Sydney rapper Masked Wolf might just be an accidental star. He released his track Astronaut In The Ocean back in 2019, but the song took off on social media in late 2020 and has been growing ever since. The song's success can be traced back to the candid message about mental health, with MW taking the mask off on the track.
Masked Wolf would be the first to tell you that he's not a typical rapper, but talking to him, you can tell he's starting to adjust to the newfound fame. Rather than resting on his laurels, however, he's determined to keep growing and keep moving. As he puts it, he's in his "window of opportunity" for success, and there's no way he's letting that shut.
We spoke to Masked Wolf about the success of Astronaut In The Ocean (referred to as Astro by his fans), as well as the hardships he's faced to get to where he is today. Talking about his journey so far, there's a sense of appreciation in his voice. Where some people might resent the things they've faced, Masked Wolf is proud of what he's overcome, and he's got his sights set on outer space (more on that later).
Cool Accidents: I wanted to start by congratulating you on Astronaut In The Ocean. Can you tell me about the day you realised it was taking off online?
I think, to be honest, I know it’s a bit of a cliché comment but when you start getting noticed from people that want to interview you or labels and stuff like that, that’s when it clicked to me like ‘oh shit, this might be bigger than what I think it is’. For me, what was happening was so distant from my normal life, so I didn't know if one million streams were big, or 10 million or 20 million.
Once I started seeing the growth on TikTok and then on Instagram and I started getting Jay, my manager, saying we’ve got this and this meeting, it was like, 'okay things are really starting to pick up'. There wasn’t a specific day really, there was a small movement and then a gradual increase.
Has living the life of a full-time musician come naturally to you, or has there been a bit of a learning curve?
Nah, I’m very good socially. I could go up to a random group and speak with them the whole night if I went out. Lifestyle-wise, I don’t know if you know, but I’ve quit my job. I was trying to balance both, but it was impossible, both mentally and physically.
From a lifestyle point of view for your dream, you do what you have to do, and it’s still a dream. I’m not going in now saying that I’ve made it, that’s far from where I’m from. I’ll know the day where I’ve made it. Something inside of me will say 'okay, you’ve actually achieved it'. This right now is the window of opportunity.
That’s an interesting way of looking at it. Congratulations on quitting your job, by the way, that’s a big step for anyone. Was the goal always to go full-time in music, or is that something that has stemmed from the success of Astro?
I always used to say to my parents that I wanted to do music full time and they didn’t let me, they said you always need an income to provide for your music and provide for your life – which I always agreed and disagreed with at the same time as you can imagine. I think the hardest part was that I always knew I wanted to do music full-time, but I had to be realistic. I knew how tough the industry was. I had to tell myself to not give up, but I’m going to have a job and see where the world takes me. Luckily enough I’ve made a really good song and it was a verbal, word-of-mouth organic reach.
It’s weird because I never thought Astronaut would be this big. It’s a really, really, cool song but the way it’s resonated with people and I think the meaning behind it has really pushed it. When you listen to it you think ‘what is this about’ and then when you find out what it’s about you want to listen to it again and then you just want to listen to it and listen to it.
I wouldn’t classify it as the type of song that would typically pop off in the way it has but clearly, it is connecting with people on a deeper level than normal music might. What kind of messages have you been receiving from people as a result of the track?
Mostly it’s on Instagram as you can imagine. My growth on there is pretty crazy, and it’s very ‘hey man, you’ve helped me through tough times during COVID’ or ‘I’ve listened to your song and have found the meaning and it means so much to find a rapper who is talking about real stuff rather than the general stuff, whatever it may be’.
It’s all been around ‘you’ve helped my life’. I think that the biggest thing is that people don’t realise it isn’t the song that helps them out, it is your chance to say, ‘I need to change my life’, and everyone needs that – like when you hit the horse on the back and it goes. That’s what I feel like Astro is, it’s that motivational kick for people.
It’s a reminder that things can get better and there are ways to go about that. You're someone that has been open about mental health and wellbeing. Given the events of the last twelve months, how have you been with your own wellbeing, what strategies have you used for your mental health and how are you feeling?
For me, I was working all along. I had literally two weeks of working from home, and then I was back in the office. In Sydney we had cases, and where I worked we were in the heart of those cases, but it was just like 'put a mask on and get it done', because I was in a small business. From a mental health point of view, all I was doing was making music. It was more my phase of before when I was trying to ‘make it’ that I found my mental health really tough, and I can imagine how many people are doing it tough now.
I used to be the type of guy that hated the ‘one day at a time’ type of thing. It’s the worst thing you wanna hear when you’re feeling depressed or down because it’s like ‘yeah thanks mate but you don’t know how I’m feeling’ – one day at a time is like saying ‘have another day of feeling crap’ basically. But I’ve heard this saying before, the sun is going to keep coming up and the moon is going to keep coming up and they’re both going to go down, and it’s up to you if you want to keep looking at the ceiling or if you make a change.
