There isn’t a more open secret about rap fans than that we love free music. From mixtapes to the radio to the free album, we can’t get enough of it. But because of this, rappers and producers everywhere are giving away music, desperate to get people to listen. Because of this, sorting out the diamonds from the massive amounts of coal they’re surrounded with becomes difficult for even the most careful listener.
It would be tragic for any fan of rap to miss this. Murs and 9th Wonder have always made a good combination – while 9th Wonder is probably better known, Murs is his rapping equivalent. If you’ve ever heard anything from either of them, you have a good idea of what you’ll get hear: Murs’ unique, personal raps that vary between self-depreciating and downright arrogant over sped-up soul samples and bouncing drum loops courtesy of 9th Wonder. It’s a simple formula, and fans of both complain that they don’t change enough, but why change something that always works?
The duo has already paired up for two albums: “3:16” and “Murray’s Revenge,” which were much better received by critics than Billboard charts. Like those albums, this one is a short, ten track affair. There’s no skits, not infomercials, and no intermission, just 35 minutes of beats and rhymes from two of the best of both. Also like those albums, this one opens on one of its strongest notes. “The Intro” is as hard as 9th Wonder ever gets, with a pounding bass and drum combination supported by a subtle and spare collection of piano notes. And Murs’ lyrics speak for themselves:
“The beats just bang and the verses so tight
Ain’t nothing like that being said on the mic
No guns, no drugs, ’cause we just not the type
We get you ready for life, we get you ready for love
‘Cause it’s all about moving, never holding a grudge
Forgive and forget; can’t live with regret
Hope God make a way before we run out of breath
And with all I got left, I’ma make it alright
Just spit that positive music and continue to fight
Bringing truth to the light, give the light to the dark
Until you sucka MC’s meet us out at the park”
For all that 9th Wonder is still relying on his same tricks, the sounds of “Sweet Lord” is a little bit edgier than his usual music. The focus here is more on the drums than the soul samples and piano loops. That’s a subtle change he’s always employed for Murs, but it’s even more pronounced here than in their previous albums. And though it is a slight change, it’s one that puts a focus on the weaker point of 9th Wonder’s beats. It’s hard for an album this short to get monotonous, but 9th is something of a one trick pony when it comes to the basic structure of the drum loops. At the end of the day, “Sweet Lord” sounds like a slightly hollow version of everything else that 9th Wonder has ever produced. This is good and bad, and only disappointing because of the bar he’s set for himself.
While Murs similarly operates within a narrow thematic landscape, he’s nowhere near as confined by it. Basically, Murs raps about three things: Murs, girls Murs has slept with, and girls who wouldn’t sleep. But where 9th sounds like he doesn’t have any new ideas, Murs’ continues to take twists and turns within his structure that makes him a breath of fresh air in rap beyond this album. Whether he’s getting kidnapped by a woman he was trying to hit on, or wondering why he can find so many sexual partners and no wife material, he seems to have an endless bag of tricks to come from.
When 9th’s production focuses more on the soul and less on the drum, and when Murs focuses on Murs, “Sweet Lord” can be special. It happens too infrequently, but it’s invigorating to hear them both at their best. “And I Love It” is a simple premise, with Murs rattling off things he loves, but it’s executed perfectly by both – they sound the best when they stick with what they do rather than experiment. “Pusshhhhh” sees Murs expressing his desire to get ahead over the most bass-heavy beat of the album, and is a rare display of intensity from both that needs to happen more often.
“Sweet Lord” isn’t any better, or worse, or even really different than their last two albums. It will satisfy fans of either artist, or both, but those fans know that they’re both capable of better. For people who aren’t familiar with the two, “Sweet Lord’s” freeness [sic] is the perfect opportunity to get to know them, and most won’t be disappointed. It won’t blow anybody away, but it’s consistently good for a short time, and it’s really hard to hate.