Studio Session: Mura Masa Calls on ASAP Rocky and Desiigner for New Self-Titled Album
A leap of faith can change your whole life. For producer Mura Masa, it was moving from his small town in Guernsey, British Isles to London in order to make his music dreams a reality. The modest 21-year-old, born Alex Crossan, started uploading beats to SoundCloud when he was 18 and distanced himself from the crowd, literally and figuratively, by moving to the U.K. city in 2015, and dropping an EP, Someday Somewhere.
Mura is known for meshing together afrobeat, dancehall and deep house to create breathy party anthems. "When I started to upload to SoundCloud and kind of gain a following and in the internet age, it’s really easy to put stuff out there and get feedback from other people," Mura tells XXL. "I appreciate that."
Now, the English export is slowly making his presence known in the hip-hop space on and offline. In the past year, Mura has convinced A$AP Rocky to jump on the remix to his breakout track "Love$ick," spontaneously linked with Desiigner for "All Around the World" and assisted on Stormzy's debut album, Gang Signs & Prayer. Taking his stateside crossover to new heights, Mura performed for his biggest U.S. crowd yet during Weekend 1 of 2017 Coachella and Rocky even showed love with a surprise performance during the set.
Mura is using this momentum to drop his self-titled debut album out now via Apple Music. Before he released the LP via Downtown/Interscope Records and his own label, Anchor Point, the upstart chopped it up with XXL about getting hooked on hip-hop thanks to Lil Jon, working with Rocky and more.
XXL: What did you listen to growing up?
Mura Masa: Growing up, I listened to a lot of pop and rock. My dad was in a rock band in the ‘80s in Glasgow, Scotland. So it started from there. My mom also got me into like Jane Mitchell and lots of different things. I distinctly remember I started listening to hip-hop when I heard that Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz, that “Get Low” tune. I kind of started to listen to rap after that.
For producing, I kind of got into J Dilla very early on and yeah, so I grew up listening to lots of types of music really. When it came to music, my dad, he listened to everything from like, punk and heavy metal to funk and jazz. His influence on me was just keeping an open mind, I guess—not being opposed to experiment and kind of mix different types of music.
You say you got hooked on rap thanks to Lil Jon. What stood out to you about Lil Jon’s “Get Low”?
First of all, the beat is just like, absolutely slaps. Up until then I’d never really heard anything like that before. I’m from a really remote place called Guernsey. It’s like a tiny island. So hearing that type of music for the first time, just how explicit it was and how sexual it was, that was a real eye-opener.
What inspired you to start producing music of your own?
I guess I was playing in a lot of punk bands and rock bands as a kid, stuff like that. But then when I started to produce I started listening to things like Hudson Mohawke and a lot of G.O.O.D. Music producers like Mike Dean. It really interested me of who producers kind of fill that role of playing every instrument themselves. I’m a big fan of Prince as well because he’s like a one-man band. It was just that interest in having control over all elements of the music.
What instruments do you play?
I play a bit of everything. I don’t play anything particularly amazingly but I play a little bit of guitar and drums, keyboard, bass guitar and just a lot of traditional instruments. I guess coming from that background it was quite interesting to mix that with more electronic sounds.
What drew you to working with A$AP Rocky for the “Love$ick” remix?
Well, I first heard about Rocky when he dropped Live.Love.ASAP. I just remember that video of him walking out the corner store and being like, “I be that pretty motherfucka,” and all that. I was just a big fan of him from early on. So when it came to finding a rapper to work with on this debut album, I really wanted it to be someone I was a big fan of and who I believed in. And Rocky spends a lot of time in London and kind of calls it his second home.
He was in town for a film premiere I think and he had heard the original version of “Love$ick” and he got it contact with me and told me he really enjoyed it. So we met up at Abbey Road Studios, which is you know [laughs] where the Beatles did all that stuff. So that was pretty crazy itself. And we just met up this past September or [October] and just talked about lots of things like fashion...Tame Impala. We just shot the shit basically and got chatting for a while. And while we were doing that, he was just freestyling over the instrumental and I kind of took that away and made it what it is on the record.
