“Call Me What You Want” How Sydney Rapper Masked Wolf Became A Global Success
Over recent months, Australia’s own Masked Wolf – aka Harry Michael – has emerged as the planet’s hottest rapper on the back of his wildly popular single ‘Astronaut In The Ocean’, dubbed ‘Astra’ by fans.
But the Sydneysider has only just given up his regular job. “It’s an unexpected and crazy time but, as I say to everyone, ‘It is what it is and I’m relishing it,’” Harry states. He now devotes his days to conducting interviews and making music.
In fact, Harry first released ‘Astronaut In The Ocean’ in June 2019 – the emotive song distinguished by its arch introductory guitar, epic drop, and hook, “What you know about rollin’ down in the deep?”
Yet, amid the pandemic in late 2020, ‘Astra’ randomly went viral on social media, TikTokers embracing it as they did Fleetwood Mac’s ’70s classic, ‘Dreams’ and even creating challenges.
Jennifer Lopez latterly chose the track for a TikTok video, frolicking poolside in the Dominican Republic.
“It’s crazy to think that one song can put you on the level where J Lo’s reacting to it,” Harry enthuses. “I never, ever expected ‘Astronaut…’ to be remotely anywhere near this big. I was happy with 20 million streams – I thought that was a major success.”
He has since connected with international producers and MCs but sagely isn’t disclosing names.
So far Harry’s break-out has reached #12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and #4 on the ARIA Top 50 Singles chart in Australia.
However, the global data for ‘Astronaut In The Ocean’ is astounding, the hit attracting 349 million streams across all platforms.
“Geographically, it’s very surprising how it’s resonated. I think it shows maybe how much the message is being received in a lot of times. I never thought the drop was as good as people describe it, of the song.
“I thought it was very good and very catchy but, to be whatever #1 in Egypt and doing very well in places like Russia, Iran, all these places I never thought of… You know, when you make music, you just think, ‘I wanna be known in America.’ It’s kinda crazy.”
Harry, hailing from beachside Maroubra, is shrouded in mystique. His handle ‘Masked Wolf’ is prescient for the COVID-19 era, but it’s actually a reference to a former double-life as a salesperson and rapper.
“People tell me that I’m a bit of a philosopher – prophetic,” Harry reveals. “But I just put out what comes to my head at the end of the day and what comes from my heart.”
Regardless, he is no overnight sensation.
Earnest and focussed, Harry was born into a migrant family – being raised by his Greek-Australian grandparents after his parents divorced. He learnt to play various instruments: piano, guitar and drums. But Harry found refuge in hip-hop, gravitating to American acts such as Eminem, 50 Cent and Kanye West.
He was composing raps in his early teens. “It was never like I woke up one day and said, ‘That’s it – I’m gonna be a rapper.’”
Indeed, Harry used music instinctively as a way to express his “pain”. “I’m a bottled up-type of person. I don’t speak to my friends or my parents and I was an only child, so I didn’t have a brother or sister to speak to.
“For me, my therapeutic effort was writing.”
Curiously, Harry doesn’t feel that his ethnic heritage has necessarily shaped his hip-hop, although he spoke Greek at home. “I’ve always seen myself as the Australian guy that’s just a chilled-out guy and dude… It was just the connection with music – and no one in my family even really did music, besides my dad.”
Signing to Melbourne’s Teamwrk Records, Harry officially premiered with the melodic ‘Speed Racer’, produced by local EDM identity Tyron Hapi, at the end of 2018. He’d develop his own mode of post-trap, delivering candid lyrics about career struggles, mental health and interpersonal relationships with a hard, and occasionally ultra-fast, flow.
“I want people to know that every song of mine has a meaning behind it or a story – and it’s all related to me. I like writing about things I’ve personally been through in my life and trying to relate that to the listener. I guess if people say to me, ‘What’s the one word that describes you as the artist?’ It’s ‘authentic’.”
Harry was in a depressive headspace when he penned ‘Astronaut In The Ocean’, its surreal motif evoking Mac Miller’s ‘Swimming’.
