If you'd spoken to Sydney rapper Masked Wolf a few years ago and asked him what he needed to do to blow up musically, chances are he wouldn't have mentioned TikTok. However, when his 2019 track Astronaut In The Ocean started popping off on the social media platform in late 2020, the man who'd been rapping for a decade became a household name, almost overnight. It's a case of an overnight success taking a decade.
The track, which has been streamed over a billion times and counting, only forms part of Masked Wolf's story. To celebrate the release of his new mixtape, Astronomical, we've taken a look at Masked Wolf's rise to the top, and how he got to where he is today. The mixtape is a milestone for the rapper, but you can be sure that he's just getting started.
Every astronaut has an origin story
Growing up, Masked Wolf was a big fan of American hip-hop. Speaking to us about his musical influences, Masked Wolf says, "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 making 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."
He started writing music at a young age as a way to cope with his parents splitting up, and he threw himself into his music. After getting stuck in an artist management deal that he now credits as a key part of his success, he committed to working on his sound. Speaking to GQ, he says, “I couldn’t release any music for about five years. I think that was a crucial part of me finding myself. I could’ve given up on music and stuck with my day job. But I chose to work hard and articulate my sound. I look back on that time and I think to myself: I used it wisely.”
After spending time honing his craft, he released his first single, Speed Racer, in 2018, along with subsequent singles Vibin and Numb. The singles were enjoyed by those that heard them, but he was chasing more. Then, in June 2019, a couple of things happened. Masked Wolf walked into triple j's freestyle series Bars Of Steel with nothing written, and for three minutes rapped straight from the dome. A comment left by MW on the video, "Thanks for having me Triple J, much more to come I promise!!!" This might just be the most prophetic thing he's ever said, because that same month, Masked Wolf released Astronaut In The Ocean.
What happens when you've got one of the biggest songs in the world?
Countless words have been written about Astronaut In The Ocean. If you don't think you've heard the track, then you're wrong, and it's a track that he always believed in. As he tells GQ, “I call it the Scar Face song. It had this period of almost two years where it was out, just doing little numbers. No one said it was crap but it just wasn’t getting the push. I knew it was good, it just needed to be heard by more people.”
The song has seen Masked Wolf connect with countless fans everywhere, and he's still blown away by the experience. The song is a candid look at mental health, which has resonated with people going through their own mental health struggles during the pandemic. Masked Wolf explains that he hears from people and they say "‘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."
Taking the Australian sound to the world
Since Astronaut In The Ocean's release, life has changed for Masked Wolf. He's quit his day job, made an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, teamed up with rapper G-Eazy. While the world feels like, for many people, it's been on pause, life has changed dramatically for Masked Wolf. Global success hasn't seen him want to leave behind his Australian roots, however - quite the opposite.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, he explains, "I want to show the world what Aussie music can be like especially for the fact that I have an American hip-hop sound and structure. It’s almost like I am challenging US hip-hop and creating more competition."
Astronomical, his new mixtape, is the result of the work that began even before Astronaut In The Ocean took off. Across 17 tracks, Masked Wolf is front and centre, with just three features scattered across the project (with US rapper Kevin Gates appearing on penultimate track Thief In The Night). While many rappers would lean into their newfound star power to land huge features for a project like Astronomical, Masked Wolf chose a different path. Across the tape, he's the one in charge, and he relishes in the opportunity.
Hearing Kevin Gates feature on Thief In The Night feels like a culmination of what Masked Wolf's been trying to achieve since the age of 13. While Masked Wolf's undoubtedly influenced by American hip-hop, his Australian accent is unmistakable, and MW and Kevin's verses are equally impactful. It's a moment that fans won't forget for a while, and it's a statement from the Sydney artist.
Getting ready to cause Pandemonium
Pandemonium is one of the keys to understanding Masked Wolf's mindset when making Astronomical, as well as giving an insight into where his sound might be heading next. It's a bit of a chaotic track and captures the pop-punk/rap crossover that artists like Machine Gun Kelly and Jaden Smith have been popularising as of late.
Speaking about the track to Apple Music, MW says, “It’s easily my favourite song on the mixtape. It’s that alternative rock-rap style, it’s really versatile. It’s very Jaden Smith’s ‘Watch Me’ meets MGK meets Joyner Lucas—it’s got that edge to it. It’s different and unique and it’s really just about how I thrive in the pandemonium of things. I love how I’m learning that, in life, you need to relish the hard times. When the pandemonium comes around, you need to embrace it rather than fear it.” Sometimes, you just have to lean into the uncertainty, and the result is a track that showcases Masked Wolf's versatility.
Carrying a whole project is a skill that not all artists have - it's hard to underestimate the difficulty of creating a cohesive project that grabs listeners from start to finish. However, Masked Wolf relishes the challenge, and the result is a mixtape that lets fans into his world more than ever before. As he tells Apple Music, "None of the songs were forced, none of the songs were lies, everything I say is really what I’m feeling. That, to me, makes the project easy to sit with, because I know that I spoke about me and what I wanted to speak about.”
There are distractions that come with success, but Masked Wolf's setting himself up for something bigger. He's intent on building a legacy.