Tonight, the Green-Eyed Bandit returns as Keith Murray takes the stage at S.O.B.‘s! The Def Squad member, known for hits such as “The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World” and his stand-out guest appearances on tracks like R. Kelly’s “Home Alone” and the remix of Mary J. Blige’s “Be Happy,” has an inimitable presence over beats that’s made him one of the most memorable MCs of his era. Debuting his new single “Been Hot” on-stage tonight, we spoke to Murray about dispelling some rumors that have followed his career, as well as reuniting in the studio with Erick Sermon.
Your show tonight was put together by XXL and is hosted by Mr. Cheeks. How far do you and Mr. Cheeks go back?
Mr. Cheeks is a good friend of mine. I’m giving unsigned artists a chance to perform also, and we needed somebody to host in-between sets, so he was the first person that came to my mind. I knew Cheeks for so long, Lost Boyz and Keith Murray were on the road in 1996 in Atlanta.
And tonight’s the debut of the “Been Hot” single?
Yeah, a lot of artists want to “get hot,” but I’ve “Been Hot,” you know?
Is this coming off the upcoming The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World Part 2?
This is just a single. I’m with Erick Sermon right now making The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World Part 2. The first album makes 20 years in November.
What made you decide that 20 years later is the right time for a sequel?
Well, it’s just time. The natural order of progression. 10 years would have been a good significant number, but I didn’t do it then. 20 years in an accomplished feat. That’s a long time. It was only right that I come with Part Two now and let people know who wasn’t even around for 20 years, give them a whiff of the first one and then offer the second one to them.
How different is it putting out an album now from your last solo album on Def Jam in 2003?
At that time, the industry was shifting tides. Albums were going to singles. Major labels were forming companies and the heads of them were moving around. Music was changing, different types of rappers were ushered in the game. When all of that changed, people really didn’t know what they wanted because the industry was fickle. Now that all of that has settled, they compare the 90s to the 2000s to 2013 and us, whose records have survived the test of time, our styles are coming back into popularity. Everybody’s like “Keith Murray, where’s Keith Murray? We want to hear him take on society with his vocabulary and Erick Sermon’s smooth grooves with real hip-hop drums!” Everything comes back around, and now is the time for that.
Speaking of going back to the 90s, one of your first singles, “Cause I’m Keefy Keef,” has been commanding quite the high price online.
Yeah, I know…Well, first and foremost, I’m flattered about that fact. But at the same time, I didn’t know that would do that. Somebody else is capitalizing on it right now. As a businessman I’m like “Yeah, OK” because they’re actually stealing from me. But as a cult classic, when I made that record, I did it with a producer from the rap group JVC Force, who were from Central Islip, Long Island where I’m from.
What made you decide to change from “Keefy Keef” to “Keith Murray?”
Well, I never really had a “rap name.” My name was “Do Damage” for about a year, and I was in a group called “Do Damage and Impact.” “Keefy Keef” was just a play off my name. Back in the late-80s, everybody would put whatever your name was [like that]. That was the effect we would use, like graffiti. It just caught on, like how everybody caught on to using “-ski.” It was just an abbreviation that was catchy. I’ve always been Keith Murray through all of that though. I was a junior, my father was Keith Omar Murray, Sr. The name, in my life growing up, they called me that all the time, and what better person would I want to emulate to the world as an artist, a writer, a philosopher and a survivor than my father? I couldn’t pick another person, my father is my biggest influence. It represents tradition.
During your late 90s incarceration, the videos for songs that you contributed verses too seemed to have someone portraying you, which lead to rumors of there being a “fake Keith Murray” who was hired to play you in videos. Did you ever encounter the “fake Keith Murray?”
In the videos? Nah. The first time I saw that I was in a video that I didn’t shoot in front of a camera was KRS-One’s “5 Boroughs.” That was me, but they took the visuals of me from another video and put it in there. When I saw it, I was in Connecticut doing some time for a crime I didn’t commit, and I was in the game room when the video came on. I was like “oh shit, let me see how this was going to play out.” I liked it when I looked at it, I wasn’t mad at it.
So, it actually was footage of you then?
Yeah, it was, but it was taken out of another video so bad that it didn’t even look like me. The editing was bad back then, the hat was mad long and I was smudgy looking. Technology man. If the world look at me like they gotta put fake Keith Murrays in videos, then, shit, I really don’t know who I am, huh? I like that thought though, baby!
Just prior to that time, you were on the Def Squad Remix of the Beastie Boys’ “Body Movin’.” How was the experience working with the Beasties?
Oh man, the Beastie Boys were incredible because I used to watch them back in the 80s. Joan Rivers had a talk show, and they were on the couch drinking beer on TV! And they were on Def Jam and could really rhyme! They gave me the voice of the rock and roll but mixed with rap and I fell in love with that. I’d like to make that type of music with my band one day. The Beasties, they’re hall of famers. Can you imagine?
Given how prolific your collaborations have been, is there any verse of yours that you’re particularly proud of that you wish was more well known?
Well, the singles that I’m on that they put out, they all rocked. Everybody seems to know Keith Murray. That’s because of the singles I did and the singles Erick Sermon made for me.
What about album cuts?
I’d have to say “Danger” from the Most Beautiful album. That was supposed to be a single. That was the first song I ever made with Erick Sermon for my solo record.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?
The biggest misconception is that I’m an aggressive person. I am one of the most humblest, nicest people that you will ever meet. I’m a peaceful guy, I love all people. And I love to perform, that’s one of my highest points, and when you come see my show, you’ll know why people come to see Keith Murray too.