We refer to Mura Masa
as an up-and-coming DJ/producer because technically he has yet to release an official debut album, but really, he has already been "all around the world"
with his music career (sorry, I had to). At only 21 years-old, Mura Masa, real name Alex Crossan, has already worked with major artists like Charli XCX, A$AP Rocky, Damon Albarn, and Desiigner. "I've been a big fan of A$AP Rocky for a while, since around 2011, and I know he's a good freestyler so I booked a proper studio -- it was actually Abbey Road in London. We were in the studio where The Beatles did 90 percent of their work and we were playing the piano that John Lennon played ‘Imagine' on. I was freaking out." When he collaborates with these artists, the way they divide their efforts depends on who Crossan is working with. "I knew [A$AP] would just wanna hear the beat and spit some stuff over it, and that's exactly what happened. With Charli, she's a songwriter and writes with other people and totally has her own thing going on, so I had a beat just made out for her, emailed it over, and then a couple of weeks later she sent it back with the vocals on it, and that was it. With Damon Albarn, originally we met up in person to talk about the Gorillaz album, but he somehow ended up being on my album."
When the UK artist first walked into our office in Brooklyn, he, along with the rest of his team, was decked out in sleek, sporty clothing. I'd almost forgotten how young he was by the way he carried himself (and by how tall he was), but as we sat on the couch and talked, it felt as if I was talking to an old friend. Suddenly he displayed a shocking amount of modesty, and he spoke as if he didn't just play Coachella a few days earlier. "It was super nerve racking. It was my first show of the year so I was a bit nervous," he said of the performance, but you'd never be able to tell. When I caught his set at the Mojave stage, I was stunned by his nonchalant confidence, and what set him apart was his use of real instruments -- he played the drums and the guitar and brought out the songs' originally-featured artists. But to put it simply: his beats made the house shake.
Thanks to the internet, making music in his bedroom is how Crossan got his start. "I enjoy playing live obviously, but my favorite place is my room, just tweaking and tinkering, generally being a nerd." SoundCloud has been the most convenient platform for emerging artists, especially in the electronic music scene. In today's world, an artist can make music from the comfort of their own home studio and be discovered, and maybe that's partially why Crossan is so humble about it all. "Nothing's changed. I still don't have a studio and I don't own a pair of speakers, I just used headphones...I think it's about time I probably get a room and have some equipment, step it up a notch, but I tried not to for the first album. I tried not to change the process or the kind of environment I was working in, because I think that's why people enjoy my music." For the listener to know that the musician used the same equipment found in anyone's bedroom enhances the listening experience. You hear every drum kick, every string pluck, and know that that artist personally put their touch on it. Take other producers like Grimes or Jack Antonoff -- they feel more accessible and more in reach just because we know they do everything on their own.
"People like to turn their noses up to it and say there's too much music, but it's like anything, it's a free market, just more competitive. Everyone has access and any kid in their bedroom can get a hold of some music software like I did." Crossan makes a different kind of dance music, too. Often times people associate the genre with more aggressive EDM with repetitive bass drops, but Crossan creates dance with a soulful R&B - and even indie - tinge. You won't see me at Ultra Music Festival anytime soon, but that might change if Crossan is on the lineup. Before DJing, he was in a lot of punk and hardcore bands, and this diverse musical background ultimately results in his ability to appeal to the masses. The kind of dance music you'd hear in a club never appealed to Crossan and it wasn't until a James Blake record fell into his hands when he was 14 years-old that he opened up his mind to different types of electronic music. "I heard the first James Blake album and I was like, ‘oh, electronic music can be artful and considerate and it doesn't have to be made for the club.' The lines are really blurry, though. Most scene kids who only listen to bands would be shocked at the amount of production that goes into those records. Just because it's electronic music doesn't mean it's Diplo. Not to hate on Diplo, though. I love Diplo."
When talking about Mura Masa's production style, don't mention the word "tropical." "I hate the word. I might have accidentally hopped on that without knowing, it's just such an integral part of London music culture. I used to live with my girlfriend outside of Brixton Station and there was this steel band that played steel drums, I would walk pass it everyday, and I was like ‘this is so cool, why don't I use this sound?'".
Self-teaching is intimidating, but even Crossan had to start somewhere. "My first song was a really shit dubstep song and -- the best American example would be Skrillex when he put a little vocal before the drop like 'call 911 now' -- mine was Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam."
"There are 13 tracks, there's a picture of me on the front, and I hope it's good," Crossan said when I asked about his forthcoming debut album. "I don't know if the people who have been listening to me will like it immediately, to be honest," he confessed afterwards. "It's kind of a step up musically. In my SoundCloud days, there were more big moments and tension and drops -- you would just hear it and be like ‘woah, this so cool.' There are moments like that on the album but it's more about songwriting...There's a minute-long interlude in the middle with just singing and a guitar, I think that will freak people out."
Get ready to freak out on July 14th when Mura Masa drops his self-titled debut via Anchor Point/Downtown/Interscope.