Coming out of nowhere on a song with Earl Sweatshirt, Captain Murphy first appeared in style. Appropriately matching the tone of the Flying Lotus produced “Between Friends”, CM also managed to deliver a competing verse with an established sweatshirted rapper known for tricky wordplay and upstaging his guest spots. No pictures, no interviews, no performances, no identity. This is how Murph rolls. Compare him to Banksy, compare him to Batman (see track “The Killing Joke”), whatever. This guy does not yet want his name revealed, and the enigma is a very important aspect of Captain Murphy’s appeal.
Rumors about his identity are zipping around various blogs. The names being thrown out currently are: Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Flying Lotus’s Madlib-esque alter ego, or some combination of the three. In actuality, it’s one of Earl’s friends from Somoa. Just kidding, he’s actually Tyler the Creator’s personal driver. Joking again, he’s actually Thom Yorke. I can’t seem to fully commit to any of the rumored identities that I’ve heard. For some reason my mind keeps going to Jay Electronica. I don’t think that he is the one rapping, but Captain Murphy’s beat choices have been those that Jay would slaughter, including the Jay Electronica beat “Dear Moleskin,” (which Jay did in fact slaughter). Other tracks I could see Jay on would be the TNGHT-produced “Shake Weight” (originally titled “Bugg’n”), which reinforces the Flying Lotus theory, as he is label mates with TNGHT on Warp Records. The other Jay-like track would be “Mighty Morphin Foreskin” which is loud, distorted, chaotic, and with ample crash cymbal.
The Jay comparison is exciting for several reasons. Jay Electronica, like CM, seemingly appeared out of nowhere. A quarter of the reason for Jay’s popularity was the hype around him, another quarter were the names he was often associated with, and the remaining half was his raw maw’fucking talent. I’d like to break down the Captain in a similar way. First, the lack of identity creates a universe of speculation for fans like myself to nerd out over. That same lack of identity creates intrigue for non-fans and music critics, who are important to the growth of new artists like Captain Murphy. Second, the Captain has only released a few tracks, yet those tracks have featured names like Earl Sweatshirt and Flying Lotus, 2 quintessential names in the avant garde/progressive hip hop scene. Both artists would likely hate to be labeled as such, so Earl and FlyLo if you’re reading this, tough shit (just kidding, sorry). Finally, Captain Murphy has talent. As if the hype and the name support weren’t enough, the guy (or guys) can back it all up with quality, which some may argue is almost as important as who you know!
Perhaps the reason that no one can quite pinpoint the Captain’s voice, is because he will never keep it at the same pitch for an entire song. Sometimes he’ll change it after a verse, sometimes after a bar of lines, sometimes after single words. He’ll never settle on one tone or allow the listener to get comfortable or familiar enough with one voice. Back to my Madlib comparison, he will throw all sorts of effects on the vocals, making it laughably high pitch like Alvin, or terrifyingly low pitch like Satan. The sound of the low voice tells listeners to consider Tyler the Creator, the content tells listeners to consider Earl. Captain himself has stated he is not part of Odd Future, so if those two are involved, it is a separate entity from the regular OF crew. If it is Flying Lotus rapping, god damn this guy is good. Producers have trouble rapping; they have a tendency to go predictably on beat and not stray too far off. There may be a faint trace of this, but it sounds as though this is not the first time that CM has rapped, and is familiar with the current abstract underground scene. It’s hard to label his genre due to his beat choices, and his delivery is just as confusing. He actually has a one up on Jay Electronica in that regard. Jay, while more sophisticated and eloquent than the Captain, is recognizable and even predictable to some extent in delivery. Jay’s content is not quite predictable, he can rap about anything, but he has become known for his sort of marathon style syllable stack up on songs like “Exhibit C” and “Spark Em Up.” Captain Murphy, on the other hand, generates a take on various different styles on rap. He accurately matches the feel of the TNGHT track “Bugg’n” which is a dirty and lovably messy banger, which Captain uses a more commercial rap, punchline focused approach, neatly transitioning between verses. He matches the Jay Electronica genre bending flow on “The Ritual” where he lives in limbo between a commercial, sort of logical flow, and an underground, sort of risky flow. “Between Friends” is the main inspiration for this paragraph. He switches flows every available chance, mirroring Earl’s flow at certain points, mirroring Tyler’s at others. At other points it can only be described as “so unorthodox,” which is the line he uses to enter the song.
“So unorthodox, chilling with a shaman, eating ramen in the parking lot.”
What a strange introductory line to a career. I praise the imagery, though. While it is not the most beautiful or thoughtful first line, it puts the concept of Captain Murphy right into the mind of the listener. After this first line, they know a bit more of what to expect: untraditional rhyming, unique imagery, and barely relatable to a real human being.
“Been a long time coming, been lost in the night. Learned how to do the dougie with the devil in the moonlight.”
Again, fantastic imagery, but what the fuck is he talking about?!. I see moonlight pouring over two silhouetted figures, their shoulders popping alternatively and their arms extended in the ‘dougie’ motion. I can’t say another rapper has suggested this image before. The ‘dougie’ is a recent dance, associated with good times and parties. The devil is an ancient concept, obviously associated with evil. To put the two together is delightfully confusing. Is the devil turning good and having fun dougie-ing with a pal? Or is he taking an innocent dance and making it wicked?
Mighty Morphin Foreskin
“How we change the game, and put it on our back, and putta putta rap, and gidalilbach, mwahahaha.”
This oddly meta line shows that the Captain has an odd sense of humor to match his odd personality. Odd. He raps it in double time. The first line, (pre-gibberish) surprised me because I thought “this is uncharacteristic, why would he spew some typical rap bullshit when his whole appeal is the enigma and unpredictability?” Then when he trails off into gibberish and laughs at himself I realize this was a shot at all the boring rappers who try to impress by with a brag rap packed with as many syllables into a line as they can fit.
“The bottle got em real nice, I got TNGHT poppin off. Aint never rocked no mic, I only Rachmaninoff.”
Not much substance in this line, but it shows Captain Murphy’s ability to make an obscure cultural reference hidden in a commercial rap punchline, all while namedropping the producers. Cool.
It’s hard to come up with anything about Captain Murphy’s backstory, but I’ve deduced a few things.
Various Comparisons and Theories:
Captain Murphy had something to do with Watergate.
Captain Murphy, like Lynch’s Eraserhead, but for ears.
Captain Murphy, like seasickness, but in a good way.
If Captain Murphy were a TV character, he’d be Captain Murphy.