NEW YORK — First rapper Keith Murray serves a three-year prison sentence for a crime he says he didn't commit, and now, just as he's getting his rap career back on its feet, he gets dropped from a deal with the biggest rap label in the world.
"It's bittersweet," Keith Murray said of his luck on Wednesday, one day after He's Keith Murray, his first album since 1999, was released. Sitting down and watching TV in rapper/producer Erick Sermon's home recording studio, the slightly dejected rapper seemed just a shadow of the animated MC who rapped his most well-known hit, "Most Beautifullest Thing in This World," from on top of a car back in 1994.
Murray, who signed with Def Jam last year after getting out of jail in 2000, was released from the label two months ago amid rumors that he'd choked two Def Jam employees, causing them to be hospitalized.
"I'm not that dude," Keith scoffed when questioned about the alleged incident. "I don't run around here doing this or doing that. If something occurs between me and you, there was something that made it happen. I'm not running around here, scaring n----s and putting n----s under pressure, that's not even me. I want people that get a whiff of this interview to know this sh-- you be hearing in the news is hearsay. I'm not that dude at all."
The verbally adept MC said simply that he was let go after having a verbal confrontation with one of the company's male employees. According to Murray, after the argument the employee then told label execs that he felt threatened. Def Jam will only confirm that Murray is no longer with the company and declined to give any details or a statement.
"[The employee] put a letter into human resources saying he couldn't work with me and he's scared of me and he can't work under those circumstances," Murray ruminated. "Universal and Def Jam have been going through certain issues with Murder Inc. and with TVT [Records] so I guess they didn't want no controversy at their label. They didn't want the controversy [and] all the unpredictability of the situation getting any worse from the letter he wrote."
Keith isn't totally crestfallen, however. He's regrouped and is now working on a new LP. The Def Squad member isn't seeking out a new deal, though. He's decided to put the project out independently so he can earn more of the profits.
"I've always had aspirations to go independent but when I came home [from jail], I needed money," he said. "I had to go get a record deal and I felt Def Jam was the best place to be. I went to Def Jam because of the mom-and-pop attitude they had, but when I got there and started working with each department [I realized] they're no longer mom and pop. They're all corporation.
"My career wasn't growing where I had intended it to grow," he added. "So I said in the back of my mind, 'I gave away all my power again. I wish that I would get off.' I would tell [Def Jam president] Kevin [Liles], 'I understand that you got 102 artists on your label, but I need attention, I need development. If y'all don't want to get on the same page with me, then let me go.' "
Well, we all know the saying about being careful what you wish for. Murray now has his out.
"I don't wanna go to a major label," he explained of his next business move. "I don't wanna sit there and work my brain and contribute my intellectual property to somebody that's gonna get an 86 percent [profit] in sales, give me an advance, give me a recording budget, and make me pay for my own travel to promote my work for them to get paid. At this point in the game I'm not trying to compete with those that want fame or the glitter. I want the money. It's all about me reaping benefits from my intellectual property."
Murray says that he's been getting beats from Erick Sermon and Rockwilder and that he should be done recording his fourth studio album in a month. He wants to get the LP out this year after he secures a distribution deal for his new indie label.
"The new album is more about not worrying if the label's gonna push it, if this person's gonna like the record," Murray said, denying any notion that he harbors ill will toward Def Jam. "It's me, full fledged, it's free. It's mentally free. [The album] is what I feel."