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Tune in and turn up

In Australia’s rapidly shifting sonic landscape, it’s been impossible to ignore Manu Crooks. It’s been a miraculous run for the Sydney artist, and it’s hard to think of any recent Australian rapper who has garnered this much global attention, sans Iggy Azalea. In 2016, The FADER premiered the hauntingly magnetic “Blowin Up,” and a few weeks later, Zane Lowe gave his rampaging single “Assumptions” its first spin to his sizeable pool of Beats 1 listeners. The hype was not only real, it was almost overwhelming – and Manu solidified his presence by dropping the effortlessly slick Mood Forever EP back in August.

I meet up with Manu at Dream Factory Studios, a building sitting inconspicuously down a lengthy driveway in Sydney’s Inner-West. It’s here that he crafted all the songs on Mood Forever, and here that he hosted a Hennessy-filled launch party for the project on release day. Manu is soft-spoken and considered, a sharp contrast to the raucous chants and ad-libs that feature on dancefloor-ready cuts like “Everyday.” Still, his understated presence matches his meticulous approach to making songs. “You know how people flood? I don’t want to flood,” he says of his music. “I just want to put a song out, let it breathe, make the next one, and work that.”

In an era where rappers are seemingly dropping songs and mixtapes in their sleep, Manu seems relatively unfazed by his colleagues and the frequency of their output. “There’s no pressure. I just do my thing. If I focus on that, I’m making it hard for myself. I need to work at my own pace and drop it when I feel like. I’ll drop it when I’m ready,” he says. It’s an unwavering, individualistic approach that manifests itself in the Mood Forever project, right down to the title. “I’m doing whatever I want, I’m not trying follow any rules. I’m not signed to any label, I’m doing this shit independent. I do everything on my time. That’s my mood forever, I hope people got that concept,” he says.

Mood Forever backs up his statements by covering an impressive range of territory. “Don’t fuck with my day ones,” Manu states on the project’s opening hook, with a nonchalance that makes the slicing statement even more convincing. And while “Day Ones” opens the EP in upbeat and assertive fashion, much of the release has a more melancholy aesthetic, especially the hazy, intoxicated romance jam “Touchdown” featuring JOY. “When I was doing the project, I just didn’t want to be that trap guy. I saw a lot of people online commenting like, ‘best trap guy’ – I’m not trying to be trap, I’m just trying to make music,” he says. “I had a whole bunch of different songs. I have the hard shit, and I have stuff like ‘Touchdown’ which is more mellow, and then I have ‘Ridin’ – I’m singing on that shit! I use Autotune, it’s almost like a texture for me… if you hear one Manu Crooks song, the next one’s never gonna be the same.”

While Manu speaks, heavy bass booms in the background and lingers amongst our conversation. The sounds are coming from down the hallway, where Miracle and Dopamine – the producers who responsible for the beats on Mood Forever – have their own spaces to hone their craft. The two have played an integral role in the EP, creating the thick, woozy backdrops which have become a signature of Manu’s sound. It’s a convenient set-up, with all of Manu’s inner circle working under the same roof at Dream Factory Studios, and the spirit of collaboration floating freely between the rooms. “It’s so dope to have other people in a building, just to bounce ideas off each other. You hear someone making shit, that inspires you to come back into the room to make better shit. We all help each other,” he says.

Manu is keeping his clique tight, despite his growing profile and offers for guest verses flying through the door. “I don’t really like working with other people at all. It sounds bad, but I have to find people that I can vibe with and work with,” he says. One area where he has branched out is his music videos, which have become more cinematic and grandiose on singles “Under Pressure” and “Day Ones.” Teaming with Australian videographers Jáen Collective, Manu “got a couple of people involved. I got the girls styles a certain way and I styled myself. I wanted those two videos when you see them, to be like, ‘Whoah.’ I think I achieved that.” Indeed, it was enough for “Day Ones” to premiere right here on Highsnobiety back in August.

Manu’s current popularity means that he’s shared stages with everybody from R&B crooners like Tory Lanez to grime staples like Stormzy on their tours down under. At music festivals in regional Australia – a space traditionally dominated by rock – fans are crowd surfing while Manu spits onstage. Australian club DJs who usually dedicate themselves to sounds from Atlanta and Houston are making exceptions, and sliding Manu’s singles into their sets. It’s a versatility that’s allowed him to enjoy a diverse fan base, and distinguish himself from other local emcees. “Maybe it’s my accent, maybe it’s the beats,” he says. “When I first dropped ‘Everyday,’ people thought I was from the UK. I shot that shit in front of Sydneyham station! If you’re from Sydney, you know.”

With a profile that’s quickly spreading across the globe, it’s understandable why Australian commentators have been quick to label Manu as a rapper with enormous crossover potential in overseas markets. While he calls the crossover claims a “blessing,” he again remains grounded when it comes to his career trajectory. “I’m just doing me. I’m not trying to be the next superstar out of Australia. I’m doing things my own way – I’m fairly limited when it comes to doing interviews, you don’t really see me out much, I drop music when I want. There’s certain moves that I do that are different to other people. That’s the formula: just do you,” he says.

The formula seems to be working wonders so far, with Manu embarking on his first Australian headline tour in November to bring Mood Forever to life. While his aforementioned shows with international stars have given us a taste of what to expect, this time around sounds much more chaotic and sweat-drenched. “It’s gonna be myself and DJ Ziggy. I’m just doing the whole EP, some other songs and some new stuff, too. I want to have proper stage design, it has to be an experience,” he says. “We’re doing small venues on purpose. It’s my first ever headline tour, it has to be intimate, the energy has to be condensed.”

And while he’s intentionally playing small gigs and refusing to be swept up into the hype, you still can’t help but feel like this is just a precursor for something much, much larger for Manu Crooks. Only time will tell.

Check out a behind-the-scenes video documenting the ‘Mood Forever’ process below.

For more of our interviews, read our chat with the one and only Phoenix.

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