in life helps your music. It doesn't matter what kind of artist you are.
“I got into this to be Ice Cube. I didn't do this to be some fuckin' independent street artist.”
Tell me about the band you debuted at Coachella this year, The Invincibles.
The Invincibles is a band called Holy Bread and myself. I brought them over to make some tracks for my album; some punk records I wanted to make. I wanted "Time Bomb," by Rancid, and I wanted to do some original shit. We did a few songs. And the label, at least at my label, when they saw black people pick up instruments, that makes white people really nervous. They tried to tell us that the tracks had to be replayed or produced by someone who knows rock music; just a lot of nonsense. So we just thought, "Whatever, we'll just do this ourselves." I was really nervous about Coachella because these are all people who know good bands. A lot of black musicians have tried to bring in musicians that just suck and are no longer relevant. Holy Bread is a real punk band, and with me it's both rap and rock. When black people do live instruments nowadays, it's more of a novelty. That's why when we debuted at Coachella, which is one of the biggest stages in North America, we practiced constantly. The band practices all the time anyway, so they were like, "You're killing it; just chill." I think it went well, but we've still got some work to do. I don't know when or if we'll ever be able to do something, but it was fun.
Lyrically, you call for a lot of change and reform, not just in your community, but for society as a whole.
Well, I think that's the general consensus of the mass consciousness. I think it's the shared mindset for the entire planet. Not too many people are happy with the way our society is going and hopefully I'm talking about the same things on my album that people talk about at home.
Let's say you were elected president, what would you change?
I don't know, man. I personally think it would be a good idea to stop talking about murder or selling drugs on the television like it's cool. Or stop teaching kids that extravagance is the way to go and that greed and luxury are good things. Life has gotten out of whack, but it's balancing itself out because we're in a recession. We're heading for depression. The government has got to give up however many billions of dollars to correct the excessive lifestyles we've been living. Everybody was buying fucking real estate like it was nothing. If you're going to buy a house, maybe just buy one. If you're going to buy a car, maybe just buy one. If you have to wear a gold chain or diamond earrings, just buy one. People are starving out there, and a lot of people are in line for a big reality check. I don't think this recession or depression or whatever is going to mean much to people who are living within their means, but everybody that has four or five cars, or three or four homes is going to feel it and get what they deserve. Life will take care of everything. All you have to do is work hard and be the best human being you can be. Everything else will fall into place. Be good to the people you come into contact with and be good to yourself. Hopefully, all the financially overweight people will get what’s coming to them.
So it's safe to assume that you're going to be immune from the ego-inflation a deal with a major label can bring?
No, hell no! If anything, it's going to get bigger. Ego-trippin' for me is wearing my hair like I do. I can sell just as many records as you do. I can get just as many girls that look just as good as the ones that you get. I can do everything you can do, but with this huge mass of hair on top of my head. I can say whatever I want to say, be very original and very positive. That's how I trip out. You know what I mean?
That goes back to what you said earlier. You're out there with a real message, a positive one at that. You aren't just rapping about clothes, cars and money.
I guess it's not that often that other rappers do speak positively, or at least they aren't fool enough or crazy enough to be arrogant about it. Me, I’m very arrogant. Not only am I a better rapper than you, but I'm saying better things than you are, so you can shut the fuck up. I'm not afraid to say it. I'm not here to co-exist with them; I'm here to extinguish the ignorance. I think there are a lot of rappers in the mainstream today that are just here to abide by a lot of the bullshit these other mother fuckers have to say. You suck! I don't care what you do. Come beat me up, but you still stink. I'm here on purpose to make them all look incredibly bad.