Murs for President
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Released a year behind schedule but at a timely moment nonetheless, Murs for President retains the qualities of backpacker hip-hop, despite its new Warner Bros. patina. It is, by turns, nerdy, self-flagellating, irreverent, bitingly funny and easily the rapper’s best to date. Murs has long been known for direct provocations and this time he goes farther afield, venturing from rehashed conspiracy theories to large-scale critiques of moral corrosion in hip-hop. Quality-wise, the emcee’s production lags behind his lyrics, but he compensates with thematic unity.
Murs has always brought irony to the foreground of his music, and obviousness is the goal this time. His new gambit is to poach canonical R&B hits and chop them in a way that subverts the singers’ original sentiment. Thus, the album’s single “Break Up,” based on a popular broken-heart ballad by Hamilton, is cheekily subtitled “the OJ Song.” It’s an interesting idea, if a little too reliant on the Motown catalog. Ultimately, Murs for President succeeds not on production values but on Murs’ talent as a lyricist. His most sophisticated track, “The Science,” is a kind of Ph.D. thesis on Gary Webb’s theory about the CIA bringing drugs into black communities by way of Los Angeles. He then goes on to discuss drug laws, poverty, welfare, and the history of hip-hop. The beat is wack, but the scope of Murs’ lyrics is daunting.