The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is going hip-hop. Yes, hip-hop. LACMA says the music genre is its own artform, and wants to showcase LA talent in a new concert series.
LACMA's also hoping the shows will bring out younger patrons, and they're turning to one of LA's biggest hip-hop talents for help: Murs.
Murs and LACMA go way back, to when he was a kid named Nick Carter.
"I grew up in the Mid-city area, Olympic and La Brea and definitely grew up coming here," he says. "My friend told me the other day there are three field trips everybody in LA Unified take. It's Olvera Street, the Tar Pits, and LACMA."
He used to ditch class to write songs at the museum.
"It's just a beautiful, serene, peaceful area in this hectic smoggy city," he says.
He still remembers his first painting he saw, depicting poets "sitting down in nature and writing and I thought I should sit down and write here."
Murs raps about daily life's frustrations and relationships, often humorously. But LA is most associated with gangsta rap — a subgenre of hip hop, and its most commercially successful. Starting in the late 80's, acts like Ice-T and NWA rapped about violence and gang life in the inner city.
LACMA's Jason Gaulton says that it's high time to show off LA hip-hop's musical range.
"In Los Angeles, gangsta rap might have put us on the forefront but right now it's beat music that is the latest craze, and you can see so much funk," Gaulton says.
Gaulton is trying to bring that funk to the museum with the concert series. His job is developing programming for younger art patrons, which in the museum world, means under 50. "These concerts are very much in their comfort zone, so if that's what brings them out, that's fine by us," Gaulton says.
Gaulton says the concerts were an easy sell to museum leadership. It was Murs who had a harder time convincing other hip-hop artists to sign on. "I think they thought we would be rapping inside the museum and they would be censored so I didn't get a lot of a response," Murs says.
But Murs persisted, leaning on years of experience organizing the indie rap tour Paid Dues. He's started to line up artists from diverse backgrounds. Among those on the roster is the veteran MC, Medusa, who he calls LA's undisputed queen of the mic.
There'll also be newcomers like Koreatown's Dumbfoundead. "He's one of the younger MC's from Los Angeles that has yet to get mainstream recognition but I think he's on his way. So if anybody's looking
to get on the next big thing out of Los Angeles, it'll probably be Dead," Murs says.
Murs has put himself out there, too. He opened up the series at LACMA last week, sharing the stage with his old group, 3 Melancholy Gypsys.
Twenty-five year old Richard Uribe was among the hundreds who gathered by the stage in front of the Urban Light art display, a massive collection of cast iron antique street lamps by the museum's main entrance.
Uribe says seeing Murs perform was worth his first outing to the museum. "Murs, you compare him to a Tupac, it relates to you. What he says is real, and it's like dang, and it just throws everybody off," Uribe says.
After the show, Murs invites the audience to check out the art exhibits kept open late for concert-goers. Two hundred people — about a third of concert-goers — end up signing up for free summer museum passes.
LACMA's hoping they'll be back soon. If not for the paintings and sculptures, then for that next hip-hop concert coming up in June.