If there are any two genres in the landscape of contemporary popular music that at least vaguely mirror one another, those two genres are hip hop and punk music. The origins of both date back anywhere as early as the mid 70s and as late as the late 70s, and, in their respective idealized forms, each promotes creativity and originality, among other positive messages. And even a casual music fan can easily recognize a notable rift between two diverging factions of both: an underground of substance, and a mainstream of style.

It should come, then, as little surprise that Los Angeles-based rapper Murs, who readily admits that SoCal outfit Sublime influenced him as strongly as Jay-Z, and a proud skater of over a decade, carries a decidedly punk tone in his aggressive raps. Equally fitting is MURS’ recent official affiliation with label Definitive Jux, reigning kings of subversive alternative hip hop (sometimes derisively referred to as backpacker or nerd rap)—a home where his ode to skateboarding from his “End of The Beginning” LP, “Tranzitionz az a Ridah,” is as readily accepted than talk of gang-banging or ho-pimping. Little MURS does is in line with traditional hip hop conventions—he even toured on the 2003 Vans Warped Tour, a traveling horde of some of today’s punk acts.

Murs’ background and personality alone stand to make for at least an interesting album, and add to the mix 9th Wonder, a producer whose meteoric rise to prominence has quickly made him one of the most sought-after beatsmiths in the game, and 3:16 quickly becomes a highly anticipated release.

While it’s of note that at just ten tracks, and clocking in at only 35 minutes, Murs and 9th Wonder will undoubtedly leave many fans fiending for more, and maybe even unsatisfied with “3:16″‘s “Illmatic”-esque brevity. But the full-length material the two produced together (eight full tracks and two interludes) showcases a musical marriage nearly as natural as Guru and Premier or Pete Rock and C.L. 9th Wonder’s tight, compressed sound, undoubtedly a product of his exclusive use of computer software to construct his beats, could make even average rappers sound nice (see his contributions to Memphis Bleek’s next release), but maybe even a little more so with Murs. Murs even clarifies things for those who might not believe in 9th’s affinity for technology on “Intro,” as well as spitting some of his purest heat throughout:

“Anticipation got the deck stacked against me since the outset
9th got them fiending for an instrumental version of an album that ain’t out yet
but now it’s my outlet, and it feels so good
tour with punk bands but I’m still so good
so hood it’s ridiculous
Still igniculous – that means three times doper than your favorite MC
Riding around with a chauffeur
These niggas need Jesus, fuck it, niggas need Oprah
All this killin’ and this pimpin and these foul ways of living
See, everyone’s forgetting that the struggle’s not over
I got sober, then got drunk again
Got my boy from Carolina and picked up the pen
Threw my nuts on the finish line, I come to win
While you nuttin’ to lose
I shake you out your shoes, with ease
With moves parallel to those and others threes
Couldn’t wait for George to make the next Star Wars scene
So I made my own Episode: 3:16
To answer all the rumors that been shootin’ through your group
Yes, 9th does really make these beats on Fruity Loops
But what does that matter? This is more than music
By buying this disc, you have bought into a movement
Not a revolutionary, nothing but the truth I carry
Change if you want to change, the karma is for you to carry
All I’m trying to do is, lighten your load
So in between I’m getting faded
Some of y’all getting blow
But I couldn’t fall off and lose sight of my goals
So I got sober, got drunk again
MURS 3:16, let the fun begin”

The straight verse from the intro displays much of what Murs is about: playful, humorous, aggressive, braggadocios and conscious, just to name a few. Murs puts it best himself on the hard-hitting banger title track when he says: “I’m trying to walk that thin line between intelligence and ignorance / Have a little fun, while making music of significance.”

And then, there’s Murs and his ladies. Of the eight full-length tracks on 3:16, three of them deal with Murs’ sexcapades and or frustration with the fairer sex. Whether he’s playing a disenchanted lover on the playful “Bad Man!,” a lovesick young man on “The Pain,” or the player who romances ladies of all creed (a la Jay-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls”) on “Freak These Tales,” Murs touches on nearly every aspect of his dealings with women. Though sometimes crude and misogynistic in tone, MURS still manages to stay away from the truly distasteful, with the exception of a few lines like “She let me stick it straight in her asshole – lyrically,” from “Freak These Tales,” but even in cases like this, the punch line helps keep it light.

Elsewhere, Murs successfully harnesses his desires to speak intelligently while having some fun. “H-U-S-T-L-E” quickly becomes the defining track for the average guy who worked hard while abstaining from drug sales and gangbanging—the antithesis of what one might expect in light of how cliche the term is in hip hop today. And, in vintage DJ Premier fashion, 9th Wonder freaks not one, not two, but three superb beats on “Walk Like a Man,” Murs’ heart-wrenching narrative of the violent death of his best friend.

And, it wouldn’t be a true indie release without stirring up strong feelings and emotions of listeners, and Murs pulls off this feat quite easily as he picks up where Mos Def’s “Rock ‘N Roll” left off—questioning the “fad” of non-blacks “acting black,” their misuse of the word nigger, as well as the theft of hip hop from black culture in a way similar to the fate of rock ‘n’ roll a generation ago.

While his work on the mic isn’t revolutionary, especially in his flows, which vary very little from track to track, Murs overcomes any technical shortcomings with charisma, clarity and an original style all his own. He remains interesting and significant while refraining from undermining his own efforts by going for shock value; he’s not fronting for attention, he’s just brutally honest. Handing all production duty to 9th Wonder was a wise decision, even though 3:16 feels more like an EP than an LP. And although Murs easily could have requested the services of Def Jux producer-of-the-moment RJD2 and tacked on a few more tracks to lengthen this offering, limiting his list of producers to just one (and a stellar one, at that) proves advantageous through an extremely smooth-flowing final product.

The first quarter of 2004 has already seen artists offering fans quite a few solid releases, with a renewed premium on originality and creativity. Kanye West, Cee-Lo and Royce da 5’9″ continue to raise the bar, and Murs and 9th Wonder continue the trend here—with maybe even a bit of a Johnny Rotten snarled lip.

Murs :: Murs 3:16 - The 9th Edition
8.5Overall Score