Murs: We have that conversation often with my barber, with my main barber. The whole barbershop is fans of what I do—we're all a generation and they enjoy my music because I keep doing what we kinda have respect for and what we grew up on. And then younger cats, they'll come and get their hair cut and we're just trying to educate them. I'm cool with them but they don't respect the guys that came before me and so on and so forth. But the real origin of the song was that my publicist at the time at Warner was a guy named Richie Abbott, and Richie heard the album and, you know, Richie's a really honest dude and he was like you know, 'I like the album but he needs to do songs about the stuff we've been talking about.' He's a LA-head like me, you know, loves the Dodgers. I don't like the Lakers, he loves the Lakers, LA Galaxy. If it's LA we're pretty much about it. We're both, you know, people who are really into the history but also just really products of the city, and also [we both] came out a little different than the typical LA kid. So we bonded on that level and we talked many nights and went out and hung out and he's like that's what I want from you.
I went in and I got a bunch of beats from Scoop DeVille . And the chick I was with at the time was destroying my life and I was like "these beats are so dope I gotta add something to this record," so I went to a hotel out in Newport Beach I usually go to get away from people. I just locked myself in a room for three days and I was like "I'm going to write these songs." And when I heard "The Science," it just felt like something KRS-One-like . We need this and Richie says we need this and all my boys at the barbershop feel like we need this. I had been trying to find a way to tell the story of Rick Ross —as soon as I found out for sure that Rick Ross the rapper  had no relation to the real Rick Ross—so it was time for us to tell the story. Also my family had some cleaners in South Central and the agents at the CIA who were there would come into the cleaners. When they came in, my mom was like "I know those people I know that house." you know because my family's been there for 60 years. so to be so close to it and to get her side of the story and my uncle's and my grandfather's and people in the community to get their side of the story. It's so sinister, the plot, that it seems unreal.
Yeah, and it's certainly not discussed openly very often.
Yeah, and it can turn into Willie Lynch , which is a thing that gets passed around the black community that's untrue. You know, it's not be proven and there's no evidence of this person ever existing but it's an old wives tale. I don't want the story of Rick Ross or the story of crack cocaine to be that way, nor the story of hip-hop. Before it becomes... it's oral traditions and still is, has its African roots and it needs to be told again and it hadn't be told in so long. No one's telling it. KRS-One doesn't have the perspective I have. I grew up on him. I was born in '78, rap was here. I'm the first of that generation and I feel like I had to take the responsibility and make something that sounded good, that felt good that was listenable and palatable and not too lyrical. That was my goal: To tell the story. And the people who think they can tell it better, that's great, it should be told multiple times. It still is an oral tradition. It's important to incorporate our history into the music. Crack and hip-hop are probably the two biggest things that have happened in my lifetime. To me, if you look back, definitely in the history of America, maybe in the history of the world—because as far as I know they have crack in Egypt now—this has shook the world and hip-hop has shook the world, and for better or worse they are joined at the hip.
So all this stuff was brewing in your mind and then you heard that beat and thought this is the beat to put that to?
Yeah it's slow enough, it feels good enough ... it reminded me some of my Rakim  shit. KRS-One/Rakim shit that I could steadily tell a story to.
It has that Latin element too, especially when you talk about the cool and the beat boy scene, alot of the Latin influence was there too in the early days. Was that in the original beat where you drop out and you talk about the break and the history of the break?
No, no, no, that was me and DJ Quik  tweaked it in the mix. And the flute is my friend Will's wife [Sukari Reid Glenn]. I called them up and I was like "I'd love for your wife to come in and play flute" and so all the is live flute from beginning to end. He works at a place called A Place Called Home , which is across the street from my family's cleaners in South Central. He works with the youth there, doing the music program, and his wife is a teacher in Watts. Just to bring the energy of two people that I've known that are positive forces in the community—to have her come give her musical contribution was perfect to me.
It's a great sound and it's so cool to hear the live instrumentation. It's a great touch. You said that part of it was from your publicist and that's not the type of thing that most people associate with a major label [Warner Brothers] experience.
