November 21, 2008
The Record Bar
Better Than: Finding out you're adopted
By JORDAN EDWARDS
Murs (aka Nick Carter) has spent the last decade drifting around the West Coast hip-hop wasteland without much love from the mainstream. The Ryan Adams of rap, he's pumped out eight studio albums and several collaborations since 1997. But the 30-year-old Angelino recently signed to Warner Bros., so it's time to get serious. Goofball guests like Shock G and pro wrestler John Cena have been brushed aside in favor of Top 40 players Snoop Dogg and Will.i.am. Before the release of Murs for President on September 30, the label launched a full-scale media campaign complete with a front-page spot on MySpace.
He also travels in a badass bus with his picture painted on the side.
Murs is on the road in support of his brand new big-boy status. But before he can pack them in at the Sprint Center, he's got prove himself in small venues like the Record Bar in Westport, which is where his Zune-sponsored tour parked last night.
After a lukewarm performance by Kidz in the Hall, Murs stormed the stage without much ceremony in a Florida Gators hoodie. A few minutes in, he shed the sweatshirt, and with it, any notion that he was there just to pimp his new CD. The crowd, starved for a solid hip-hop show, loved the entrance. Sure, there were plenty of casual fans hovering close to the bar, but the first several rows came to throw their hands up. This fan-friendly approach backfired a bit, as he whizzed through his catalog like the copyrights were about to expire.
"I'm taking requests tonight," he said. "It's like Rat Pack shit."
"H-U-S-T-L-E" got everyone rowdy and the state-of-the-world single "Can It Be" showed that the new stuff isn't half bad. Murs is at is best, though, when he raps about the opposite sex. "Bad Man!," a dead-on commentary about the downside of fuck buddies, blasted clear with all the cleverness intact.
He knows that his strength in his flow. He'll never rely on Ashanti or T-Pain to lift up his rhymes up with an auto-tune hook. The power of each song lies within the verses. Even as he sped through the set with an eye on the clock, he avoided the temptation to mumble lyrics. For "Break Up (The OJ Song)," Murs took his time confessing the fallout of a romance gone sour. The track faded so he could let the last line spill acapella: "Find another man and I just might kill you."
Such introspection only works for so long in front of a live audience. Less than an hour in, the set began to lose its momentum. Enter the supporting MC. Joe Scudda appeared out of nowhere for "Silly Girl," and North Carolina native Big Pooh traded lines with Murs on "Barbershop"--both of which can be found on 2006's Murray's Revenge. This reliance on old material summed up the evening. After the new radio-ready track "Lookin' Fly" put bodies in motion, he closed things out with "Silly Girl," an ode to naïve females made famous by former Definitive Jux labelmate Atmosphere.
Murs isn't the world's greatest rapper, but there are few that can hang in his league. Let's hope he can find a balance between the indie superstar he used to be and the corporate product he's starting to become.
Personal Bias: I've lobbied for over a year that the song "L.A." should be in an episode of Entourage. And by lobbied, I mean told girls at parties while losing to them at beer pong.
Who the hell are you?: A girl I know from high school was called on stage to show off her "Welcome to Kansas City--Duck, Motherfucker" t-shirt. Later, she didn't recognize me.
By The Way: Murs has a thing for Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! The title track and video from Murray's Revenge riffs on the Nintendo classic, and with the digital purchase of Murs For President, fans get a copy of a Punch-Out!!-inspired boxing video game.