Hip hop at LACMA? For some, the idea of big beats and lyrically dextrous flow coursing down the museum's hallowed halls may seem like an incongruous pairing. Yet with L.A. rapper MURS at the helm, these seemingly contrasting forces become an energized affair. MURS was part of the cult favorite conscious rap group Living Legends and made a name for himself with positive messages delivered over soulful rhythms. For LACMA's Through the Mic endeavor, which kicked off last night, MURS was tapped to handpick L.A. hip hop artists to perform for this third-Thursday-of-the-month series. With artists from Koreatown to South L.A., MURS' has curated diverse cross-section of the Angeleno hip hop community. As the first rap series at LACMA, this newfound interest in the hip hop heads is concurrent of the winds of change blowing through Los Angeles museums. Earlier this year, LACMA even made an appeal to the hip hop generation with their video short featuring Ice Cube singing the praises of Charles and Ray Eames. Thirty years after rap began, hip hop is a mainstream, major American phenomenon. And unlike the theories of early 90s A&R men and industry suits, it's not going away any time soon. After all, hip hop culture is American culture.
For more insight on what's in store for LACMA's Through the Mic series, we caught up with MURS just before he went on stage Thursday night, to get an overview of the lineup, and to learn more about where MURS came from, and where he's headed.
So LAMCA + MURS. How did this whole thing go down?
They approached me. I'm glad they chose me to help them to usher it in. When they called my manager, I immediately called them back, I wanted to call their bluff. I didn't want to get my hopes up then get crushed. Didn't want to get my heartbroken.
What's in store for the performances coming up?
I'm looking forward to having Breakestra, the Freestyle Fellowship, Dumfoundead, Medusa, a young lady by the name of Gizzle. Different aspects of the community. Female MCs, Korean MCs, gangsta rappers, jazz rappers, all sorts of hip hop, running the gamut.
How role did the Los Angeles environment play in the way that you created music and developed as a person?
For better or worse, gang culture was essential to who I am. I am very loyal and aggressive person, that's what I took from that culture growing up in this city. My experience is one of growing up in this extremely diverse city. I didn't appreciate that until I started performing elsewhere, and I notice that there were Latino people in North Dakota and whatever.
You've said that you're "more Coldplay than Ice T." How else did gang culture affect you?
Being a young minority in this city, there was a lot of gangs and crews going around. For me, I've had friends pass away because of it. We've all been affected by it. My mother's life, my brother's life. Also as gangsta rap came in, and because more prominent, it made me want to explore the other side of life. I wanted to display the positive aspects of us who were not affiliated with it. I wasn't a gang member by any means, but I also live in this city and thrive in this city. I wanted to make a voice for that kid who grew up in a gang neighborhood but who also liked comic books, and wrestling, and botany. Things like that you know?
Where did you grow up?
I lived all over. Covina, Linnwood. But most of my life I was in Mid-City Los Angeles. Right near Pico, Olympic and La Brea areas.
So you grew up not to far away from LACMA. Did you ever imagine as a kid that you would be performing there as you drove or walked past it?
I used go there all time. I used to ditch school to write raps there. I never thought I'd be rapping there. Definitely a one in a lifetime experience.
LACMA is a showcase of fine art, and now that rap will be showcased there does that mean that rap is a fine art too? Or maybe it's a folk art. What do you think?
I'd have to have taken more than just one art history class to address that one. I have no idea the difference exactly between fine and folk art. But it definitely is art. It also depends on how it's used. I hesitate to bring it up, but graffiti is kind of similar. On one hand, it's gang writing thrown up on a wall, but a piece by Futura is a totally different thing. They're both art forms, but one is a higher level of that art. I think there are people who rap to make money and there are ones who make art. There are rappers who rap to get out of their own circumstances or to make a living, then there are those who are try to rap and refine something.
There seems to be a movement this year, where fine art institutions are embracing hip hop. LACMA had that video with Ice Cube giving props to the Eames, there's the Mike D curated exhibition at MOCA. Why do you think it's taken so long for big institutions to embrace hip hop culture as an artform?
Hip hop is no longer just youth culture, it is our culture of our generation. We are the hip hop generation. Whether you're a person in higher positions of responsibility in corporate America or even in the arts world, we all bring hip hop with us. It's a natural evolution.
If you could pick any artist past or present to design the cover of your next album who would it be?
That's hard man! I'd have to say two. Salvador Dali, if he were still alive, I think he'd be doing more cinema, so I'd have him do my video. Basquiat would do my album cover. If LACMA could let me do a collaboration between artists in this museum, I'd have them collaborate. That is, if they would get along.
Top Image: MURS.