Definitely. I think life is what you make it, and I allowed myself to accept the beauty and the amazingness that was there. What I found is that they're not all devils and blah blah blah—they're a bunch of people who love music but at the same time are trying to keep their job. It's an interesting line to walk. And there's people like Richie Abbott who has now stepped away from the major label system and is completely independent and works for himself. If I would have kept my eyes closed and my blinders on and thought he was out to get me or ruin my career, I never would have made "The Science" and I never would have made a friend.
There had to have been some challenges working within that system. Did you have fights over content, or did they kind of listen to what you had to say and let you make the record you wanted to make?
I don't know what people were talking about when they were talking about they fight over content. I've never had a fight over content at Warner Bros. Ever. But I also had the ear of the president, you know, and the president at the time was a really good dude. Tom Wall, he's a good man and he's always been honorable with me and he wanted me to say whatever I wanted to say. He loved "The Science." he loved "Can it Be"—he thought that I should make a whole record with 9th Wonder . At the same time, if you want to work with Scott Storch , I'll fly you down there. Whatever you want to do. I had carte blanche. I enjoyed my time and never, never was I criticized for my content. I can't say that it doesn't happen at other labels but it never happened at Warner Brothers to me, and I didn't see them in there making people say anything negative on the record.
It seems like most of the songs of yours is a little bit more zoomed-in. You're so great at setting a scene and talking about different kinds of people and living in other people's skin, and this is such a big picture song...is the writing process different for a song like "The Science" than for a song about a relationship?
With "The Science" there was a little more research involved—making sure I had the names right, making sure I had the history correct, but it comes from the same place I believe. When I do a story, it just takes a few more days. On the new album I have a song called "Animal Style,"  and that took me literally about 20 hours of sitting awake and writing.
Maybe we can jump over to that for a minute if you don't mind because that's another song of yours that's a risk to take and it's a subject matter that doesn't always get covered in hip-hop [It's sort of a modern-day, gay male Romeo and Juliet that ends tragically at an In-N-Out Burger. -Ed]. I wonder what made you want to write that song, why that song was important to you?
Because, and I don't want to be vulgar in a quote, but fuck them, that's why. I mean, this is a song I've been wanting to do for a while. I guess maybe the most important songs are like that. I've been wanting and wanting and wanting, I just have to find the right time. I've actually had producers tell me that "you can't talk about that kind of stuff over my beats. I'm not comfortable with it." I found someone in Ski Beatz  that was like, "yeah man, I don't care what you talk about." He said, well what are you writing about? I was like I don't really know yet and then I got into it: "...and this is gonna happen, this is gonna happen, this is gonna happen and I don't know how but these things are going to happen. I don't know where, I don't know when." And he said "that's ill. I can't wait to hear how you put it all together."
The beat I originally wrote it to was Ski's beat, and it didn't work out, and then my cousin sent me a beat, and all the breakdowns in the song were already there. It just fit perfectly, it was amazing.
It felt like it was meant to be?
Yeah, and now it was more important for me to tell the story. I have family and friends who I feel are homosexual that haven't come out. You can't tell people to come out. So I was like, "well, all I can do is try to make an environment that's more accepting." And how do I do that? I can either reprimand those that are part of my culture [that hate], or write a song that will make them talk and make them feel something.
I wrote a song called "Walk Like a Man" that was about giving people the other side of gang violvence, because often I travel, and I was in North Carolina and they think we are insane—and we are insane—but they think we're just walking around killing each other because someone wears red. And now it's crips versus crips and it's not about that. It's just like Muslims and Jews use Allah and this and that and territory, but really it's "Muslims killed my cousin in front of me and now I hate them forever," or "the Jews did this and now I hate them forever." It's not about them hating the Torah or them hating the Koran, it's a blood feud. And that's the way gang violence is. So instead of making a song literally about it or literally about the gay rights or about gang violence—rather than throw in a bunch of numbers that don't have much feeling, I'd rather tell you a story from a first-person perspective. It's the era of reality TV and everything.
That's where "The Science" is different. It doesn't have one character or one thread: You're the thread, I guess, because you're the teacher.
I just think there was so much information that it had to be given and I didn't need to embellish or put any fiction in it.
Have you had any flack over "Animal Style"? There's certainly still a lot of homophobia in the world, but maybe moreso in hip-hop.
