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Murs - The End of the Beginning

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Artist: Murs

Album: The End of the Beginning

Label: Def Jux

Review date: Mar. 25, 2003

Still Holding Back?

Murs has stated that his record The End of the Beginning is about “putting an end to the what ifs.” What he means is that throughout his ten year career, from the garage-hop of 3 Melancholy Gypsies to the tongue-in-cheek slickness of the 2002 Felt EP, there have always been extenuating circumstances that have kept Murs’s work from achieving the heights it might have. Whether it was the poor distribution deals that plagued the Living Legends crew in the mid-to-late ’90s, or the unfortunate in-house production on so many releases, there was always something other than Murs holding Murs back.

Or so goes the theory, at least.

Murs is a West Coast underground legend, known variously as a live-show maniac, a freestyle assassin, and a hip hop jack-of-all-trades, working with everyone from Aceyalone to Z-Tripp. Yet, despite garnering many accolades over the course of his career, Murs, along with most of the other Living Legends, has not had the same commercial success as other groups or individuals in similar positions. Thus the move to the hottest indie label of the moment, with an album produced by many of the biggest names in the scene: from El-P to Blockhead, RJD2 to Ant, the production credits read like the latest Who’s Who. This was to be the album, the perfect opportunity to shut-up all the naysayers and prove to everyone, finally, that Murs rules the world.

Or so goes the theory, at least.

The album has not been out a month yet, so it’s hard to know whether commercial success will finally come to Murs. Certainly, with guest appearances by Shock G of Digital Underground, Aesop Rock and El-P, one would imagine that the album will easily move 30,000 units. But that remains to be seen. What is clear now is that all those extenuating circumstances mean little in the grand scheme: despite better sound quality and more interesting and varied production, this album still sounds a whole lot like every other Murs album. The subject matter is familiar, the styles on display are familiar... In fact, the entire album seems familiar. If this is truly the end of the beginning part of Murs’s career, then one can only surmise that, despite the bells and whistles, he wants to end that era exactly as he began it.

Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Murs has brought the world some truly fun and memorable music, and he does so again on this disc. The album opens with the track “You & I,” which rides a catchy little bass line, and introduces the loose theme of the album, Murs’s thoughts on his place in the world after ten years in the rap game. A bongo loop leads into the chorus (“it’s about me / it’s about you”), which, despite its simplicity, works well. As he puts it, Murs “just wants to rock the mic and turn the party out.” One can certainly imagine Murs doing just that with this song at a live show. Next up is “Dibbs Did This Shit,” an interlude by the famous Mr. Dibbs that sounds eerily like Dibbs’s intro to Dose-one’s Hemispheres, from the scratched repetition of the name down to the break, which, if it isn’t the exact same, is certainly similar. Perhaps the best track on the album comes next: “What Do You Know?,” produced by Belief. It is a classic Murs head-banger, the type of song that won’t leave your head for days.

After these three strong tracks though, the album muddles. The production loses its upbeat tempo, and even interesting concepts, like Murs’s ode to skateboarding, “Transitionz Az A Ridah,” get lost in the shuffle. The tracks with guest emcees are all good, but not amazing, despite the big names. By the end of the disc, Ant steps in for two memorable tracks, but it feels like too little, too late. The 3 Melancholy Gypsies reunite to close out the album with a track that showcases little of the grit and chemistry that made their debut album as enjoyable as it was in 1992.

In the end, The End of the Beginning will please those that are already Murs fans and confirm the suspicions of the skeptics. It may even, with the plethora of big names, earn Murs a few new fans. One can only hope that it will bring him some financial success. Yet many, I think, will remain unconvinced that Murs is actually capable of making an album that transcends mediocrity, or that truly translates the energy of his live show. Until then, the theory stands unproven, and we can only surmise that Murs is the only one holding Murs back.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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