TRU recently caught up with St. Louis-based producer/artist JR (formerly of Cross Movement Records) via e-mail to discuss his free Murray’s Grammar album, remaking Radiohead, and leaving the comforts of the Christian music market for a new audience.
Sketch: I’m not sure we’ve ever received a solid explanation for the Murray’s Grammar: New Rules title of your new album. Care to explain or drop some hints there?
JR: Yes. It derived from the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In the beginning chapter, one character references another character’s speech and clothing. He says that the guy’s conversation was in clear defiance of “Murray’s Grammar.”
Upon doing research I found out that Murray’s Grammar was short for a system of teachings from grammarian Lindley Murray, who was an English teacher in the 1800’s. His books taught youth how to talk properly and use language befitting an intelligent child. For me, I felt the same way about society. We have rules and laws that we put on someone in order for them to fit our liking and what we deem appropriate. That’s where the title came from.
Sketch: This album sounds like a bit of a transition piece for your new direction with song lyrics specifically targeted at or in the voice of your previous audience. Would you agree with that assessment? Why or why not?
JR: Yes and no. Most songs are from a personal viewpoint but that anyone can relate or sing to. Other songs, like “Weird Fishes,” are written with my previous audience in mind because I know the community from which I come and their predicted response to my new direction.
Sketch: Murray’s Grammar occasionally follows the hip hop mixtape tradition of remaking or reworking popular songs from other artists. But here, you’re drawing from indie pop tracks from acts like Radiohead, Phoenix, Drake, and One Republic. What drew you to revisit those original songs?
JR: I don’t listen to Christian rap very often so my influences are beyond hip hop and R&B. I chose those bands because they inspire and challenge me to write and create the best art possible. They are all geniuses in their own right and have something to say as well. Specifically, it was the melody of the original songs that drove me to them. I just wanted to put my own spin on it and introduce myself to the audiences that follow these artists.
Sketch: Other cuts on Murrary’s Grammar are of your own creation. Do you see yourself still producing for rappers in the Christian market (as you have done in the past) or are both your style and target audience moving beyond that?
JR: Absolutely! I am a producer/song writer by trade and I will work with any artist that has something to say and does it well within the boundaries of my convictions. I already have placements on “secular” artist albums. But I have stopped singing hooks on many of my Christian hip hop counterparts’ albums in an effort to “get out of that box” so to speak. I am very choosy about who I feature with now.
Sketch: You announced you were leaving Cross Movement Records and pursuing a less-churched or un-churched audience several months before your High Societies partner Sho Baraka did. What are some words of advice, encouragement, and/or wisdom you’ve been able to share with him about his recent decision to leave Reach Records and take a similar approach?
JR: It’s funny because he has always been an encouragement to me. While making this transition there was NO ONE I could talk to about it in my circle. And as you could imagine, coming from one of the most dogmatic Christian labels in existence, it made it a pretty lonely walk.
Sho was the only person (outside of my white, rock friends) who shared a similar passion. We would talk about what it would look like for us to take our talents to the mainstream world – to an audience who wouldn’t crucify us for every taboo thing we said and to see how God could use us in a culture that just loved music but were searching for truth at the same time. So before the decision was made to leave Reach, we had already talked about the steps necessary to walk this new path.
JR’s mixtape Murray’s Grammar: New Rules is available as a free download through ThisIsHigh.com. Peep the project right here: