Artist Spotlight: MURS
A look inside this legendary rapper’s story, and how he’s helping build a better world for the next generation of artists
There are hundreds of thousands of successful artists out there with incredible music, yet most music fans never get far beyond the line-up of big-hitting mainstream artists – and it’s time for that to change.
That’s why we’re starting an Artist Spotlight series to amplify the voices of artists we believe the world should hear. And, we could think of no better way to kick this series off than with an artist near and dear to our hearts…
MURS is an LA-native rapper who has been in the game for well over two decades and has made a name for himself on the global stage. He’s a former member of the rap group Living Legends, along with Luckyiam, Sunspot Jonz, The Grouch, Scarub, Eligh, Aesop, Bicasso and Arata, and is currently a member of several groups, including 3 Melancholy Gypsys, Felt, Melrose, and The Invincibles.
In addition to being a prolific artist, MURS is a born storyteller, mentor, role model, advocate and a visionary that is helping to build the foundations of the new music industry alongside projectNEWM as our official Music Business Advisor.
Oh – and if that isn’t enough, MURS also set a Guinness World Record for rapping for 24 hours, non-stop during a live stream on Twitch.
In celebration of our new partnership, we held a Twitter Space to give people a chance to get to know the legend himself and hear his thoughts on the music industry, the blockchain and the NEWMusic Movement – check out a snapshot of that conversation.*
*Some interview responses have been edited for brevity and clarity. The full interview is linked below…
Would you mind giving us a quick breakdown of your history – where you started, where you went and where you’re at now?
I started my journey in music in the eighties when I heard rap, but professionally, in 1996 when I did my first European tour. We went to perform at orphanages and were just kind of bogarting our way into shows. This was pre-internet and so we would show up and if Wu-Tang was performing, we’d say we’re opening for Wu-Tang, and they’d believe us because there’s no other reason Americans would be there if they weren’t with Wu-Tang [but we weren’t].
Then the world started to open up, and the indie grind got a little bit more respected. I signed at Def Jux [Definitive Jux] for my first record deal, which got me in Best Buy and places from there. Then Warner Brothers took a look at me, and I signed with them.
As I transitioned out of the indie market, I started a festival called Paid Dues, which went on to become the biggest independent rap festival and the first festival to host Kendrick [Lamar], Mac Miller, Nipsey Hussle and Dom Kennedy.
I didn’t have a lot of help starting out, so I wanted to kind of leave breadcrumbs and platforms for others to build their way out of the underground. And I think it worked… we were the first show to ever be held at the Shrine Expo Hall, well, in recent history.
I was mentored by the owner of Rock the Bells, Chang Weisberg, and Paul Tollett, who does Coachella. He let me shadow him for a couple of Coachellas and just watch him and how he ran the operation. And so we went from 5,000 tickets to eventually 30,000 tickets at our last one in 2013. That inspired me more, because I kept finding people that were willing to help me. So, I wanted to help others from there. I went on to sign with Strange Music as an independent artist, which is where I am now.
How did you get started with cryptocurrency?
[It was 2013], and I had just put out a graphic novel, in conjunction with my friend, Josh Blaylock. I think it was the second rap ‘thingy’, a rap graphic novel, to be fully funded on Kickstarter by my fans.
Once we successfully funded our comic book, Josh came to my house to ship it out to everyone and fulfill the orders, and he was like, “Yo, you mind if I pay you in Bitcoin?” And I’m thinking, sure, I was going to treat you to breakfast, but if you want to give me some imaginary money, that’s cool too. And then, for the rest of the day, while we’re packing up orders, he explains this to me, and I was like this is amazing. This is what I’ve been looking for. I’ve been looking out for the new world order for years… and a way to connect humans outside of the larger institutions we call government and boundaries and lines and this is… this is it. I knew it was the future.
So, I went to do this album and we did a song called Bitcoin Beezy, and the chorus goes, “I got 50 Bitcoin worth about a hundred grand.” [When that dropped] people just went to town on me on Twitter, saying things like, “Oh, how’s that Bitcoin doing for you? Is it worth a hundred grand yet? Is your 50 Bitcoin ever going to be worth a hundred grand?” And I wish I could dig up those tweets [now].
But before the release of that song, I remember saying that I don’t think Bitcoin is going to be ‘it’. It’s the forerunner, it’s the Yahoo [of the crypto world]. The “Google” is going to come along and do this a lot better than Bitcoin is doing it. It won’t be Bitcoin and it won’t be the thing after that; It’ll be the next thing, because that’s how it always works.
So I didn’t get rich; I didn’t keep my Bitcoin, but I also saw the community coming to my shows, and I had people show up to stores and shows saying, “I don’t know your music. I came because you made a song about Bitcoin, and I’ll buy everything you have in merch in Bitcoin.” Usually, I wasn’t equipped to accept it, but I just loved the community aspect of it.
And my friend, Josh [Blaylock] continued to build in that community and tell me about the conferences he was going to. And then, when NFTs hit, I called immediately because I recognized that there was a purpose other than money to be involved. There’s a way that art can help forward this technology and this movement. I wanted to figure out how we can work together, because… before, I wasn’t a stock market trader; I wasn’t a crypto trader. It’s not that I don’t care about money, but I care about art, and I care about community.
Can you share more about mentorship and how you’re supporting young artists and the evolution of the industry?
I did a series for HipHopDX on YouTube called The Breakdown, which is an editorial where we go over the origins of Hip Hop. And the platform told me that young people weren’t into hip hop history, but then I started walking through the airport and kids from Ireland were stopping me and telling me how much I educated them on hip hop [through these videos].
Then, four years ago a not-for-profit in Colorado reached out about trying to get kids into their space that [at the time] was only being used for violin and piano, but they wanted to attract a younger, more diverse crowd [to use the space]. So, I helped them build a program called GROUNDWAVES [SESSIONS] where we have an open mic, and we invite all MCs out to perform a song and get feedback. And the next day I would hold mentorship sessions for 45 minutes where I meet with those artists and give them tips on what they can improve upon. So now I meet one week a month with MCs who are asking me about new trends happening, what’s publishing, etc.
So it’s my job to be educated in the space and experimenting, or working with projectNEWM and various other crypto things. I try to learn as much as I can, because I feel like this is the future and I want to put my full focus on educating the next generation. Whether it’s a Kickstarter, or if I hear something new and it can further the culture of Hip Hop and put the control in the hands of the artists, then I want to be a part of it.
Want to hear more about how Murs got started with projectNEWM? You can listen to the complete Twitter Space (for the next 30 days) here.
Speakers in this snapshot include Murs and projectNEWM CEO, Ryan Jones. If you’d like to hear the full line-up of speakers, be sure to check out the full interview.
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