“I fucking hate the word tropical,” admits Alex Crossan, the 21-year-old producer making music as Mura Masa. Crossan comes across measured and relaxed over the phone; this sudden impassioned statement is surprising. He’s talking about the way the media has taken to describing his music as ‘tropical’. ‘Tropical’ wasn’t Crossan’s intention with his music. He wants Mura Masa, his debut album, to reflect “English weather:” cold, bleak, and sun-free.
Crossan grew up on an island. Not in a metaphorical sense—his hometown of Guernsey is a tiny island in the English Channel, adjacent to the UK but not quite part of it. There isn’t much of an electronic music scene in Guernsey. When you’re that isolated, not much makes its way across the water.
He channels that sense of isolation onto Mura Masa. ‘Messy Love’, the album’s opener, fades in and out like secrets whispered over Skype. Other tracks sound bloated and waterlogged; often, they sound faded and warped by the sun.
“I think growing up in isolation and away from club culture gave me this outsider perspective on what was happening with hip-hop,” Crossan says over the phone from his house in London. “I had to learn about that stuff through the internet, so I guess my perspective was always through that lens of being isolated.”
The internet is an important feature in Crossan’s story. In his early teens, SoundCloud introduced him to electronic music that was being made on the fringes of pop—the violent experiments of Hudson Mohawke and Rustie, Jai Paul’s glittery demos—and inspired him to pirate some music software and start creating music of his own.
In Crossan’s eyes, the internet’s importance lies in the way it makes music from all around the world accessible. “The world is smaller than ever now,” he explains. “There are less and less boundaries, and there isn’t really a line to be crossed anymore. Genres, sonic influences, communities, cultures, [are] all kind of one hub now.”
Of course, there is a line to be crossed—cultural appropriation has (for good reason) been pushed to the forefront of the conversation around pop music. Crossan’s music isn’t exempt from this conversation since very few of his songs don’t reference black music styles like dancehall and hip-hop. “You have to be very aware that you’re celebrating things, and not just kind of stealing them,” says the producer. “You have to pay homage in certain ways, whether it’s in the people you work with, or the kind of communities that you play shows in. It’s a delicate balance but I think the most important thing is just to celebrate culture.”
Rather than try and speak for an experience that isn’t his own, Crossan savvily chooses to work with topliners who each see dance music and pop through a different cultural lens. “I collaborate with singers because they’re much better at singing than I am,” says Crossan, “and it gives me the opportunity to work with a lot of interesting people from all sorts of places, [people of] different sexualities and races, who have different experiences than me and can speak to that.”
Nearly every track on Mura Masa features a guest vocalist, and while some producers may work to assert more of a face (for lack of a better term) on their debut, Crossan isn’t worried about staying in the background, “A lot of producers might get bent out of shape if they thought that they weren’t being represented or credited or whatever, but this as a project is a collaborative effort,” he says. “I think it’s kind of a good thing sometimes to have a different face and kinda offer up a different voice.”
It’s a mature worldview for someone who broke into the mainstream so young. Crossan was 17 when his music first started getting attention, and barely 18 when he released his first mixtape, but there’s a part of him that still feels like it all might be happening too fast. “I know that in five years I’ll be much more practiced, the music will be much more mature, I’ll probably have a completely different worldview.” This admission brings Crossan’s perfectionist streak to the light. He’s not a fan of things being good enough; he’d rather they be perfect. Even Mura Masa, which is pretty much as polished as you could hope for a debut to be, leaves him cold sometimes. “I’m either immensely proud of it, or I’m very disappointed with it. It depends on the day you ask me.”
Even if his debut album may have come a little too soon, Crossan isn’t phased—he recognizes how fortunate he is. “I just think you have to take these things as they come. I’m really glad people are fucking with what I’m doing now. You’ve gotta count your blessings, I guess.”
Mura Masa is out this Friday, July 14.