When you’re a superbly poetic Hip Hop artist, fans might get the idea that you’re free as a bird in your personal life, because how could such great art come from a guy who is married with children? In the case of Los Angeles native Murs, success in the music business has come by way of many crews and collaborations over the years, but it could be the rapper’s personal life that has brought on his biggest challenges.
Recently signed to Tech N9ne‘s Strange Music imprint, Murs has been touring in support of his latest album Have a Nice Life. Meanwhile, his family life has been wrought with major changes. In 2012, Murs and his wife Kate adopted an infant son. The following year, they took in a 15-year-old son, and Murs spoke exuberantly about the experience of being able to provide a better life for kids who needed it.
Since that time, the family had to make the tough choice to return their eldest adopted son to the foster care system. We talked in-depth with Murs about this unique experience, and the ways he and his wife are coping through all the changes, including their dedication to seeing the teen through his transition to adulthood. Read on as Murs enters the Parent Trap with a very open dialogue…
You’ve been through the adoption process with one young child and one teenager. What were the dynamics like in your household adapting to that age difference?
Murs: Well it’s been difficult. A friend of mine described it as starting a video game at both of the hardest levels. The teenage years supposedly the most challenging and the toddler are very challenging, but I feel we were blessed in the fact that my wife’s natural maternal instincts kicked in and she was able to deal with the toddler with patience I didn’t have the first two years.
Me being who I am, I’m pretty cool with teens. I had talked to teens for a living, and probably still am a teenager at some point, so I thought that was a great team. Funny enough, I don’t talk to my baby any differently than I talk to my teenager. My mom doesn’t agree and some parents don’t but the funny thing is before I had my baby I was very conscious about my language around babies, and everything and now I curse sometimes and say whatever comes up. I feel like my toddler can pick up on my sincerity and If I use a curse word then he knows I’m serious. I don’t have to raise my voice. I don’t wanna yell. I don’t wanna be angry at him.
What were some of the challenges you faced adopting your kids, and what advice would you give someone who is starting the process?
Murs: Oh Wow. The foster care system in America and adoption agencies, it’s a shit show. I think the people that do care are overworked and underpaid, and they get moved around a lot, which is bad for the kids and bad for us.
We did a private adoption and a public adoption – for our teen it was a public adoption, and for our baby it was a private adoption. You’ve got to get fingerprinted; background checks, physical, and then I took off the road to do the 12-week parenting classes to be certified. Then we wanted to adopt a teenager, specifically one teenager that we found online and it was very difficult so we started applying for other teenagers. Just the letters we were getting back would be astounding.
It can be very frustrating but you have to be diligent. You get this background check, you get this ten page official document that they send that has your whole life story, and we sent it to adopt this young Ethiopian kid living in Denver – a Valedictorian, 13-years-old. My wife and I had volunteered in Ethiopia, and also we were persuaded to adopt American. We wanted to adopt from Ethiopia after volunteering and it kinda not put the screws to us, but strongly suggested to check America. So we went through all these websites and found this one kid in Alabama, and they wouldn’t give them to us.
We probably applied to 40 or 50 other kids. I would say Ohio was the most responsive, Alabama was the worst, and Colorado was pretty bad. The Ethiopian kid we applied for they sent us a letter saying, “Are you prepared to adopt a child of color?” and I’m like “We’re a family of colors. Did you not look at our pictures? Did you not read the federal document that we spent all this time putting together? What do mean?” Then, “Are you aware that this child is from another country?” and I say “Yes. We visited there and plan on continuing to visit there that’s why we’re applying. But all of this is in the 10-page document.” They say, “We don’t have time to read those” so I say “then what are you getting paid for?” so it’s ridiculous.
Then at the same time, our baby came from an agency that one Sunday called us and said: “Do you want this baby or not?” We say “What do you mean?” and they say “We had you on file. No one called you?” We say “No, no one called us.” Then they say, “Ok no one called you but If you aren’t in North Carolina in 48 hours the child is going to foster care.”
And we didn’t want a baby. We wanted a teenager, because we knew we weren’t ready. I travel too much… and my language… and working on my communication and my own issues before I have a baby. We’re physically able to have a child, but we haven’t had one and we weren’t looking for a baby, but we got this call to action like 48 hours and this kid is gone into foster care. So I say “Yeah we’ll be there” so we’re buying strollers, diapers, hopping on a plane.