I have had like one negative comment on Twitter, and I don't really read my Facebook comments just for that reason. But I actually had a gay couple come to my show, and they said "we came out because of 'Animal Style' and I wanna say thank you." That made my...life. I bowed to them. I was never concerned about the backlash from hip-hop people—fuck them, like I said. I was more concerned about gay people, because I'm not gay, and me telling the story. With "Walk Like a Man," I've had friends die from gang violence and that's basically a compilation of all of their stories, but I've never been a gay male or a gay teen and I didn't want to misrepresent any of that. So when people who are gay or lesbian reach out to me and say I did a good job, that means the world to me.
Back to "The Science," I would imagine you're a pretty big Gil Scott-Heron fan?
Not a huge fan, actually. I'm definitely familiar with his songs and with his words, but I was more into Last Poets.  I don't know if I didn't do enough drugs or what. I mean, "Whitey On the Moon,"  there's definitely stuff I'm influenced by, no fucking doubt.
What other stuff has influenced you in your storytelling?
I would say there's probably nothing bigger than the opus that is Death Certificate by Ice Cube . Del helped, but Del and Ice Cube were writing for each other. And I've got to give it to Slick Rick . The first song I ever fell in love with was "Cinderfella" by Dana Dane . But as far as modern day stories with a moral and a message, a lot of that is Ice Cube, because Death Certificate was so powerful, and it was prophetic. I'm not even exaggerating: It came out on October 31, 1991 and he's making songs about burning down Korean grocery stores and in April of 1992 that's what really happened. And it could be because everybody in LA was listening to Death Certificate, and when we finally had a reason to lose our minds, that's what we did. Rarely does life imitate art, but it could be life imitating art at that point. It could be prophecy. But it was an important record in black history.
He doesn't always get his due.
Definitely. I mean, he wasn't flawless. You know, and also he's done so much contrary to that that people don't even fucking remember. And maybe that's my next calling: Putting down the story of O'Shea Jackson, before he continues to—well, I won't say dilute his legacy—because to a 20 or 21 year-old he's The Player's Club , he's an actor. But he was—he is one of the spirits of independent hip-hop. Not because he was on an indie label—I mean, he was on Priority, which was one of the biggest indie labels—but just to strike out from the world's most dangerous and popular rap group and say "fuck off, you guys are not doing good business and I'm going to tell the world about it, and I'm going to go on to be more famous and successful than any of you." Wow.
Is where he's at now okay by you? Doing the movie with the kids and the van and the road trip? Is it okay that he's not representing the anger and outrage that he once did? Is it okay to lose that anger and outrage at sone point?
Yeah, definitely. I think anger is juvenile and counterproductive for the most part. As a side-note, the thing Ice Cube never gets credit for is bridging the gap between East Coast and West Coast rap. He was the first. But yeah. I'm more disappointed in his music than I am in Are We There Yet?. That's what he's supposed to do is Are We There Yet?. His music is supposed to evolve with him. If you're a father and you're making children's movies, then make fatherly and children's music. I don't wanna hear about you having a gun anymore.
I'd imagine some of his fans would criticize him for not being hard, but you're saying he's not being true to who he is today.
Yeah, and I mean, I should mention that he does have a couple of songs that talk about now and are progressive. But you know what, I take back all that, because I can never say a bad thing about him. I have never walked in his shoes. I've had some questionable experiences with him and his staff over the years but overall I would literally not be here if it weren't for him. And he's the only millionaire artist I know that still gets on a fucking tour bus and does a 35-city tour every time he releases a record. LL doesn't do it, Ice-T doesn't do it. He's still active out here and he plays some of the same venues I play. He takes his crew from city to city and he takes care of his people. He's had Crazy Toones and WC with him from day one. He's stuck with them, and that's hard in this business. I can criticize his music, but he's probably the greatest of all time.
Where did you get your history, because this isn't stuff they're teaching in public schools.
Newspapers like The Sentinel , the only black newspaper left in Los Angeles. I shouldn't say the only one—The Watts Times , Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Wikipedia, the episode on BET's American Gangster they did on Rick Ross, I watched that. The internet is key in researching, but I've been keeping abreast of the story for years. The LA Times would occasionally run a story on it and my mom would save it, tell me to read it. So it's something I've always been into. I'm an LAphile, an Angelinophile.
That's all since I was a kid. The story has always been around, as a myth circulating in pro-black circles around the country. But as the facts began to surface, it was like "holy shit, it really is real."
