When Murs was growing up in South Central Los Angeles, he was bullied for being a good student.
“People got on me for reading and trying to do well in school,” Carter says, calling from his Inglewood, Calif., home. “I had no interest in being a punk.”
But Murs, born Nicholas Carter, later developed an interest in rap after connecting to lyrics from Del the Funky Homo Sapien.
“When I heard him rap about being bullied, I stood up and noticed,” Carter says. “I was like, ‘Wow, someone is rapping about what I’m going through.’ ”
Carter, 39, experimented with hip-hop during the mid ’90s and has proven to be a cerebral and inventive rapper.
“I know I’m not like other rappers, and that hasn’t helped me professionally,” Carter says. “It’s easier to be like everybody else.”
File Murs, whose name is an evolving acronym, under alternative rap. He has been eclectic sonically, and his storytelling is lyrically dense. There’s no mystery or confusion after listening to a Murs track. “It’s about communication,” Carter says. “Words are important to me.”
Some of his most inventive raps, both humorous and poignant, grace his latest album, “Captain California,” released last March. There’s “GBKW (God Bless Kanye West),” which is about a kid trying to do the right thing in a toxic environment. Carter delivers the tough side, and he also displays his love for pop culture when he drops references to Star Wars, Harry Potter and X-Men throughout “Captain California.”
“I have no problem rapping about things that might be considered geeky,” Carter says. “I’m not worried about image. If I was worried about image, I would be making music in a paint-by-numbers fashion. If you’re going to be in this business, the only thing that makes sense to me is to express yourself. That gives me more satisfaction than mainstream success. I don’t have any issues with artists who have that success. I just have to do things on my own terms.”
Carter will perform Feb. 8 with Durham’s Grammy-winning producer 9th Wonder, a longtime collaborator, at Motorco Music Hall, presented by Duke Performances. Charlotte-based rapper Reuben Vincent, 16, is the opening act; he’s the newest artist signee on 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records.
It’s about a month before he releases his newest album, “A Strange Journey Into The Unimaginable,” a collaboration with Michael “Seven” Summers. With the album set to be released March 16, his birthday, Carter says on Facebook, “It’s going to be my big birthday album and most personal ever.”
When performing, Murs typically engages the audience. As a teenager, Carter checked out concert footage of punk-funk band Fishbone. The energy and creativity the band exuded live had a profound impact.
“I was blown away by them,” Carter says. “How can you not be taken aback by watching what Fishbone did during their prime? I’m not as out there as (Fishbone frontman Angelo Moore) but I like to have fun. I remember watching him do flips into the audience, climb up to the balcony and dive into the crowd. It was like bringing the circus to music.
“But what was really cool about Fishbone is that the songs were always strong. You want to be entertaining live, but the first step is that you have to make sure you have the songs. I give it my best when I write, and I’m always into it when I step up onto that stage.”
Carter is playing a handful of dates to promote the new album and plans on a full tour later this year. He’s got 10 albums worth of material to choose from.
“I go out and have fun since I have so much to choose from every night,” he said. “With this much material, I can do whatever I want live.”
Carter looks back to when he was growing up in the precarious world of East LA a generation ago. He says he never would have guessed that he’d be in his position today.
“I never in a million years would have guessed this would have happened to me,” Carter says. “But I read. I worked hard in school. I wouldn’t be where I am today as a lyricist without that. Reading might not look cool to some, but it opens doors for you.”
Who: Murs, 9th Wonder and Reuben Vincent, presented by Duke Performances
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 8. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: Motorco, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham
Tickets: $28, or $10 for Duke students
Info: 919-901-0875, motorcomusic.com or dukeperformances.duke.edu