Rocky has been spotted a lot in the studio lately. Did you get to work on anything more besides “Love$ick”? Did you work on anything for his new album or maybe Cozy Tapes?
Yeah, we hung out in London a lot. I think he’s just kind of getting ideas together at the moment and deciding what he’s going to do next. We definitely worked on some other stuff but you know how it goes. I’m sure he’s got hundreds of songs on the go but there’s definitely an ongoing relationship there.
And then how did you get Desiigner on “All Around the World”?
That was a bit of a weird one actually. I’d had that beat laying around for like a year and I didn’t actually know that Desiigner had gotten a hold of it. So one day, I was in L.A. and I actually was working in the Interscope Studios across from Kendrick [Lamar] while he was working on DAMN. [Laughs] Kendrick actually came across and said, "Hey." That was cool.
So, anyway, the same day that that was happening, we got an email from Desiigner’s people saying, "Desiigner’s in the booth, he’s tracking something now." And we asked, "What’s he writing to? We have no idea what you’re talking about." And then they sent us “All Around the World.” He hadn’t done any verses on it yet it was just the choruses and those Desiigner ad-libs.
So I had to kind of coax some verses out of him, but I just really like Desiigner. I think that like a lot of people try to shit on him because he’s so young and he’s kind of just doing his own thing but he’s just like a really amazing character. That’s what I like about [the song.] It’s something a bit different from him and something a bit different from me. It’s good how we met in the middle.
A lot of your beats are a mash-up of house, trap, future bounce. What is it about that intrigues you about trap and hip-hop?
I think the energy of it. It’s so easy to nod your head to a hip-hop beat or it’s easy to dance to a trap beat because it’s ingrained in popular culture now. The culture of hip-hop and the legacy of these artists is just like a deep appreciation. Obviously learning about how deep the culture goes, I find that interesting.
Who are some of your favorite rappers right now?
Some of my favorites right now, I really like Playboi Carti. I think once he comes out of his shell a bit more, I think he’ll kind of blow up in a nice way. I really like XXXTentacion. I really enjoy how he’s bringing punk into rap a bit more. Same with Lil Uzi Vert.
Who are some other producers you’re influenced by right now?
Mike Dean, Hudson Mohawke because he’s from Glasgow and he’s signed to G.O.O.D. Music. He’s worked on a lot of Kanye’s stuff. Rick Rubin as well. I’ve always looked up tho Rick Rubin. I love his approach and attitude to creating music.
What was your favorite studio session in putting the whole album together?
I think the session with Rocky was an amazing one. I think just freestyling with him on the spot and freestyling off the top of his head. You never know what you’re going to get with rappers. Whether they’re more methodical and write it all down or whether they’ll make it up as they go.
What do you want fans, especially hip-hop fans, to learn about you with this debut album?
I guess it’s interesting for people who come from more of a hip-hop background to hear a couple of different sounds that maybe they weren’t expecting. There’s a lot of different types of tracks on the album, kind of like a musical collage. I’m curious to see from people that will be the reaction of people who learned about me through hip-hop, what they make of it.
Who else are you working with this year on the hip-hop side?
I’m not sure if I can disclose that. Deals have to be made and that sort of thing. There’s definitely more stuff from me. I’m really looking up to people from James Blake at the moment for his work with Vince Staples and Jay-Z and Kendrick and stuff like that. He’s kind of the proof that English producers can really make an impact on the sound of American hip-hop.
Who else do you want to work with that you haven’t yet?
I don’t know. I like to keep it quite open. I think that you should be able to collaborate with another as long as the music’s good and you’re a fan of them. I will say Vince Staples is doing some amazing stuff with the kind of U.K. influence he’s bringing in. So yeah, Vince Staples would be a good one. I haven’t had the opportunity to [work with Vince] but hopefully we get connected at some point.
What else do you have planned for the rest of the year after the album drops?
We’re doing a pop-up shop with exclusive merch we’ve done with designers and stuff. Lots of new music. I’ve got a record label that I’ll be releasing music under called Anchor Point Records. And I think I want to drop another beat tape soon. Hopefully before the end of the year.
See 133 Rapper-Launched Record Labels From the Past and Present