There's a line in this song, "what happens to a lie when you're living it," and that seems to sum up so much of what this song is about. What does that line mean to you?
I was just seeing black people to continue to blame white people for their problems. Being at Warner Brothers and seeing that Warner Brothers isn't actually making people make these ignorant-ass songs, we're choosing to make these songs ourselves and begging them to exploit it. There's no more puppet master, we're automated, we're continuing to perpetuate a cycle on ourselves now. If we stop, then it stops. But we've been living this lie that they told us about ourselves for so long that we start to defend it, you know? You start to defend the reasons to sell crack. "This is who we are," but it's not. You start defending wanting to sag your pants below your fucking knees . You start to defend almost insane things. I don't want to get to that.
It's fascinating to hear you say it, because right-wing politicians say things like that and they've been saying things like that for a long time.
I know. My mom works in South Central, and she has her Republican tendencies and I do, too. We've seen a grandmother, mother and daughter all on welfare. You see it now. Republicans will see that and say "she's lazy," but it's not that, it's that if you tell a single mother that if she goes out and gets a job you're going to cut off her welfare completely, but if she has another kid you're going to give her more money. It's simple math. So we've gotta stop telling people that they're racist if they want welfare reform and get with the racists that say they want welfare reform. Say "yeah, we want it too, but this is what it really looks like."
It's different means to an end.
Yeah, I'm like "You want to reform welfare? I'm somebody from the community that wants to help, but let's make it help people. And actually, there are more people who are of your skin tone on welfare than of ours, but I think the problem is similar. So let me help you help your own people and help my people." But we can never do that because if you say you agree with a Republican and you're black, then you're a sell-out. And if you say "welfare reform" and you're white, then you're a racist. It's just ridiculous.
And it's done by the real powers that be, who don't want any of us to get along or get together.
It's definitely not white peoples' fault anymore. There are still people who are angry about it, and it's so unattractive. To be angry at 40 or 50 is sad to me. I don't want to be that way. I love Spike Lee, but that's not cute, you know? I think he should leave Quentin Tarantino the fuck alone.  I think he shouldn't be on TV yelling unless it's at a Knicks game. 40 Acres and a Mule  would be great—we were promised it, I guess, and it'd be great to get it. But the best thing I learned about me and the music business is that there are people who'll fuck me over. There are labels who owe me six figures and I could fight with them, but the longer I fight them for what they owe me, the more I'm not getting what lies ahead for me. And I think that's something black people need to learn. But it's the most famous of us and the ones in the public eye who are still angry about stuff that happened 200 years ago like they're owed something. Let's not forget what happened, but if we can forgive what happened, and move on, and if anybody wants to help us out in the interim and feels like we deserve something, great, but at this point, you know, it used to be "you could be president—maybe not," but at this point you could really be president if you want to. It doesn't mean racism is gone, but it means it's nothing to complain about.
Do we have a culture that rewards being dumb, and is it any more intense in black culture than it is in the white culture?
Yeah, definitely. We definitely have a culture that rewards being dumb. I don't think it's black culture, I think it's amongst poor people; amongst the proletariat; amongst the working class. You are definitely rewarded for being dumb. It's kept that way. Our newspapers are, I'm told, at a fifth grade level but maybe it's an eighth grade level. They communicate with us like we're idiots and most people don't want to communicate beyond that. If you're smart, you're weak. Steve Jobs was not one of America's sexiest men . Neither is Bill Gates . They're definitely a little more real than Tesla and Einstein was. I don't think they're any less intelligent, but they are incorporated in pop culture, so I think things are changing. But you're rewarded and promoted for being an idiot.
So how do we get out of that? You talk about crack and meth in the song, too, and those drugs keeping the lower classes from uniting and fighting an unjust system. How do we break those addiction cycles in a big way?
Man, I just think that, at the core of it is perspective and parenting and community. If everybody feels related than no one's preying on each other. If you feel like I felt when I had the option to sell crack—that I couldn't do that to someone's mother, I know what it did to my father, I know what it's done to my family and why would I wish that on anyone else to have a new pair of tennis shoes.
