Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rappers Who Suck: Keith Murray

One of the lesser-recognized rap beefs of the '90s was between Keith Murray -- 1/3rd of Def Squad, along side rap legends Redman and Erick Sermon -- and Prodigy from Mobb Deep. Lesser-recognized not only because it wasn't related to the East vs. West/B.I.G. vs. 2Pac drama that dominated the news at the time, but more because, well, it just wasn't that interesting. Apparently, Prodigy had a lyric about rappers who talk about "smoking weed" and "space shit" -- although we'll never really know if Prodigy intended to go after Murray with these words, for Keith, the shoe not only fit, but it went well with his shirt, too. The situation, which had apparently been once resolved, came to a head on LL Cool J's "I Shot Ya (Remix)", which, oddly enough, featured both Murray and Prodigy, and contained an obvious lyric from P which was edited out of the final version ("Some (pussy) kids feelin' guilty about some (space shit)/But you first, baby girl, so just face it"). Murray would later confront Prodigy outside of a club in NY and the two apparently fought it out, both claiming to have held the upperhand (big surprise, I know). Hearing them talk about the altercation in interviews, though, Murray comes off as a more convincing victor; considering Prodigy's track record in rap beefs, this is not at all surprising either.

[As an aside about Prodigy, he has a mixtape due out later this month entitled Return Of The Mac, produced entirely by Alchemist, which -- judging by P's incredible lead video -- may be the most promising attempt to resurrect Mobb Deep out of their seemingly-never-ending slump. And even if it falls short of expectation, at least it brings to mind the Mark Morrison classic of the same name.]

Regardless of who came out on top in the beef, you can't fault Prodigy for speaking the truth -- pretty much all Keith Murray rapped about was, indeed, "some space shit". It's really too bad because he could've been so much more than that. He certainly had the tools at his availability -- a vicious voice that matched his demeanor, not to mention coming into the music biz on the shoulders of then-rap giants Redman and Sermon. I can't help but wonder why neither of the two didn't pull Keith aside one day and tell him, "You know the approach that you take to writing verses? Yeah, you know, just throwing around a bunch of big words that don't really go together but happen to rhyme? Um, well... it's not really doing anything for you. In fact, it's kind of shitty." Maybe Keith's take on the Prodigy issue really was actual fact, and Keith will just knock the fuck out anyone who criticizes his music -- that would shed some light as to why that teenager caught a bar stool to the face swung by Murray in '95.

If so, I'm glad that neither me nor any of my immediate family knows Keith Murray. And if you're reading this and know Keith Murray personally, and know me personally, please don't do him the favor of introducing us. For the love of God.

I first heard Keith Murray on Redman's '94 release, Dare Iz A Darkside, on the track "Cosmic Slop". His opening bars resemble much of what he's had to offer since:

"With amazing manifestations, I dictate to nations/
More Cosmic Funk innovations in my creation"

Lots of word end in "-ation", and I think that Keith's motivation (See! Told you!) here was to try to fit as many of them as possible into two bars. Keith Murray was like Canibus with an elementary school education level. When listening to a verse from him, there was always a sense of anticipation of that one ingenious line that would draw a reaction like, "Oh shit! I'd rewind that back if I weren't so fucking lazy!" Sadly, that line would never arrive. Instead, there'd just be a lot of big, easy-to-rhyme words delivered sloppily, sometimes so much so that you wondered if Keith himself even knew what he was saying. One example that always stood out to me was on Redman's '98 album, Doc's Da Name 2000 (yes, Redman has smoked a lot of weed, perhaps he forgot what year it was), where Keith had a lyric saying that his rhymes hit "with more power than a molecule enzyme". Now, just like that song from the movie Animal House, "I don't know much about science book" -- but I know enough to know that the power with which an enzyme hits is not really known (nor does it really matter to the overall study of science), not to mention that an enzyme's primary purpose is to catalyze chemical reactions involving molecules, so to say "molecule enzyme" is fairly redundant -- kind of like how in middle school, they'd serve "nachos and cheese". Nachos are, by definition, chips and cheese. No need to throw that second "cheese" in there, unless you're really trying to emphasize the fact that there's cheese on 'em.

As someone who (claims that he) knows a lot about hip hop, I can't think of another MC with such a rugged demeanor who went out of his way to put words like "planetarian", "organic compound", and "membrane" into his music. Though I admit to not being a fan of Keith Murray, I must commend him for his efforts in trying to blend such different styles, ending up with some hybrid, hardcore, super-scientifical rap shit which just never seemed that interesting. After all, the only way to really find out if two things can work together is to put 'em together and see what happens. Sometimes, it works out.

Sometimes, it doesn't.

And sometimes, it sucks.