Thirty-two hours later we pop up at the hospital and after all these fingerprint checks and everything, no checks our birth certificate or ID. They just say, “Are you the Carters? Ok cool here’s the baby. Put the food here, put the wipes here. Go.”
With our teenager, things have not worked out and he’s back in foster care. To get a child, they make you jump through all these hoops, but he was able to file false claims of neglect and abuse against me and my wife at the drop of a hat. All he had to do was pick up the phone, and nothing was substantiated. We definitely were able to clear it up once we went to court and they came to the house and also saw the damage he did to my property, and they quickly changed their tune. You also have teenagers like him who would manipulate the system and lie.
Now they’re threatening to take my child away, and they’re saying “You sent this kid away. Why did you kick him out of your home and you’re abusive and you’re endangering your baby..” and I was like, “ No we had to get him out of the house because he was a danger to the baby.”
I really believe in the system, the [focus]shouldn’t be on the parents to prove they’re worthy; it should be on the teens. If families like myself are willing to take teens, then it should the teens who have to write a letter to the parents to why they need or deserve a home. I know that the kid we got wouldn’t have taken the time to do that. We got painted this picture that he was a great kid and all these things, but the social worker that told us these things thought that because she’d only been working with him two months, and every six months he’s had a different case worker.
He got adopted once and sent back, and they painted a negative picture of that family. When we reached out to that family, they experience the same negative poor behavior that we were experiencing. If we were allowed to talk to them prior, if their full paperwork was in his dossier then we would have known not to adopt this kid. They hide that because the social workers think that they are doing the kid a favor by not telling the whole truth so that someone adopts them, but they put my wife in danger because I travel. If I would have known he was violent and things of that nature I would not have left my wife alone with this child.
What are some words of advice to someone who’s looking to adopt through the foster care system or even through the adoption agency?
Murs: If you’re going for a baby or a toddler, be patient. Know in your heart what you want to do. Don’t let the agency influence you anywhere, because they will try to sway you to do foster care, adopt from America, take three or four kids… don’t be swayed. Know what you want, follow though and be patient.
I also feel that if you’re gonna adopt from a foreign country it’s good to go there and volunteer and get familiar with the culture. Find an adoption agency there that has a good relationship with the local government so that you’re not getting your money taken. If you’re gonna adopt from Korea, Ethiopia, or whatever, get on the ground, go see the orphanages and conditions, and also hopefully meet someone who can be an advocate that there for you, because it can make the process move a lot faster.
And if you want to adopt a teen like we did, make sure you open up a line of communication with that teen via their social worker, and have them write you a couple of essays on why they should be in your home. Let them tell their past stories and make sure you uncover all of the paperwork on your teenager before bringing them in. We were planning on having a teenager and not the baby, because they recommend that you don’t have a baby in the house when you have a teen from foster care.
How long ago then did your teen leave the home?
Murs: He left right before Thanksgiving . It’s been a tumultuous few months. We tried to reach out to his birth family initially, and that didn’t work out well. The family was willing to take him and most of them are gainfully employed and doing well now, he just continues the behavior, which demonstrated it wasn’t about not being with his foster family. Whatever happened in his life has made him into this person and he has a lot of work to do as a young man.
We went down and visited them during the summer and I inspected their homes, and it was a safe environment for him to be in for the most part, but the damage has been done psychologically. It’s a lot more going on, unfortunately.
How has all of this affected you and your wife’s relationship and what are you doing to keep it all together?
Murs: I can only imagine what it would be like if I was a regular husband that just stayed home. It’s definitely brought us to the brink of near divorce, separation and we’re just trying to work through it. It’s hard because I can’t be present for counseling, because the mother of my children doesn’t work. So in order for us to maintain our lifestyle, I have to be on the road, and when I’m on the road I’m not able to go to marriage counseling or anything like that.