So it's reorganizing the values, it's destroying the culture of greed that exists in America and in our community. It's just getting your hands dirty and doing it. My wife and I are hopefully adopting kids from Ethiopia. That may not help our community but it helps the world community. We also want to buy a large portion of land we've been looking at and open up a school where we take 10 kids from LA—because LA is where I feel like I can communicate, because I understand gang culture—and, you know, stick with them from 6th grade until graduation. And make those 10 kids promise to do it for another 10 kids. And also starting Saturday schools for black kids, where Jewish kids have it and Asian kids have it, where even if it is 5% lessons  that they're taught, and then when they're 18 you tell them "that's all bullshit, the white man wasn't created on an island, etc."—but just to give them some self-confidence and some type of science. Teach them the Black Panthers, teach them Bob Marley, teach them about Rick Ross, teach them about Kool Herc. And every Saturday, give them an outlet. It's an Each One Teach One  philosophy but really following through. If me and my wife can take 30 kids from the community each Saturday and teach them something—anything, they just want attention. Take them out to the zoo. Next week we go play football and we have two hours of lessons. That's what black kids need. We need to be pulled aside. Jews stick together, Persians stick together—people are united by their language and we've never taken the time. Any time we get together it's got to be racist or dangerous. I'm not trying to attack the government, I'm just trying to stop [black youth] from attacking each other.
And you've got to get into it: "What are you listening to? Are you listening to Rick Ross? What do you like about that?" Instead of condemning these kids and telling them they're dumb for listening to it, ask them "What do you like about the Bass God? Did you know that Rick Ross has a charity ? Did you know that Lil B the Bass God has an IQ of whatever?" You know? It's really reaching these kids instead of creating this distance, while I'm still relevant. While I'm still cool to hang out with. While 15-year-olds still think I'm the coolest thing ever. Instead of leading them the wrong way, just taking time to turn around to talk to them.
You're talking about a huge shift in what you do on a day-to-day basis. You're talking about changing your life in a pretty major way? How serious are you about this stuff?
Well, I just stayed up all night answering adoption paperwork questions; I've been speaking at high schools; If one of these labels that owes me six figures [pays me] I've seen the land, I'm ready to pick it out; My wife is working on the paperwork for a 501c3 [non-profit organization]. So it's definitely really happening. We're deciding where we're going to settle right now—right now we're in Tucson.
As far as Saturday school, right now I get all the kids together and take them to the movies and hang out with them. But this next year I'm taking my touring schedule down to once a year. It takes me, at most, three weeks to record a record. So, three weeks of recording and three months of touring a year: That's four months of work and eight months that I could be working on giving, you know?
That's not something you hear from pop musicians very often. Is this something you've always had in the back of your head?
I think I've always had it; I've always been a fan of change and revolution. I've really always felt like "you guys aren't getting it," we can't wear Che Guevara T-shirts  and praise Fidel Castro and Black Panthers and Martin Luther King and JFK because they're not here anymore. And they failed, a lot of them.  You imitating the Panthers isn't gonna bring about any new change. You trying to march in the streets like it's the '60s or '70s isn't going to bring change. We all know that money brings power, so my whole thing was just to put my head down and work until I got enough money to do things like buy enough land and fly to Ethiopia and adopt three kids. You can't do that shit when you're broke and anti-system. To me it's about working with the system, not for the system.
As long as you pay your taxes, I think America lets you do whatever you want. That's the thing about black people—they think that America is out to get us, but as we're seeing with Occupy Wall Street, if they even thought about doing what they did in the '60s and '70s, they'd look so horrible on the world stage.  They can't attack black people—I dare them to. They're in financial disarray, they're not trying to stop us right now. And all I'm trying to do is create more people who are going to grow up and do positive things and pay taxes. I'm not against the government. I'm not against America, I love America. I love capitalism. I don't love greed. And when it comes to greed on paper our senators and presidents don't make that much. The greed comes in from the corporations and lobbyists. The president has a modest income. The president makes as much as me. I don't think there's anything wrong if we stick to the rules and we destroy this culture of greed. That's all. I wish people didn't eat fast food, but I even think there's a place for McDonald's.  Once a week. Once a month. Take your kids there, but cook for them other days in the week.
There are things about people who are radical and extreme leftists that I don't understand, nor do I condone. But I think they have some good points and I think the right has some good points. I'm just trying to make a new America that works, and that works with the rest of the world instead of us operating like we're not all on the same rock floating in space.
And you think that right now there's an opportunity to do that?
