For a fairly chilled out guy, Mura Masa moves at lightning speed. The 21-year-old Guernsey-hailing producer - real name Alex Crossan - has gone from his bedroom to Abbey Road in just a couple of relentless years. He's been selling out venues since he was old enough to play in them, and has grabbed himself a loyal following the world over, thanks his dreamy, complex and sometimes melancholic brand of electronica.
"Making an album felt like some kind of faraway idea that I'd never have the skills or time to actually do," Alex tells me just a few days before his debut album drops, "but it feels just about real now." Rightly so: a record that's been two-and-a-half years in the making, he has gone from providing vocals for his own tracks to working with the heavyweights of almost every genre. The features on his debut read like who's who of modern music: A$AP Rocky and Desiigner rep the rap front, Charli XCX and NAO kill it on the record's pop-pier features, while the legendary Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn shows up for the album's swaying, woozy closer.
But it all started with just Alex and his laptop on a train to Brighton. It was on that journey, as he left London after self releasing his 2015 EP Someday Somewhere, that he wrote What If I Go?, the Bonzai-starring single that helped propel his music into the mainstream.
"It's been a marathon, and I've spent longer [on this] than anything else in my life so far," he reminds me, before adding that, at 21, he hasn't properly lived yet. That notion of youth, movement and perfectionism manages to manifest itself on every track. It might be experimental, but Alex was hellbent on making sure this wasn't a contrived concept album. "I'm still young," he says. "In four or five years, I'll be able to make an album with a huge narrative. At this point, all I should be doing is making a cultural statement about who I am and what I'm doing by just putting out the best songs that I've got."
Sound like a strong mantra? You'd be right. Mura Masa's debut album is a gleefully unpretentious, shining trip into the mind of a no-holds-barred producer. To mark its highly anticipated release, i-D sat down with the man behind it to discuss the stories and collaborations behind every track.
"The whole album kicks off with some ambient noise I recorded in Brixton. It was the first place I lived here when I moved in with my girlfriend. [At the time], I was trying to learn what London was about and get to grips with the melting pot of cultures and ideas [which felt] quite alien to me. It was the first time I wrote an instrumental and thought 'I could sing on this', which doesn't happen very often. I felt it was important to start the album off with my own voice. A mission statement!"
Nuggets (featuring Bonzai)
"This song has been a long time coming because we've been playing it live for about a year. Cassia (Bonzai) and I are best friends, and we write a lot together so it's a super easy process with no weird A&R type business. With Nuggets, we were listening to a lot of early Pharrell and funk music. We wanted to emulate that. Lyrically, Bonzai's talking about drugs, but when I heard those lyrics, I felt as though they were more related to love being like a drug, and the addictive qualities of it, hence the [chemical love related] sample at the beginning. "
Love$ick (featuring A$AP Rocky)
"Rocky was the first person of that calibre to believe in me enough to put his name on something I'd done. We booked out Abbey Road and did some old school studio jamming and freestyling. I remember going outside [to smoke with Rocky], and he was talking about how he loved Tame Impala before anyone else! It was a real moment of clarity for me. This man is possibly one of the most famous rappers on earth, and we're into the same shit! It was a real 'Meet Your Hero' moment and what he brought to the track was kinda transformative.
1 Night (featuring Charli XCX)
"This one was more remote. I hadn't explored big, fuck off pop tunes [on the album yet], and I got to thinking who I'd want to collaborate with. Charli [felt like] the most real and experimental. I finished off [the instrumental], sent her the basic idea for the beat and then she sent back the entire vocal. I didn't meet her throughout the process of making the song, but afterwards we shot the video and did live shows together. Even though the mechanical making of the music can be quite impersonal, it's always the start of a cool relationship."
