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Eddie Murphy on music after reggae: 'I could put out a country album'

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Eddie Murphy
Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic

Eddie Murphy has been balancing a comedy career and a passion for making music since well before his turn in Shrek covering The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” (see: his portrayal of soul singer James “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls—which earned him a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in 2007—and his 1985 hit “Party All the Time”). And this month, Murphy releases a new single, “Oh Jah Jah” (out Jan. 27 through iTunes), a breezy reggae track that he wrote and co-produced.

Murphy’s reggae stylings may come as a surprise to some, but “Oh Jah Jah” follows his 2013 Snoop Lion collaboration “Red Light,” and his work with dancehall toaster Shabba Ranks for 1993’s “I Was a King.” All in all, his resume says Murphy isn’t playing it for laughs: he’s serious about making music. EW caught up with Murphy by phone from his home in Los Angeles to talk about his music and when we’re getting another installment of Beverly Hills Cop.

EW: Why choose to record a reggae song?

EDDIE MURPHY: I put a song out with Snoop Dogg called “Red Light” and people who listened to reggae seemed to really like that, so I thought I’d put another reggae song out. I have a bunch of different reggae tracks right now. I could put a reggae album together if I wanted to. I have songs in all different genres. I never stop recording and writing stuff—I never stop doing it privately. Because I’m not trying to put out a specific type of music for the radio or pop music type stuff, I’ve recorded all types of stuff over the years. I could put out a country album. I could put out a jazz album. I cover the total landscape of music, all different types of sounds.

What inspired you lyrically for “Oh Jah Jah”?

When I wrote it, that was the week so much was going on. That was the week the Ebola stuff broke out, there was ISIS going on, there were heads being chopped off, and there was Ferguson and kids getting shot.

What does making music give to you?

Music is what I do when I’m not acting and not doing funny stuff. I’ve had bands since I was 15. Music has been part of my whole thing, it’s just that I got known for acting and being funny. … I have shelves and shelves of music over the last 25 years, unreleased stuff. It’s part of what I do and who I am. In my movies, that’s not me. If I’m doing comedy, that’s not me. That’s observation. But with my music, I express myself in this whole other way. I get to earn a living doing this other thing. I’m a funny dude, but when I’m not being funny, I’m in the studio. Some of my music stuff is funny. Some is really funny–satirical, parody. I do voices. My sense of humor is worked into my music. “Jah Jah” is my serious side. But when I do music I am not confined to one space. I can go in any direction and I get to express myself.

Any musical direction? Is there an Eddie Murphy heavy metal track on the shelf?

I wouldn’t say metal, but I have some hard rocking stuff. I have a lot of hard rock stuff.

In the 1980s, when you released the live performance films Raw and Delirious, you were kind of a rock star.

That was fun back in the day. Then it stopped being fun and I stopped doing it. I still every now and again get a feeling… Maybe I’ll see someone’s show and I’ll be like, man, and I get an itch. Once you’ve worked the stage, you always have that in you. That’s never left me. That Raw and Delirious stuff, that was fun stuff. I was in my twenties. And the times were different: less comedians, audiences were easier. It’s hard out there now; you’ve got to be really funny now [laughs]. You’ve got to really bring it now.

Bob Marley would have turned 70 on Feb. 6, and he’s as popular as ever. Are you a fan?

He’s one of my favorite artists. He’s in my top three. The Beatles being first, Bob Marley is second. Without a doubt.

Who’s third?

Marvin Gaye.

I can’t let you go without talking about movies. One newspaper reported Beverly Hills Cop 4 is scheduled for release in 2016. True?

They’ve been trying to make a Beverly Hills Cop come together since Beverly Hills Cop 3, 20 years ago, and none of the scripts have been right. If we get a script that comes together that’s really, really, really good, then I’ll do a Beverly Hills Cop. I hadn’t done a movie in five years, but I just finished doing a movie called Cook with Bruce Beresford. It’s not funny. It’s a serious film. It’s got a really good script. I’ve gotten to where I only want to do films that are really well written, and with good directors. Filming literally wrapped a week ago. Right now, they’re developing a [Beverly Hills Cop 4] script. [But] it doesn’t make any sense to do a movie like that unless it’s really special. I’ve seen scripts that are 70 to 80 percent right, but it’s got to be 100 percent there or it doesn’t make sense to do.

Are you considering your career legacy?

I’m not even thinking about legacy. I just don’t want to be in any more shitty movies [laughs]. If you don’t have to do a shitty movie, then just don’t do it. It’s one thing to get big checks to do shitty movies. You can do that forever. But I don’t have to work again in my life. If I’m going to work, then let it be good stuff. That’s where I’m at right now: only the good stuff.

Speaking of good stuff: When it comes to reggae, what are your top five favorite reggae songs?

That’s a hard one with all the great stuff that’s out there. OK, for a top five I’ll just go with Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved.” It’s just driving, and the lyrics and wordplay, his vocal—the whole song is just crushing it.

“Stir It Up,” another Bob Marley track. It’s a super sexy Jamaican track; it’s a reggae love song; it’s a reggae seduction song. “Stir It Up” is a super sexy track.

“Kingston 14” by Gregory Isaacs. It grooves. I like the way he sings. I have to have that one.

“Hello Africa” by Garnett Silk. His voice and the melody: I just love that song.

Oh and I love this new artist, a dude named Chronixx. He has a track called “Smile Jamaica.” I love that so much. The song and the video are really great. Go look at that one. That song will make you smile.

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