Road to Paid Dues Tour
With Fashawn, Prof, DJs Foundation and Fundo
The Stage Miami
Friday, February 15, 2013
On February 10, 2004, when Kanye brokered the peace deal between the benzes and the backpacks at Camp 'Ye-vid, Murs stayed in the trenches looking at that bridge like it was on the River Kwai instead of Madison County.
Even when Murs signed to Warner Bros. his M.O. remained firmly "making raw shit for the underground," i.e. playing the non-thugging, non-trapping upright black guy, a concept both @hiphopfightsback and Marco Rubio can get behind.
Now would seem a great time for Murs, given that regular, working-class rappers have been getting some respect again.
At the same time, rap is a multi-faceted field in which one perspective doesn't yield ultimate truth, so the dogmatism is doggedly old-fashioned. Still, it's not without its charm, as was evident during Murs's local stop at The Stage Miami with his Road to Paid Dues tour.
Opening act Black Cloud Music established what would be the format for the rest of the night, a shaky balance between self-deprecating goofball charm and self-serious, packaged-for-an-Olympics-segment struggle stories, ones that made the Paid part of the Dues title seem ironic.
Curtiss King looked a bit like Kid dressed in Play's clothing. He wrote off hoes in favor of their moms (which would later come up in a track about "cougars" featuring lines about wrinkles of love and helping Stella get her groove back) before getting solemn about what sent Chappelle to Africa.
Stage partner Noa James, announced himself as a 400-pound Haitian, also known as Young Orca. He sounded like a mixture of Fredro Starr on "Slam" and Toshiro Mifune at his rowdiest. Curtiss deadpanned, "They call him Yokozuna, they call me baby Sinbad" before doing a collar-pull. Wamp-wamp.
There was a song that mentioned styling on 'em with thrift store clothes, not because of Macklemore-like poverty tourism, but because of trying to make the actual poverty of Curtiss's youth look less shabby. There was another cut that thanked Murs for helping to turn his life around. And Curtiss asked that we "remember this as 15 minutes of dreams coming true before your eyes, shout out to the Make-A-Wish Foundation."
I happened to be lurking outside of The Stage's VIP (AKA a couch with a velvet rope), while Fashawn was being introduced. Wearing a beanie, a baseball shirt, capris, high socks and some Chucks, he seemed pretty anonymous until he laughed at his name's announcement with "y'all don't gotta see him!" to almost no one within earshot. Still anonymous, but it was kinda the point.
Humor begat schmaltz, with a Kendrick Lamar circa Section.80-ish hook about inspiration and direction, begetting jokes about gangsters that don't die getting chubby and moving to Miami. He's 24 and obviously feels older since (a) he's from "the home of the three strikes, before you trust a nigga think twice," a place where "baby girls having c-sections at 17, baby dad in the Marines, crack in the streets," and he's still alive; and since (b) those sentiments are dropped over beats reminiscent of G-Funk's heyday.
The segment-ready nature of the struggle was given a meta shout out when he introduced the "made it out the trailer park" autobio of "Life as a Shorty" with "this is kind of like a narrative, a movie" which made different sense later when he dipped back into the other part of Drethology, cinematic violence, as much part of the "golden" age as now.
Next came Prof. Graduating from the Marshall Mathers school of white rappers, he was full of shock tactic clownage and adrenaline-charged verbiage hiding a childhood of poverty and domestic turmoil with lingering effects.
On a set of beats from "avant-core" to 8-bit nerdcore, he rapped about spaceships, girl trouble, and a messed-up childhood. He told the crowd that he'd performed the next song live for the very first time on Valentine's Day. And no surprise, the track was a kill-or-be-killed rant of paranoid gynophobia.
It was a Shakes the Clown routine that made room for a reality show-like wifey search (including an a capella rendition of R. Kelly's "Bump n' Grind" and a gross comment about the stage needing to be mopped) and a dark turn into his scarring, shitty childhood.
After the show let out, DJ Franco stood at the entrance handing out free CDs. On the cover, Prof is nude in a murky bathtub, sauced at the mouth, eating spaghetti. Titled King Gampo, it's a canny bit of branding that nods at the worlds-colliding, poverty-ridden, glue-huffing problem children of Gummo.
Finally, Murs took the stage at 1 a.m. in a baseball cap and hoodie. He was sans hypeman, which was revelatory delivery-wise, HD crisp/clear, and he's a nimble performer, making lines that sound heavy on record take off on stage.
Opening number "Whatuptho" summed up where he stands. "Long live the Kane back, fuck cocaine rap/Twenty years later niggas still stuck in the same trap/I'm trynna slide through the game on a hoverboard/They still buying pork rinds from the corner store."
He's a tough-without-guns dude that comes off like Laurence Fishburne in Boyz n the Hood. Thankfully, the piousness is matched with zings about getting a free Dr. Pepper from a Cinnabon register girl for shouting her out.
Next came "Better Than the Best" which inadvertently revealed a reason for the oppositional hysteria. "We ain't all murderers, drive-by shooters, you can kick it on the curb with us." Though working against stereotypes, there's the unfortunate reality that law-abiding or lawless, black is black for Common-baiting Fox News types.
And speaking of Common, Murs paid his underground dues by re-upping (without updating) Common's "U.S.E.D. to Love Her," a song that slut-shames hip-hop, personified as a loose woman, for losing sight of its progressive origins by hanging around with thugs. Murs helpfully explained that "that song was a metaphor for music, music will never break your heart, unlike a person."
Like Prof, Murs also has murky relationship drama, reminding that part of being a regular dude rapper is regular dude misogyny, from a "can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em" lament called "The OJ Song" to "Silly Girl," which puts a girl on blast for taking too long to put out. Murs is a mostly nice dude, writing songs about barbershop hangouts and the stress of grinding on a 9-5. (Hello, Huntsville!) But presenting himself as "the alternative" just exposes a few glaring holes, some of which were glossed over by the giddy bounce of his onstage persona.
Prof jumped around for the Ed Banger number "To Protect and Entertain," and Murs brought Fashawn back out for a string of numbers from This Generation, their indie version of Watch the Throne. It's an interesting experiment that seems to have reenergized Murs, forcing him to switch up his cadence and reword his politics to make the EPMD-ish back-and-forth more fluid.
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Apparently, they'd sold out of the album on the previous night, which resulted in the most forward-thinking moment. Embracing the free culture of the Internet, where a wide variety of healthily contradictory rappers are currently making their names on Datpiff and Bandcamp, Murs and Fashawn posted the album's cover photo so that it would be easier for the audience to torrent it, "not that you need our permission."
That was a breath of fresh air.
-- Adam Katzman