Alex Crossan might become pop music’s next great star — as long as he can avoid a nautical disaster on the River Thames.
“I’m on a boat right now and we’re about to crash into someone,” he says, laughing nervously midway through a phone call with The News. “But it’s cool. We just managed to avoid it.”
On Friday, Crossan, who crafts genre-bending tunes as Mura Masa, will release his major-label debut album.
And while Mura Masa isn’t quite a household name yet, Crossan has already managed to carve out a formidable online presence, racking up hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify and slowly accruing plaudits from tastemakers like Zane Lowe.
Crossan, 21, grew up on the 25-square-mile island of Guernsey, a “small, isolated haven” between Great Britain and France.
“I’d compare it to a small, English country town, but it’s on an island so it’s even more removed,” Crossan says.
That isolation catalyzed an insatiable curiosity aimed squarely at London’s underground club culture. Although it’s just across the English Channel, London couldn’t have felt further away.
To bridge the gap, he streamed DJ sets like the popular Boiler Room series on YouTube and immersed himself in the music of Hudson Mohawke, James Blake and Gorillaz.
After discovering the production software Ableton Live at age 16, he began uploading his tracks to Soundcloud a year later. BBC Radio 1 picked up his track “Lotus Eater” in 2015, and with that the Mura Masa hype machine was set in motion.
“When I started producing under this name, I wanted to have a focus for the project,” Crossan says. “I didn’t want to just be making music randomly and not have any direction.”
That focus would mean aligning himself with a diverse array of collaborators and eschewing trends in favor of lesser known subcultures.
Moving to London helped Crossan get up close and personal with new sounds, including dancehall and calypso, that would begin to color Mura Masa’s identity as an artist.
“(In London), no two people are from the same place and everyone has their own story or narrative,” Crossan said. “It’s a sprawling place.”
That “sprawling” energy permeates into Mura Masa’s self-titled debut, which features guest appearances from heavy-hitters like Damon Albarn, A$ AP Rocky and Charli XCX, as well as up-and-comers like Bonzai, Christine and the Queens and A.K. Paul.
Although the album isn’t overtly conceptual, its coherence is predicated on Crossan’s capacity to experiment with different genres without verging on appropriation.
Crossan takes pains to pay homage to his influences, decrying the recent EDM fad of vaguely dubbing music as “tropical.”
“It doesn’t give any credit to the cultures that those instruments originally belong to — steel pans and marimbas and things like that,” Crossan says. “It’s not just some trend that you can hop and use those sounds.”
Instead, Crossan’s embrace of new sonic directions hews closely to the ethos of a generation raised on the internet: resistant to arbitrary cultural categories and emboldened by the ability to share ideas across the globe with a push of a button.
Mura Masa will play Panorama at Randall’s Island on July 30.
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