Yeah, I think about this all the time. I'm not angry about being black. I love being black. And more importantly a lot of young white Americans love that I'm black.  And a lot of them are mixed now. It's over. It's not completely gone—institutional racism still exists, but it's about working outside of institutions now. It's about building our own institutions. We all have enough money to work together. I'm working with Damon Dash, and our philosophies differ very greatly, but I'd rather work with another black person to make things that are going to black people. And we also have white people involved in it. Our CEO is white. We're young.
I wanted to bring up the lyric about "the hip-hop generation." Hip-hop is the key. It gives us all a common ground. A common language.
You end the song with that, and it's an optimistic note. I didn't realize just how seriously you took it until this conversation, though.
It's a very real thing for me. When I was at Warner Brothers, one of the managers—a guy who managed Snoop Dogg and Xzibit—said "we're gonna get you a Bentley." I said, "I don't want it." I would tell him, "all I want is for everyone to have what they need, and a little bit of what they want. I have enough, right now. I'm not worried about starving. And from there, my job is to get as famous as fucking possible. That's why I went to Warner Brothers, because there's no point in being an underground, angry, complaining armchair revolutionary. With Warner Brothers, the first thing I asked them was "I can say what I want to say when I want to say it?"
They're like "yeah."
I'm like, "And you're going to put me on radio and MTV?"
They're like "yeah."
I said "well, what the fuck am I waiting for?"
So I'm going to work for Damon Dash, I'm gonna work to be as famous as possible. If underground hip-hop doesn't like it, so fucking what? It's not about you. It's about the three kids I sent to school in Ethiopia, it's about the three more that I'm gonna adopt, it's about the ten that I want to take to summer camp every year and the ten I want to take the world eventually, and the next 10 after that. And it's about the next 50 years of my life: It's about me wanting to build a black university on the West coast. No one sees that that's part of the reason that crack was there—once white people got to the West coast they had racism down to a fucking science. "We'll all live in Watts," and then when black people started to move into Watts it was "we'll all move into the Crenshaw district" and once black people came to Crenshaw it was "we'll move further out," and once black people moved there they moved further out.  Until no one uses downtown LA, no one uses Watts anymore. And we have the worst public transportation system in the world.
And poor people can't afford to pay for cars and gas.
Yeah, and they have us surrounded now. They're in Semi Valley, San Fernando Valley, Saint Gabriel Valley, and the inner-city is all—there is no Manhattan, the white people don't have to deal with us. They can throw crack in there and see what happens. That was a plan. And there are no black institutions of learning; There are no historically black colleges and universities on the entire Western seabord. On the Eastern seabord there are like 50.  They did that on purpose. And where's gang culture the worst? I didn't grow up seeing black doctors, I didn't grow up seeing black college, I didn't grow up seeing a black football team or a black band. If I wanted to see something black, it was be a Crip or be a Blood, because that's what black people did. That was "our thing." And that's how we started living the lie. That's the lie: You want to be strong and black? Well, the strongest and blackest people I knew were O.G. gang-bangers. There was no Cornell West in my community. And that is where they had it perfect.
So to me now, it's like, "what do we do?" And I've got to figure out how to build Fela Kuti University in Tucson, Arizona . Because it's just as relevant today than it was when a bunch of people got together and created Harvard. Or when a bunch of black people got together—with white people—to create Howard. Because there are very few black-founded universities, I think the only one is going out of business. Morehouse and everything was started with white money for black people.
But it's not impossible, and that's why I'm excited to work with people like Damon Dash  and Master P . I don't care what they do with their money, but what I want to do with the power of money I attain is to do something positive that will live beyond me. And the more people you help that are younger than me, that's beyond you. That's why I started the Paid Dues festival , so that I could be the person to put Black Hippy and Kendrick Lamar and Casey Veggies and Dom Kennedy on their first festival. Not that they owe me anything, but I'm not always going to be relevant and if I want Kendrick Lamar to come speak at a high school, he could probably do it. Ice Cube never reached out and did anything for anyone younger on the West coast. And DJ Quick—that's not what they did. Gang culture was a part of that: Certain people couldn't fuck with certain people. But I'm trying to transform black culture in America and hip-hop culture and the overall culture of humanity. We've gotta stop being so greedy.
20. The Watts Times
40. Paid Dues Fest