evenge, so they say, is a dish best served cold. Perhaps Murs’ latest would have benefited from a little more craft and froideur. On the game-talking intro to Murray’s Revenge, “Murs Day,” Murs raps: “I am better than your favorite rapper / But it don’t take much these days for you to master the mic / Most of these rappers trapped in the hype / They makin’ whole albums only half of its tight.” Well, quite.
See, Murs is competing with himself. His previous album, 3:16 The 9th Edition, on Def Jux, and also with 9th Wonder, charted a relatively untrodden middle road between gangsta and the wordy, cerebral flow championed by that label. Murs cast himself as the everyman rapper, on the fringes of crime, hustling aluminum cans instead of crack. 9th’s production was understated but effective (“Yes, 9th really DOES make these beats on Fruity Loops / But what does that matter? This is more than music,” Murs quietly boasted on the album’s introduction) synthesizing the high-polish of contemporary commercial hip-hop with old school soul samples. Murs’ rhymes were tight and astonishingly focused: the entire album clocked in at just over half an hour.
Despite its identical brevity (10 songs, thirty minutes and change), Murray’s Revenge feels tired, the work of a mind either distracted or unwilling to commit to any one thing. Even 9th’s production sounds thrown together, forcing Murs to wrestle against the beat on the choruses (never his strong suit anyway). “Barbershop” begins with the laidback, off-the-cuff feel of a freestyle between Murs and the execrably named rapper Big Pooh, but Murs mars his record of concision, letting the song stretch at least a couple of minutes longer than it should, while Mr. Pooh tells an impressively dull in-joke and the song dribbles away like loose, well, pooh.
Murs has identified a novel (to rap) character to invest with his flow: the ordinary Joe. And at his best, he makes these struggles as epic and engaging as any drugs and guns gangsta fantasy. The trouble with Revenge is that Murs gives his audience so few reasons to care about him or his stories. 9th, for his part, appears to rise to exactly the level of Murs’ flow, providing a slinky bassline and horn stab to “Murray’s Law,” but leaving “D.S.W.G (Dark Skinned White Girls)” in the murky depths that the clunking title deserves.
Murs is marginally better on the pleasures and pitfalls of L.A., “a place that everybody hate, but you got to see once” where “Magic Johnson be owning everything like he should.” “Dreamchasers,” a poor cousin to 3:16’s “Walk Like a Man,” has some of the album’s best rhymes, a loving portrait of a nine year old goggle-eyed at the local ex-con: “Don’t that put the ‘hood in your childhood?”
Further along, Murs breaks another self-made rule by preaching to his audience. He would like to keep this also within the bounds of his everyrapper persona: “Nobody’s perfect, ain’t none of us worthless / We all got a place, and we all got a purpose / Now I’m not taking y’all to Sunday service.” Murs’ trite truisms about men, women and money have all the insight of The Cosby Show. I’m not worthless? Gee, thanks Murs.