It’s been over three years since Manu Crooks released Mood Forever, the six-track EP that established him as one of Australia’s most promising young artists. Storming onto the scene in 2016 with songs like Assumptions and Everyday, Manu’s lyrics were a welcome reflection of the experiences of his community, while his music took elements of Aussie hip hop, Atlantan trap and British grime and morphed them into something compellingly unique. Becoming known for his high-energy live shows early on, Manu won fans across his headline tours and support slots for artists like Denzel Curry, Tory Lanez, YG and Stormzy. Straight out the gate, it was clear that Manu Crooks was a performer with the talent and passion to be big.
Above: all clothing by DIOR MEN
In the time since, Manu has only released a handful of new songs, flaunting his advantage as an independent artist to focus on quality over quantity. “For me, it’s like a painting. I’ve got to paint when I’m inspired and when it calls for me rather than adhering to a schedule” he explains. “I don’t want to fall for the pressure. This is my art, you know? When I’m long gone, this is what will be left. It’s my legacy and I need to make sure that I’m 100 percent happy with everything I put out.” When Manu Crooks does release a new song however, it tends to arrive with a sweeping, cinematic video clip, offering enough of a glimpse into his universe of mates, girls, cars and clubs, to carry us over to the next.
Manu was born in Ghana and moved to Western Sydney with his mum and sister when he was twelve years old, an experience shared with lots of other kids from this culturally diverse part of Australia. Like Manu, many of them also used music as an outlet to express themselves and tell their own stories of growing up as immigrants or third culture kids. As a result, the music coming out of Western Sydney is widely recognised as uniquely game-changing. Alongside artists like B Wise, Blessed, Anfar Rose, OneFour and CultShotta, who feature in each other’s songs and videos, Manu Crooks is helping define a new era of Aussie hip hop, representing the collective with the 2019 lyrics, “We just tryna inspire and be better than/ We done came up relying on Centrelink/ Manifested the dream now we livin’ it.”
Breaking his dry-ish spell recently, Manu released two new songs—Killing Me Softly and Bastards. Both are the business and both are set to appear on his forthcoming EP Mood Forever 2. While we wait to hear more, we spoke to Manu at home in Sydney about his new music, life during the Coronavirus and ambitions for the future.
We’re so happy to have new music from you. How would you say your sound has evolved since the first EP?
I’d say it’s more in depth. I’ve matured, there’s been a lot of growth as an artist and a person. Mood Forever was moody, but it was more chill I think. Don’t get me wrong, I had aggressive songs during that time as well but I feel like Bastards and Killing Me Softly are just tapping into something that’s more in-depth, you know.
Your track Bastards has an incredible energy. What’s the story behind the song?
I actually recorded it in Ghana. I went back late last year for the first time in years, taking my setup and recording gear with me. I feel like Bastards was a very therapeutic song for me, like it’s me spilling out my frustrations. It’s fuelled by a kind of anger, which I know so many people can relate to. It’s also a very experimental song for me. I was like fuck yeah, I’m not going to box myself into the usual stuff or the things that people expect me to do. Bastards was me doing something kind of leftfield, especially after not releasing anything for like a year. With my music generally I like experimenting a lot. I like to try unorthodox beats and to take myself out of myself. I like to make a whole bunch of different stuff and see what type of emotion is being sparked and how far I can take it.
How was it being back in Ghana?
It had been 15 years since I’d visited. After everything that’s happened in my life during that time, going back and seeing family and familiar faces was amazing but kind of hectic. Reconnecting with the motherland was good for me though. I went with my mum so it was special.
That trip obviously happened before the Coronavirus hit. How has the pandemic affected you and your work?
Before the pandemic I had plans to play shows in Europe and the States. I had a whole project ready to roll out at the start of the year and was planning a press run before everything shut down. Basically I had to switch my plans around and just carry on making music instead. Taking everything into consideration it made sense to work on a sequel to the project that everyone was familiar with instead. For me, I feel like the lockdown made me sit and focus on things. I honed in more on the subject matter and the vibe, energy and message I want to put out there as well. It’s given me time to think in more depth about everything. I guess this moment has made most of us think about what’s important and what we want to do as well. I mean, not being able to tour and do shows sucks but you just need to learn to adjust.