Also I [wasn’t] able to help deal with both the toddler and teenager throwing tantrums, which is ridiculous. That’s why the teen had to go. But still, she’s has to go to court cases and placement meetings because we’re still trying to make sure he has the best care – so we’re present at all of the meeting concerning his future to this point. He knows how to play the system so he’s telling them, “I just want back to go to public school” and we know that in public school he was suspended multiple times, getting detention and that’s where he got heavily involved in drugs.
So we’re there to get help. I’ve told him multiple times, “I’m pulling for you, I’m praying for you. You have a lot to do and I don’t wish you any ill will but you’ve gotta get it together.” Even though he filed a false claim on us, I know he’s just angry, I tell him, “As long as you don’t get outta pocket, and when you hit rock bottom, I’m there for you so call me.”
What are some things that you’ve done to stay focused on music through all of these changes?
Murs: I’ve just been blessed to never have had writer’s block. I love what I do and I love Hip Hop culture so much. I didn’t become a rapper because I wanted to, I did it because I had to, and it’s all I am. It just made me work harder, because I have a lot to work for and this has given me a lot more to talk about, a lot more depth in my music, joys and pains to share with everyone. I couldn’t stop being creative, I don’t know how. I’m thankful that I don’t know how. I know friends that have gotten writer’s block or too distracted by personal stuff.
I also come from a family of workaholics so it’s not an option to stop or to quit at this point and I’ve been through so much that I wouldn’t quit. Even if me and my wife separate, I can’t let any trauma between us stop me from working because that will negatively affect her future. It’s our livelihood, so before I let our situation stress me out to the point where I can’t work or I’m distracted, I’d rather us separate and stay friends and I stay employed.
What would you say are the great things about connecting with fans in 2015 versus 10 or 15 years ago when you first started?
Murs: I think the ones that are really into you, your core fan base isn’t gonna miss your video on MTV. They’re able to get it on demand, everything is right there when they want it, and they can stay as tuned in as they want to or don’t want to. It’s easier for them to catch up. If they’ve missed a song or video they know exactly where to go to get it.
And if they want to stay involved and know when you’re coming to town, they can. They can be on a mailing list; it’s a lot more efficient. The other side of that is a lot more fans feel a lot more entitled to personal replies and things like that. That could be troublesome. I’m blessed to have a lot of really cool kids that don’t abuse that, especially with interacting via social media.
How effective has it been for you in adapting to social media the last few years?
Murs: It’s been great. The positive aspects I spoke of have been great and even the negative aspects. [Social media] has helped me develop a thicker skin, and I don’t take a lot of things personally. Even in my personal life I’m not taking it as personal. It’s made me a better person in that aspect.
The fact that now everyone has a camera is ridiculous. The only celebrity I’ve met is Damon Wayans and I was so scared to ask him for an autograph at Foot Locker. I saw Ice Cube at the county fair, and I was scared to death because he was a huge gangster, and he’s just a human. So in all I wouldn’t bother him for a selfie nor did I think that he owed me that. He didn’t have to respond to my fan mail, I just him for loved his art. It wasn’t about, “if he doesn’t stop what he’s doing on his way to take a piss, he’s an asshole.” And it’s just this sense of entitlement with the [younger]generation that I don’t get.
My wife and I have some issues with just like how she’s attached to Facebook. Honestly I wouldn’t have any social media if it wasn’t for my career. I’m that old person that would not be on anything. I definitely use it for work. I don’t even know how to use Facebook to stay in touch with my cousins. I let my wife do all that. I don’t need to know that much about people; I don’t want to know that much about people. If it wasn’t necessary for my job…
What do you want people to know about you as a man and artist at this stage of your life?
Murs: Everything you should know about my art is in my music, just listen. But as an artist I wanna be to be the one artist that doesn’t take this position, and I’m very thankful for the support and privilege of having a 19/20 year career at this point and that I’ve made the most of it. I don’t pop up in Tokyo, go to a hotel, and leave. I walk the streets and take full advantage of everywhere I have the rare opportunity to visit whether it’s Idaho or Russia. I walk the streets at midnight if I have to just to be able to feel in touch, and the magnitude of this blessing is not lost on me as an artist.
As a man, I love everyone and I’m trying to work it out in this world. I’m here to discuss or support any positive change that’s gonna make a greater impact on the world. So let’s continue to share ideas and smile at one another when we see each other.