One thing that I said I never did was speak to people about how I was feeling, and I just bottled it all up. I think that is a big no-no, and it’s a thing people still do. I’ve said before in interviews people feel like it’s weak to talk about the things that make you feel weak when in fact it’s the complete opposite.
I think we are starting to see the tide turn on that, but even when I was growing up you were told to bottle it up. It should be the opposite though. You have to talk to the people around you, otherwise, they never know what’s going on.
Let’s say you wanted to speak to your mates and there were six or seven boys around, and you’re too afraid that they are going to judge you - that's not the case. You’ll be surprised by their reactions and how supportive your friends are because when you tell them they will be there for you 100% and you feel like there is this whole weight lifted off of your chest.
By the way you are speaking about it, I imagine that's something that you did in your own life?
I did it with specific people, like in Speed Racer I say, ‘guardian angel helping me escape’ and that is someone I specifically spoke to that I know very well, about what I was feeling and that I was not wanted. That led me to reach out to someone, that’s what that line was about. I have done it.
Being a Sydneysider and having success on this scale, do you feel connected to the Australian hip-hop community at large, and do you feel connected to Australia with a song like Astro?
I’ll always represent Australia, I’ll never stop. I’m always representing Australia, but I just had an emotional connection with American hip-hop and it was a massive influence for me. I listened to 360 and Hilltop Hoods, I still do, but when I truly wanted to try and have a craft and find out who I was when make music when I rap in that way it just doesn’t come out as it does with the American culture and side of things. I like the aggressiveness of American hip-hop, but you can still have a catchy chorus – it’s just multiple things from an early point in childhood that made me emotionally attached to American hip-hop.
Everyone loves Kanye West, Gold Digger, Jesus Walks, all that type of stuff was huge and that’s what got me through. For Australian hip-hop and the culture, it will always be a part of me, that will never leave. I was thinking about that this morning - I don’t want to be one of those Australian rappers that go to America and then six months later or a year later they've got an American accent. I don’t wanna be like that. I am completely happy with the way I speak and it’s just when I get behind the mic there’s an aggression and emotion and tone that comes out of it. I’ve always worked on having different tones.
At the moment, what kind of artists, from Australia or America or both, are you listening to and being inspired by?
At the moment I listen to Joyner Lucas a bit. I mix it up with Joyner Lucas, SAINt JHN, obviously I listen to The Kid Laroi, I mean a lot of people do now. I don’t get inspiration from Kid Laroi because I rap and he does singing/Post Malone type of stuff.
From an influential point of view, I try not to be influenced heavily by exterior motives because it makes me sound like something else, like when I write something I try and get in a dark or emotional state, and my uniqueness and my sound are what comes out. I’m not really listening to a lot of outside music unless I’m in the car for 20 minutes, but that’s it.
Are you just mainly listening to beats you might wanna use?
Yeah! I mostly listen to 200-400 beats a week.
When you’re listening to beats what stands out? Is there anything you are looking for or is it just how it makes you feel?
Yeah, it’s generally how it makes me feel. Sometimes I will skip a beat after five or 10 seconds. I’m not going to listen to it for one minute trying to figure it out. It’s usually like ‘okay I hear this one thing, but does it set a story?’. With music, it is such a tough market that when someone first listens to your song, or presses play, your first five or 10 seconds has to resonate with them.
For Astro it’s [imitates twangy sounds], where’s this going – you know? If your instrumental doesn’t set a story or a narrative then, what’s going to happen? They’re just going to click next or it's another one of these types of songs.
I agree. Unfortunately, that’s the way music is these days – you can’t build up to five minutes into the song before the actual message hits.
Especially if they haven’t heard of you before. Only really when it’s an album is when they’re wanting to listen to you and they’re like ‘okay I’m going to listen to the album’ and then you can have a big intro or whatever but to just listen to a song, it’s changed.
That actually perfectly ties into my next question – I know you’re planning on an album and I assume working on an album. What can fans expect to see that’s maybe different to what they’ve heard on your singles and what styles are you looking to go towards on that album?
All I’m saying to people is that my album is going to be based around astronomy, so expect spacey-ambient vibes mixed with the Masked Wolf-type verses that you're used to.
That’s an interesting concept and I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.
I’m a big fan of space, which I hadn’t realised until the last year and a half funnily enough.
What brought on that realisation?
Just the way I felt, and then Astro. In real life I sit back and I chill out. I like being alone, kind of like being in space. You know when you get into a mosh pit or around heaps of people – I hate that.
It’s weird because I love performing right? But I’m by myself on stage. When I get shoulder to shoulder, I don’t want to be around all that stuff, that crowded space. I like listening to my own thoughts and that’s kind of like space, floating in space. So that’s the correlation, I guess.
If you could go to space and visit any planet, the moon, whatever, what would it be?
Saturn. I just feel like no one talks about it.
It’s because it’s right next to Jupiter, everyone focuses on Jupiter.
So yeah, I’d go to Saturn. With the rings around it.
I love that. Well, it was lovely to chat with you today. I’m really loving the music and I’m excited to see how the album plays out.
Thanks a lot!