All Around the World (featuring Desiigner)
"This was kind of accidental! Somebody had sent Desiigner the beat that I originally had set aside for A.K. Paul. I was in LA in the Interscope studios, Kendrick was next door working on DAMN, when we [heard] from one Desiigner's people being like 'He's in the booth! He's doing it now!'. We were so confused! [He gave us] the chorus and the rest was him doing ad-libs, which was brilliant, but I also thought it would be interesting if we could coax a more traditional song structure out of Desiigner and pulled the reigns on his style. We put each other outside of our own comfort zones!"
give me The ground
"I went through a really horrible breakup, but I was holding on to it for a long time and drawing on it to make sad music. With give me The ground, I ended up having a last whimper about that whole thing. It's a minute long, improvised song [with a] sample from a Facebook video of this Indonesian guitar player playing in the mountains. What I love about it is that it sounds very exotic and far off to my ears, but the way it's written has quite a Western structure to it. It's right in the middle of three singles too, [which] felt a little rebellious!"
What If I Go? (feat Bonzai)
"This was literally the first song I made with the album in mind, on the hour long train from London to Brighton. I don't actually remember much about the process of working with Bonzai at that point. We were still getting to know each other. I just remember thinking that she was an amazing singer and songwriter. We wrote that song between us which was nice, and [it kickstarted a] really special, collaborative journey."
Firefly (featuring NAO)
"I wanted to put the best songs that I've made on the record, and Firefly was definitely one of them. It's become entwined into my identity as a producer. Plus, to not have NAO on the album would just be a sin of unbelievable measures, because she's just brilliant! I don't know how to describe how good she is. Everybody hears her music and falls in love with her. She's not even the next anything, she's just NAO!"
NOTHING ELSE! (featuring Jamie Lidell)
"I wasn't really aware of Jamie or his history of making music. It was my manager who turned showed me his Warp Records stuff and the musical mayhem that he used to be [at the helm] of. I thought 'Fuck - that is genius!'. The instrumental started with NAO and I jamming in her studio. We finished the beat and sent it to Jamie, and he came back with the entire top line over it. NAO and I were together in America the day we got it and couldn't stop singing it!"
helpline (featuring Tom Tripp)
"This was us trying to imitate a genre of British music that doesn't really exist anymore: an 'Is this rapping or is this poetry?' kind of thing. I think it has a The Cure vibe to it, too. I found Tom [Tripp] on Soundcloud, but I can't even remember how long ago. Now we have the same manager, and I'm super excited to see what he does next. It's important to have someone like Tom on there next to people like Damon Albarn, because it's proof that collaborations come from everywhere, no matter how big or small [an artist] is."
Second 2 None (featuring Christine and the Queens)
"I had finished and turned in the album sans this song, then somebody said to me that Christine was in town, [and that] she'd love to get together and make some music. We met up in the studio and I was blown away by how lovely and openly strange she was! She had written the whole of Second 2 None before the session, so we recorded the song in one [or two] takes. The whole thing happened in an hour and a half -- she blew the lid off that shit straight away! Once it was over I realised: "Fuck! Now I have to push the album back!'
Who Is It Gonna B (featuring A.K. Paul)
"The elusive and illustrious A.K. Paul! He's a more important voice than people give him credit for. A.K.'s lyrics were originally written for the All Around the World beat, so [when Desiigner took it], I took his original vocal and build the entire instrumental of Who Is It Gonna B around it. It's a [backwards] collaboration in that way, but I was obsessed with the idea of having him on the album. It's like a warehouse rave-turned-love song."
Blu (featuring Damon Albarn)
"I'd written this song to sing myself, but I couldn't think of anymore words for the chorus; it was finished in one way but lacking something in another. Damon and I had been chatting about working on the new Gorillaz album, which was madness to me [because] Demon Dayz was the first album I had ever bought. I owe Damon a great deal. He's a gatekeeper in many ways of collaborative projects. As soon as I got his vocals I finished the song as quickly as I could. Blu closes out with the same recording as the start of the album, with the ambient noise around Brixton. The [last] song takes us back there."
Mura Masa's self-titled debut album is out now
Text Douglas Greenwood