When you reach rock bottom, you can either give up or get up.
Murs got back up, and he did so stronger than ever. Beginning in 2014, life slowly spun out of control for the revered Los Angeles rapper. His first marriage fell apart. Mom went through an intensive surgery that necessitated 24-hour post-operative care for an entire month. He moved from Arizona back to Inglewood, CA. Writer’s block set in. Finally, the downward spiral culminated with the tragic stillbirth of his son. Entering the studio in November 2017 with producer Michael “Seven” Summers, these events triggered the 14 songs comprising his 15th full-length and fourth for Strange Music, the aptly titled A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable—which drops on his fortieth birthday March 16, 2018.
“You don’t really know who you are until you hit rock bottom,” he exclaims. “I’m reaffirming that I’m not broken. After everything happened, I had nothing I wanted to say musically. I was in the midst of so much shit that I really couldn’t speak on where I was…Because I didn’t know where I was. November was seven-and-a-half months after my son died. I spent the summer with my oldest son. I was getting back to normal little by little. I thought I could stay at the bottom and wallow, but I had Strange Music reserve the release date two years ago. They pressed me to stick to the deadline. It worked. I’ve always made vulnerable music, and I’ve been through some things. However, it was nothing like the last four years. So, I screamed back into the abyss.”
For over two decades, Murs has fearlessly rapped with power, poise, and purpose. Picking up a mic in high school, he founded 3 Melancholy Gypsys before logging time in influential West Coast collective Living Legends. Following his 1997 solo debut F’Real, he unleashed a string of underground classics, including The End of the Beginning for EL-P’s Definitive Jux , the major label breakout Murs for President , and the critically acclaimed Have A Nice Life . The latter earned praise from the likes of Pitchfork, HipHopDX, and XXL who wrote, “Murs utilizes the full arsenal of his skills to craft an album with the same passion as an artist introducing himself to the world for the first time.” Most recently, 2017’s Captain California maintained that momentum and went Top 25 on the Billboard Independent Albums Chart.
Simultaneously, he remains the consummate “rapper’s rapper.” Between six lauded collaborative releases with 9th Wonder, he joined forces with Sacha Jenkins and iconic Bad Brains bassist Daryl Jennifer in The White Mandingos and shared bars with everybody from Kendrick Lamar and E-40 to Snoop Dogg and Warren G. 2016 even saw him make history by setting a Guinness World Record by “Rapping for 24 Hours Non-Stop” during a Twitch.tv livestream.
However, A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable would mark a first for the MC. Even after three proper outings for Strange Music, he had never collaborated with in-house label production impresario Seven on a track outside of the popular “Collabos” series—let alone on an entire project. Seven produced the new music exclusively.
Meeting for face-to-face sessions in Kansas City and Los Angeles, they created a rich sonic world for every song. In L.A., the rapper invited longtime friends such as bassist Patrick Page [The Internet] and iconic punk rock drummer Chuck Treece [McRad] to lay down tracks, while his cousin and Dear White People composer Kris Bowers contributed piano. Additionally, Seven welcomed saxophonist Steven Lambert among other musicians in KC.
“It was super collaborative,” says the artist. “I gave him some new weapons, and he did the same for me. He was even changing the beats to fit my flow, which I’ve never had a producer do before. I think he’s one of the most brilliant producers in hip-hop history. I’m more the lead actor or the frontman, while he’s the director. By letting him lead me, I knew I couldn’t go wrong.”
Days before Christmas 2017, Murs introduced the record with “Melancholy.” The beat shuffles between airy electronics and drums as he proclaims, “No need for you to feel sorry, bro I’m just melancholy.” Meanwhile, airy acoustic guitar resounds throughout the riveting spoken word intro of “Unimaginable” [feat. Robots&Balloons]. Recounting the recent trials and tribulations, he cuts deeper than ever and admits, “I cried a whole lot.”
“Maybe it’s silly for a rapper to talk about crying at the beginning of an album, but I’ve never heard a rap record like that,” he sighs. “I mention the death of my son, because it’s something that’s not talked about. You’re never prepared for it. Friends don’t call you to talk about that, because no one knows what to say. Maybe when that happens now, someone can recommend ‘Unimaginable’.”
Elsewhere, he goes full-on “G-Funk” for the follow-up single “G Lollipops” [feat. Fashawn & Prof]. Hosting something of a hip-hop master class, the three wordsmiths lock into a lyrical crossfire.
“We toured together three years ago and had so much fun,” he recalls. “For years, we talked about doing something. We found the right one. It gives the tracklisting another dimension.”
A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable also sees fellow legend and Strange Music co-founder Tech N9ne guest on the third single “Same Way”—another first for a Murs album.
“When Tech and I finally collaborated like that, I wanted it to be natural,” he explains. “I’ve been on his songs before, but I’m bringing him all the way into my element here. He had something he wanted to get off his chest, and he killed it.”
In the end, the resulting body of work represents another turning point for the MC.
“I didn’t see myself rapping past the age of twenty-five,” he leaves off. “I think of how much more I have to say at almost forty than I did back then. It means a lot to me, because I didn’t know I needed to process all of this, but I did. Ultimately, recording helped me. The title came from Hamilton. ‘Unimaginable’ is the only word you can use to describe losing a child. I realized that word doesn’t have to be completely negative though. Unimaginable could also describe the accomplishment of releasing the record and the feeling I’ll get when my new child is born healthy in April. This isn’t just A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable pain; it’s hopefully the unimaginable joy that awaits me and all of us, if we continue to press forward.” – Rick Florino, February 2018