Some guys worry about success and how to make it happen. Others simply do, channeling their ambition into creation, believing hard work and passion will take them wherever they need to go. Los Angeles-born rapper Nick Carter, aka Murs, is the latter such artist, someone who’s not only a fine storyteller, but punctures rap’s typical air of bravado and superiority to sing about everyday things and people.
“It’s part of my talent to bring some excitement or an interesting perspective to the things that some people may consider mundane,” Murs says.
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, he dropped out of school as a teen less out of boredom than the assurance that he knew what he wanted to do. In the mid-’90s, he sold homemade tapes from a spot on the Cal-Berkeley campus, like it was his office. It’s grown from there. Over the last 15 years, Murs has become one of rap’s most prolific artists and collaborators, releasing at least two dozen albums solo, in groups Living Legends and 3 Melancholy Gypsys, or with artists 9th Wonder, Slug (from Atmosphere) and Terrace Martin.
While he has never achieved large-scale commercial success, he has slowly built a sturdy grassroots following with an unquenchable flow of releases and tours. In a corner of the music industry typified by short-lived careers, Murs has established himself as an underground institution.
“I’ve had a longer career than some of my contemporaries, just because I worked way hard to build it. So I appreciate that,” Murs says from his new home in Tucson, a move that caps several years of change.
Not only has Murs gotten married and left his longtime home Los Angeles, but ended an uncomfortable relationship with Warner Brothers after one album, embarking on a new one with BluRoc Records, started by Roc-A-Fella records co-founder Damon Dash. In October they released Murs’ seventh studio album, Love & Rockets, Vol. 1: The Transformation. It’s the first in an anticipated three-part album cycle, tentatively planned to be followed by Declaration and The Emancipation.
The beats are courtesy of BluRoc house producer Ski Beatz, whose band, The Senseis, provides tight, funky live backing on the album and the current tour. Much of Love & Rockets is scored to jazzy fusion and ’70s soul, as Murs gets nostalgic for music inspiration (“Eazy-E”), his family as he takes the wedding plunge (“Dream On”), and his own musical drive to reach higher (“Reach Hire”). It’s an album about what brought him here, and seems to reflect the 33-year-old’s recent artistic, geographical and life changes. He even shaved his trademark dreads.
“It was time for a change. There was really no significance to it. I’ve just been starting to get rid of a lot of things,” he says.
Of course, one of the biggest things ditched was Murs’ relationship with Warner Brothers, which released 2008’s Murs for President. After a dozen years of releasing music, signing to a major label suggested he was stepping up to the big-time, but he says all their promises of promotion and video money dried up as quickly as the economy that fall. After 18 months, Murs finally extricated himself from his contract and planned a release-filled 2010 with 10 10-track albums, full of music accumulated while on Warner. Those plans got scratched when his and his wife’s laptops were stolen last year. His lone release was Fornever, with 9th Wonder.
But Damon Dash stepped into the picture, and Murs is back up to speed. Besides releasing Love & Rockets and The Melrose (with Martin) this year, he recorded a punk rock record — which he says has been held hostage by the producer since the band broke up. He created a comic book, Merch Girl, with Josh Blaylock of Devil’s Due Publishing, and a book on The Making of Love & Rockets. There’s also another collaboration with 9th Wonder in the offing, and he’s started a new band called White Mandingos with journalist Sacha Jenkins and Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jenifer.
“Damon Dash really encourages us to have as many releases as possible. Just encourages the creativity. It’s all about content, creativity and a constant flow,” Murs says. “I wish I had Warner’s budget and could do the things that we’re doing now, but at least I’m finally with a group of people that I understand and understand me.”
He is excited by the new label relationship and believes it may have borne fruit already in this tour’s sponsorship by adidas, which he takes as a sign of his continuing relevancy.
“It means the world because I don’t sell enough records to affect anything, but I think [adidas sees] what we’re doing is progressive and that we’re trendsetters. That we’re in fact the generators that make pop culture go,” Murs says. “The mainstream’s water comes up from an underground source.”
Little surprise then, that Murs keeps bubbling to the surface.
On the Bill
Murs with Ski Beatz and The Senseis plays the Fox Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 5. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Mckenzie Eddy, Sean O’Connell and Da$h also play. Tickets are $18.50 in advance, $20 day of show, plus a $2 fee for those under 21. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.