On October 4th at a rap battle hosted by MC-War, Keith Murray, an emcee I often argue is underrated and under-appreciated, was summarily dismantled by Onyx member Fredro Starr. It was a pretty one-sided affair, and a tough one to watch if you were rooting for Murray, as I was.
I expected Keith to win because at his best he’s a fantastic lyricist known for wordplay, an upbeat, hardcore delivery rooted in battle rapping, and a unique, scratchy, high-pitched voice that complements the grittiness of his rhymes. In Keith Murray’s prime, between 1994-1998 when he dropped his debut The Most Beautifullest Thing In The World, the follow-up Enigma, and El Niño as one-third of Def Squad (along with Redman and Erick Sermon), Keith had a strong presence in the game. Along with Erick Sermon and Redman, he also worked with heavy-hitters such as LL Cool J, Ludacris, Kelly Price, and R. Kelly.
That 20 years later he’s maintained relevance despite no full length original offerings since roughly 2007 is a testament to his catalog and his fan-base. And that’s not to take anything away from Fredro Starr, whose own hardcore, battle capable flow and many accomplishments with Onyx shouldn’t be overlooked. I just honestly expected Keith to win handily. Instead he flat-out beat himself.
Keith Murray seemed flat and unfocused, particular during the first half of the battle. Often he stopped, restarted and repeated himself. He wasn’t quite able to balance the beat with his vocals until much too late in the battle, when he had all but lost any chance of regaining momentum. Some of the content wasn’t bad, as he made some solid jabs about Onyx abandoning original member Sonee Seeza (thus bringing into question Fredro’s integrity), Fredro’s sexual dealings with Brandy, and his role in Sunset Park. Overall however, Fredro’s rhymes were stronger, as was his delivery, consistency, and energy. He performed his rhymes fully, without stopping and restarting as Keith did, and delivered them with more energy and focus. Fredro’s many jabs, such as questioning Murray’s finances, alluding to him as a has-been, and claiming he’s a “dust head” came across more viciously than anything Murray spit. It simply wasn’t Keith Murray’s night and again, as a fan I was both stunned and disappointed that he came across so unprepared.
And that brings us to Keith Murray’s recent interview on Vlad TV to talk about the battle. He touches on many topics such as how the battle come about, new Def Squad music, and addresses Fredro’s “dust head” dis. What’s most striking to me most however is that Keith Murray apologized to his fans for his poor performance. He took full responsibility for not delivering the type of performance his fans expected. He agrees that his performance was sluggish, offers his explanation; he took an anti-histamine and a shot of liquor, causing him to be sluggish and he had a hard time hearing the beat. Despite how one feels about said explanation, ultimately what’s most important is that he reiterates full accountability and notes that his explanation is in no way an excuse. He admits to defeating himself, notes that Fredro had a few good bars, and calls for a rematch. As a fan I can honestly say I appreciated the sentiment. It takes a lot to admit defeat and to be held accountable for a poor performance in any context. For a rapper to do it is all the more rare.
(Keith Murray apologizes at the 3:25 mark and again at the 8 min mark)
Hip Hop is a competitive sport, and emcees are conditioned to feel like they’re the hottest thing since slice bread at all times, particularly when being interviewed. As convincingly as Drake recently defeated Meek Mill in their battle, you won’t find Meek Mill (or his anyone on his Team) admitting defeat any time soon. For an emcee as gritty as Keith Murray to check that feeling of supreme greatness in an apologetic gesture to his fans is a testament to his maturity as both an emcee, and a person. Perhaps others in Hip Hop, particularly the younger cats, can pull from Murray’s example and accept that believing you’re the best at all times and having a sense of accountability do not need to be mutually exclusive within Hip Hop’s context. It’s okay to know you’re the boss and admit when you fu*k up. In fact, that’s the boss thing to do.
I’d love to see a rematch, perhaps in a more organized, better executed setting, and only if in fact Keith can bring his A+ game. After Fredro’s strong initial showing, I’m not 100% sure Keith Murray would have enough to avenge his defeat. But I’ll be pulling for him. A fair-weather fan, I’ve never been.