Cult hero El-P's Definitive Jux label is riding an artistic hot streak to rival Rawkus' heyday–which, not coincidentally, featured the seminal debut of El-P's old group, Company Flow. But where Rawkus focused almost exclusively on East Coast rap, Definitive Jux's tentacles stretch from El-P's rotten apple to RJD2's Ohio to Mr. Lif's Boston, and, with The End Of The Beginning, to Murs' not-so-sunny take on life in California. Though a newcomer to the label, Murs is already known to discriminating rap fans for his work with The Living Legends, a West Coast indie supergroup that merges the size and structure of Wu-Tang Clan with the jazzy, progressive vibe of Native Tongues-inspired acts like Freestyle Fellowship, Pharcyde, and Blackalicious. Murs also collaborated with Atmosphere's Slug on Felt: A Tribute To Christina Ricci, and, not surprisingly, Murs' conversational flow and every-slacker cynicism suggest a cross between Slug and Aceyalone. His music is refreshingly life-sized; where fellow Juxies Mr. Lif and Aesop Rock combine working-class political consciousness with surreal flights of fancy, Murs keeps Beginning rooted in the workaday reality of a rapper trying to keep afloat in a cruel world. On "Happy Pills," he raps the prescription-antidepressant blues alongside Rock, while on "Risky Business," he flexes his formidable storytelling skills alongside Digital Underground's Humpty Hump and Shock G. Few rappers would sound equally comfortable rapping alongside both, but Murs is one of them. He has more in common with Jux's quirky rap iconoclasts than with Cali's gangsta rappers, but Beginning is nevertheless informed by the stress of living in gang territory. On "Last Night," for example, Murs illustrates how the madness of gang life can affect people who couldn't care less about Crips and Bloods. Being signed to Definitive Jux is now the indie-rap equivalent of getting signed to Eminem and Dr. Dre's vanity labels; it may not be a sure thing, but it's sure to attract. On his stellar label debut, Murs makes the most out of the break of a lifetime.

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