Happy 15th Anniversary to MURS & 9th Wonder’s collaborative album Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition, originally released March 23, 2004.
The partnership between Nick “MURS” Carter and Patrick “9th Wonder” Douthit has been staggeringly productive and successful. MURS, a creative Los Angeles-born and based rapper, and 9th Wonder, a renowned North Carolina-based producer and founding member of Little Brother, first collaborated on the 3:16: The 9th Edition project 15 years ago and it marked the beginning of a highly rewarding musical partnership. Taking its title from MURS’ birthday (March 16th), the album provides a view into the introspective and fun music that resulted from the two recording together.
MURS has released more projects with 9th Wonder (six) than many rappers have in their entire careers. I’d guess 9th Wonder has produced more commercially available tracks for MURS than any other artist he’s worked with, including the aforementioned Little Brother and his current muse, Rapsody. I’d also guess that MURS has more commercially available material working with 9th Wonder than any other producer that he’s worked with. The pair has an undeniable chemistry, with MURS’ unique raps and perspective meshing well with 9th’s soul sample-based sound. The project is in many ways similar to albums like Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012) & DAMN (2017) or ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron (2014), revealing the same level of thoughtfulness and pathos that made those artists famous.
When 3:16 hit the shelves a decade and half ago, both men were in good artistic spaces. MURS had released his The End of the Beginning album through the Definitive Jux label the year before, and had already established himself as one of the hardest working artists in underground hip-hop. Meanwhile, 9th Wonder was riding high off his critical success as the musical force behind Little Brother, as well as his production work for projects by Jay-Z and Destiny’s Child. He had also been working extensively with fellow Justus League artists from North Carolina.
MURS rhymed in a lot of different directions on The End of the Beginning, showing that he possessed the skills to tackle any and all topics. 3:16 is a more focused effort. Though MURS still covers a wide range of topics, the scope is narrower, as it’s one of his most “Los Angeles” albums. He examines the life of a Black man in his mid-20s living in Los Angeles, scrambling to survive and succeed. Or, as he raps, “I’m trying to walk that thin line between intelligence and ignorance / Have a little fun while making music of significance.”
Though MURS made his name by delivering lyrical extravaganzas, there’s precious few of those types of songs on 3:16. The most notable example is the title track, where the mid city LA native delivers three murderous 16-bar verses over a sped-up loop of Black Heat’s “Street of Tears.” MURS declares himself “a nemesis to n***as just bumping they gums / I give a fuck where you from, it’s where your heart at, bitch / You gonna bite, little doggy, or just bark that shit? / A slave to the rhythm, 9th spark that whip.”
For a good chunk of the album, MURS tackles his relationships with the opposite sex. “Bad Man” is the most lighthearted of the entries, as he finds humor in his single-minded pursuit of sexual affection. Over a dancehall-tinged beat made from a sample of the Mighty Diamonds’ “Illiteracy,” he playfully insists, “That's how people get hurt, and we both do dirt / Now we could put this all behind us and make things work / Or I could get behind you cause I like that skirt.”
On “Freak These Tales,” MURS mixes humor with earnestness, as he recalls many of his sexual partnerships. It’s a little more reflective than Too $hort’s “Freaky Tales,” where it obviously draws its inspiration from, but also mixes in the wit of songs like Jay-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Meanwhile, “The Pain” is an emotion-drenched reflection on how rejection has shaped his interactions with women. MURS’s bitterness is palpable, but he still injects genuine sentiment and bits of dark humor.
“H-U-S-T-L-E.,” the album’s first single, is also one of the best entries on the project. MURS recounts the many non-glamorous, but ultimately profitable “hustles” that he engaged in order to make money, rapping, “Cheap dirt hustles, no glorious tales / But it did keep my black ass from going to jail.” He adds how years of recycling aluminum cans and selling candy bars door to door helped him raise money to record music and gave him the work ethic to become an underground rap superstar. For the track, 9th Wonder executes a masterful flip of Curtis Mayfield’s “Now You’re Gone,” and creates one of the project’s tightest beats.
As always, MURS remains an extremely gifted storyteller on the mic, creating the types of narratives that are only found on albums like his. He easily navigates through different tones for these stories, capturing both the ridiculous and the tragic. “Trevor an’ Them” is an outstanding exercise in humorous storytelling, as MURS relates his run-in with the world’s dumbest criminal while at a local 7-11.
In contrast, “Walk Like a Man” is a sprawling chronicle where he deals with pain, loss, revenge, and regret. It’s an exploration of youthful innocence, violence, loss, and remorse that few other rappers have executed as effectively. Divided into separate “movements,” each with its separate beat, it’s similar to Kendrick Lamar’s “Duckworth,” which 9th would produce close to 15 years later. “Walk Like a Man” is positively cinematic, so much so that MURS filmed a short film inspired by elements of the song and the album in total.
“And This Is For…” is a meditative track where MURS addresses complex issues pertaining to hip-hop, among both those who create the art and its fans. He addresses some uncomfortable subject matter, particularly on the third and final verse. Here he contemplates the racial make-up of his fanbase, his experiences opening up with the Minnesota hip-hop superheroes Atmosphere, and his live show turn-outs both with and without the group.
3:16 ends with “The Animal,” a laid-back collaboration with Little Brother’s Phonte. Here the two reflect on how they’ve maintained a healthy hunger to give them an edge as emcees. Phonte ponders his journey up to this point of his career, reflecting that “I ain't stopped battling, I just stopped rattling / Off rhymes for free 'cause y’all were making me nauseous / Understand, fucker, I’m gonna win regardless / I still got the hunger pains from my apartment / When me and 9th were both splitting cans of StarKist / Arguing about who LP was the hardest / And a handful of CDs ready to burn / Some real hip-hop for your listening nerves.”
Though both MURS and 9th Wonder have accomplished a lot throughout their careers in the last 15 years, they often frequently reunited to record more music. The duo recorded five more projects together, including two separate “final” collaborations (released three years apart). Albums like 3:16 reinforce that they bring out the best in each other by maintaining their focus and tackling issues that anyone can relate to. This album was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.