“I remember ’cause I wrote it in my car,” he starts. “I came up with the title and the chorus. I wanted to convey how I felt out of place in the world. I always like having unique titles, or catchy titles, and getting that imagery before you even listen to the song. And, where I was at that point was kind of like no-man’s-land.
“I didn’t know what I was to the world; what I meant to the world.”
This year Harry announced that he has aligned himself with Warner Music’s Elektra Records (he is still with Teamwrk and Warner for Australia and New Zealand).
Harry then quit his position as a client solutions exec in March. How did he celebrate?
“To be honest, I celebrated by making music!” Harry laughs. He is progressively adjusting to the “weird feeling” of not needing to rise early and don a suit.
“I’ve been working ever since I was 18-years-old. I’m now 30. So I was working for 11 years straight full-time.”
Ironically, Harry was prolific through 2020, airing successive singles – the last, October’s ‘Water Walkin’. He now hopes that audiences will discover other slept-on bangers.
“My favourite song is ‘Night Rider’,” Harry shares. “I just love the structure of that song. I love how it picks up from like a slow pace, kind of R&B, in-your-face [vibe] talking about scars and wounds and the emotions I feel about me, and then it completely picks up into this really heavy, fast rap.
“It took six months to make ‘Night Rider’. So, if I was telling anyone to go to listen to another track, it would be ‘Night Rider’.”
With the national live music circuit reopening, Harry plans to tour behind ‘Astronaut In The Ocean’, galvanising his fanbase – known as the Wolfpack (he’ll next headline Adelaide’s Field Trip Festival).
“I’m definitely trying to do the most I can in Australia here.”
He’s also prepping a debut album for early 2021, teasing new singles and a remix of ‘Astro’.
“I’ve said that I want an album based around astronomy, around space, with that type of theme,” Harry says.
Today Australian beatmakers have global clout – Melbourne’s Lucianblomkamp credited on 6LACK’s records. Harry is continuing to collaborate with Tyron.
“He does all of my beats at the moment. It’s me and Ty working solely on the album together. So he’s gonna be producing all the beats for the album. It’s gonna be solely the Melbourne boy and the Sydney boy coming with the album!”
Harry has previously cut collabs – the most unpredictable, the EDM ‘The Den’ from Melbourne bounce pioneer Joel Fletcher and Adelaide’s DJ Restricted. And the MC will have international features on his LP.
“I have been doing stuff with other artists,” Harry confirms. “Whether it’s gonna be on the album or not is unknown. I don’t like saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because I don’t know the final product. But I have been doing stuff with other artists; some are Australian artists, and some are international.
“I still wanna do things with people from here – I never shy away from that, I love Australia and I love being Australian and representing the country. I consider myself a very versatile artist. So it doesn’t always just have to be a rap-style song; it can be any type of vibe.”
Harry’s ascent is auspicious, following The Kid LAROI’s unprecedented international momentum.
Mind, Harry posits that he may have transcended the ‘Australian hip-hop’ descriptor, becoming simply a hip-hop act working out of Australia.
“I mean, that’s what we are, right?” he asks. “Kanye West is an American hip-hop artist; there’s a guy called Egor [Kreed] in Russia that I know of and he’s a Russian hip-hop artist – it’s from where you originate.
“If people wanna call me an ‘Australian hip-hop artist’, I’m not gonna shy away from that, because that’s what I am and [where I] work. It’s just about your recognition. I’m an Australian hip-hop artist that’s recognised worldwide now.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. So call me what you want – it’s about the music that I put out, not what they label me as.”
Harry can now offer wisdom to other aspiring hip-hop stars.
“I think patience, and self-control, is the biggest key to a lot of things,” he suggests. “I always tell people that ask me for help or any type of advice that your sound, and your flow, is paramount.
“No one’s gonna care about you if what they hear is not professional quality and not professional flow.
“I worked very hard on having an in-depth flow and being fast at some points but being able to control it. I think having that self-control, both in the song and outside of the song when it comes to perseverance and not giving up, is very important.”