This year’s Coachella brought Kendrick Lamar's new alter ego Kung Fu Kenny to life as he stunned concert-goers with a focused performance that debuted cuts off his moving new album Damn. But if you were in the mood for musical exploration, you probably caught Mura Masa’s electrifying evening set, where he had eight special guests including ASAP Rocky, Desiigner, and Charli XCX. A DJ, producer, and multi-instrumentalist with a strong ear for curating sounds, the Guernsey native has been destroying the internet with mixtapes and SoundCloud loosies that garner thousands of plays.
If you missed out on Coachella, those attending the opening night of the Tribeca Games Festival in New York City Friday night got to see Mura Masa perform. With guest vocalist Fliss, Masa excited the crowd with a similar setlist, even debuting some new music from his self-titled album dropping on July 14. It’s becoming more apparent that once festival season truly kicks off this summer, he’ll be one to watch.
The 20-year-old artist born Alex Crossan is gearing up for Mura Masa. He just released the tracklist this week that contains a number of high-profile artists, notably Damon Albarn from Gorillaz who closes out the project on “Blu,” which is a duet dedicated to Mura Masa’s girlfriend. We spoke to Masa about the album, a few of his collaborations, and why working with Albarn was a moment he needed to happen.
Your album title was originally To Fall Out of Love To but you changed it to be self-titled. Why did you choose self-titled over an album concept?
I’ve been working on this thing for a long time. Originally I wanted to [make a concept album] because I love narrative albums, I love skits and story and that sort of thing. I kind of did that with my mixtapes and I wanted the album to be properly narrative and really strung together. So I’ve been working on it for ages—year and a half, two years. I had all this music, hundreds of songs. I was having a tough time tying it all together coherently like a Good Kid, M.A.A.D City or something like that. I realized that I’m too young to be doing narrative in that way. I’m too early on in my musical journey to kind of tell this story in that way or send a message like that.
So I decided to take all the best music that kind of fit together cohesively and just slam it into the album and have that be it. Just do it like an original pop album like Thriller or something that where it’s just bang, bang, bang, rather than tie it all together with the narrative. It was originally gonna be about falling out of love of things like places or people. Just change and coming of age that sort of thing. Some of those songs are still on there. When I kind of threw caution to the wind and threw that out of the window, I just thought why not go over the top with it and just empty out the whole narrative of the album and just make it music.
You worked with Charli XCX on “1 Night.” Were you amazed at how fast she turned around her feature?
I knew she was really good, but when it came back I was like, "Well shit. It’s done." We went back and forth on a few things and I changed some of the structure, and I made a couple of suggestions. Other than that, yeah, she’s just a sick songwriter. It was important to me as well that she was from the U.K. And I think of the huge pop stars, she’s probably one of the coolest and one of the more interesting takes on that whole pop world and super lovely. And doing it at Coachella with her was very cool.
ASAP Rocky is on the “Lovesick” remix. That one you two actually made in the studio.
Yeah, he’s in London a lot. He calls London his second home. He was in London and somebody played the original version of “Lovesick.” And he really liked it. He was down to meet up and really listen to music and stuff. 'Cause at that point, I haven’t really done any big time features or anything. So it was kind of important that it happened. I was like, "Why don’t we book Studio 2 at Abbey Road?" Which is where the Beatles did 90 percent of their work. So I was like, "Let’s book that room. Then he’ll definitely want to come."
I was trying to impress him, and it worked. Well, he would have shown up anyway. In fact, he said, "Where do you live?" And I said, "We live in South [London]." He was like, "Why aren’t we there? Let’s just go there next time." I was like, "You’re right. I don’t know why I tried to impress you." But it was really cool.
And you got a record with Desiigner called “All Around the World.” You are one of the few producers who prefers Desiigner over Future.
I love them both. I understand Future’s contribution to that style. I think it's wrong to write Desiigner off just because he sounds a lot like Future sometimes. Yes [he does], but Drake used to sound so much like Lil Wayne and that didn’t matter. I guess they were protégé and teacher. Everybody was biting Lil Wayne back in the day, but it didn’t seem to matter.
Why did you want him on the record? What energy did he bring?
I like to think I pulled a very good song out of him. Originally we sent him the beat and he kind of sent it back. I think he thought it was an EDM thing and he sort of had to do ad-libs over it. There were no verses. There were no lyrics. It was just him (mimics Desiigner ad-libs). I kind of had to dialogue with him, just carefully kind of persuade him in a traditional structure that he doesn’t really do.
The last track, “Blu,” you made with Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn. He brought you in to do some work on the Gorillaz album. How did it evolve into this song?
He listens to a lot of new music and he gets people to show him new music. He’s very interested in what’s going on right now in music and that’s clear in the feature list on his album. You know, Popcaan is on there. Vince Staples. But also, Grace Jones and OG heads. He meets with a lot of people and he’s very collaborative with the Gorillaz thing. So originally we met up about that.
We went to his studio that he had and it was just amazing. Action figures of the Gorillaz laying around. Demon Days was the first album that I ever bought. I was kind of modeling my album after a Gorillaz record just because the nature of the collaborations and just mixing genres and stuff like that. And suddenly out of the blue, he was like, "You want to come in and talk about Gorillaz?" I’m like, "Yes. 100 times yes."
I think he sent me some demos to work with and just to live with and sit with. I sent him some stuff back. As far as I know, I don’t think any of it is on the record. Sometimes you hear about this stuff after you come out. As of now, I’m not sure if anything is on there. But then, I also sent with that just a bunch of my ideas I’ve been writing. There was this one that I had written a while ago. I had written the chorus and kind of the rest of the song, but I was missing the verses. It’s basically how it is on the record now. But he just added his silky, sweet Damon Albarn, 2D voice. And it turned into a duet because he sings the chorus on the record as well, I just think it’s a crazy way to end the album. Just like a duet with 2D from Gorillaz.
I feel like you got a rare opportunity to meet with him face-to-face.
When you meet your idols, I’m not one of those people—like if I saw Prince on the street, I wouldn’t say anything. Because I’d want him to meet me. You want to meet people on the right terms or if there’s a reason for you to meet. It was just super special that he was interested. He was properly engaging me. He wasn’t like entertaining me or anything. He was genuinely interested in what I was doing and I was interested in what he was doing.
I remember I was taking notes for the Gorillaz stuff, and I was asking a bunch of questions like, "What’s the album about? What’s the vibe?" And all this. Obviously, I was nervous, asking a bunch of questions. He leaned over and put his hand on my leg and he looked me dead in the eye: "We will see each other again. Don’t worry about it." He’s a super nice dude, obviously one of the great U.K. songwriters, musicians, composers. He needs a knighthood or something. The things he’s done for U.K. music is phenomenal. To have him close out the album, it wasn’t just a good thing, but it almost felt necessary. We need a moment like this to end on.