Bonafide underground legend MURS releases his latest album and solo debut on the Strange Music label, home to Tech N9ne (also the label's co-founder), Brotha Lynch Hung and Big Scoob among others. Perhaps not the label that immediately springs to mind when you think of MURS but then again, he's always done things that little bit differently and has already released material on a wide variety of labels throughout his remarkably hectic career. The move has looked a good decision so far though with only positive vibes coming out of the union, but it remains to be seen whether MURS' aspirations for growth and success are realised.
14 tracks and 46 minutes long, 'Have a Nice Life' kicks off with the title track on which MURS explains where he's at and where he wants to be. He now has "some cute kids and a woman who is faithful / food upon my table, my bank account is stable", though you'd think that with as many years in the game as he has, MURS would already be pretty comfortable - yet he's said he was only able to buy a property when he signed with Strange Music. He talks about now being broadcast on satellite and cable stations and reflects on his age (he's in his late 30's now - "I don't wanna hide my gray, I don't wanna dye my hair"!) and bringing up his children in the right way. The beat is pretty good too, the simple piano melody fits well with the overall mood of MURS' lyrics.
The more commercial/pop feel that MURS has unashamedly admitted aiming for alongside childhood friend and big time pop producer Jesse Shatkin is evident throughout the entire album and the beat beneath the hook of track 2, 'Surprises', feels like it could be at home on a top 40 track. The hook on 'Mi Corazon' - and indeed probably the entire track - is a definitely more in pop-chart territory and feels a little forced, if I'm honest. Things turn a little darker on 'Woke Up Dead' with MURS describing a dream in which he's been shot twice in the head. It's a track that feels inspired by his childhood - his older brother was active in the LA streets - and by the time he brings up post-traumatic stress disorder it definitely feels a very personal account. The line "nobody at the funeral knew that I was crippin' / well I'm not but on the block who isn't? / if you kick it on the spot then it don't make a difference" does a good job of summing up the potential pitfalls of growing up on the block. The theme continues into the following track, 'P.T.S.D', which features Bay Area legend E-40. Each reflects on the various stress factors that go hand in hand with living in a ghetto and how it seems that no matter where you're from, "if you from the hood then you just like me".
Despite being the kind of kid who preferred comic books and skateboards to drive-by's and dealing drugs - he says "but I would never murder / I would much rather yield" on 'Have a Nice Life', for example - it would be impossible for MURS' South Central upbringing to have not played a major part in shaping his view of the world. However, it also afforded him rich substance on which to draw inspiration and 'Okey Dog' is an example of just that - a track inspired by "one of the toughest dudes I know", according to MURS. In somewhat similar territory to 'Funeral for a Killer' from the 9th Wonder 'The Final Adventure' collabo, 'Okey Dog' paints an almost celebratory picture of a figure from MURS' younger days - a hood legend who'd made his first million at 17 and was so hard, he claimed the made up 'Okey Dog Crip' set just to piss off gang members. It's a humorous tale, even if the morality is a little conflicted.
I found myself skipping through the next few tracks, something I haven't really done with a MURS record since maybe 2008's 'MURS For President'. The main issue for me is the production; 'Two Step' and 'No More Control' feel distinctly average (despite the message within, in the case of the latter) - the lyrics feel mis-matched with the beat and it's a case of trying too hard to hit the mainstream level, while the hook on 'No More Control' is just awful.
There are some highlights as the album continues - notably 'Skatin' Through the City' - but despite having now played it a good number of times I can't shake the overall feeling of disappointment. There are some tracks I really enjoyed ('Have a Nice Life', 'Skatin' Through the City' and 'Okey Dog' for example) but equally there are some I really don't like ('Mi Corazon' - though I did find the hook keeping me awake one night, 'No More Control', 'Pussy and Pizza'). The remainder I didn't really find myself having a strong opinion on either way. MURS has stated he may have to lose a few fans in his quest to crack the mainstream with Strange Music and whilst I personally won't be abandoning him just yet, I think he will probably prove himself correct - especially if he continues down this path. He still comes through with superior stories and concepts though, whilst his flow is as effortless as ever. After hearing 'The Strangest' and 'Fun-eral' with Slug and CES Cru prior to the album's release I was really anticipating this one - both tracks were firmly planted in the more traditional hip-hop arena and whilst there are some tracks on the album that have a similar feel, the overall vibe MURS has gone with here just doesn't do enough for me, unfortunately.