LEFT: Jacket and Pants by Ermenegildo Zegna Couture, Top (worn under) by Bonds, Shoes by
Louis Vuitton, Bag by Prada
RIGHT: Jacket, pants, and shoes by Prada. Hoodie by Lacoste LEFT:Shirt by Louis Vuitton
RIGHT: Jacket and Pants by Emporio Armani.. Bag by Bally. Shoes by Adidas
Until now, your live shows have seemed like such a big part of your journey.
The crazy thing is, doing my live shows kind of completes the whole art for me. Having that taken away is a big deal. It’s challenging, like getting over that barrier and being able to communicate without the live shows is different. I feel like lots of people discovered me and enjoyed my songs more by seeing my live shows. I miss it. I really feel like Bastards will serve its purpose greatly when I play it live. I think it will go crazy live.
Can you imagine playing live again after people have been homebound for much of the year?
People are going to go wild. That’s the thing, you’re going to feel it. No one will take it for granted. We had everything at our fingertips and it was taken away like that. When I step on the stage, I mean I always give it my all, but I’m really going to give it my all. It’s going to be chaotic.
I might stand at the back.
No way, mosh pit gang! You’ve got to be right in the middle.
As someone who doesn’t give too many interviews, are you conscious of giving more of yourself through your music and live shows.
100 percent. In the past I haven’t really done a lot of interviews so that’s how I like people to get to know me instead. I like to support my fans by showing myself through my music. I’ve always tried to do that. That way I’m not always just putting out the positive, happy side of everything; the flex and shit. I want it to be as real and raw as possible and let people know that their emotions are normal, that we all go through the same shit.
I think there’s a lot of pressure on artists generally to categorise and justify themselves and their music.
That’s the thing, I never really like to explain my art. I’ll just be as broad as possible and put it out and like, then it’s up to people how they take it. If I was to go around explaining every single line, I’d drive myself crazy. As long as the messages I’m putting out there are generally positive I feel like that’s fine.
In the black and white music video for Bastards, you and your friends are smashing up old abandoned buildings. Your music videos generally tend to have really high production value. Which has been your favourite to work on?
We shot most of the Bastards video around Sydney. I felt like the video needed lots of people but we shot it during lockdown so due to restrictions we weren’t able to. Instead it’s me and a few of the guys I grew up with. I think my favourite is Different League, which I shot with my boys out in Paris. I love the architecture and I think aesthetically, that’s one of my favourite videos. Day Ones is a sick video too. It was the first time anyone had done that kind of video. And, if you pay attention, there are a lot of familiar faces in there, all the people I grew up making music with. That was a real moment in time and I like that it was shot in Sydney.
It seems like you have a flare for directing. Have you thought about making movies?
For sure, I’d like to do more short films in the near future. I’d like to get into a bit of acting as well. I want to tell the story of our culture and paint a picture of where we’re from and what our world looks like. People in Europe and the States just think it’s like kangaroos and spiders out here in Australia, it’s crazy. Honestly, they don’t think there are black people here. When I speak to them I’m like, what do you mean? There are a whole bunch of us. I think films about our culture from our perspective are really important. It’s definitely one of my goals I want to tick off.
Once we can travel again, what is your plan?
I want to do a national tour and then off the back of that do shows overseas as well. I’m hoping this will be by mid 2021 but obviously everything is in the air right now.
Is your family insanely proud?
100 percent, they’re very supportive. I remember one of my early shows, when I opened for Stormzy, I had my family over and it was the first time my mum had seen me perform. To be honest, she was kind of tripping out, but yeah they’re really supportive and proud.
LEFT:Jumper by DIOR MEN. Pants by Bally. Shoes by Nike. Rings by BVLGARI
RIGHT: Top and Pants by Ermenegildo Zegna Couture. Sunglasses by BVLGARI
LISTEN to Manu’s new track ‘Top’
WATCH the music video