That mindset has now helped Masked Wolf score his first-charting hit with the electric rap single “Astronaut in the Ocean,” which currently sits at No. 3 on the Billboard Global 200 and No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. And though the song arrives in a party-centric package, courtesy of electronic producer Tyron Hapi, it centers around Wolf’s battles with mental health and depression. “What you know about rollin’ down in the deep? When your brain goes numb, you can call that mental freeze,” Wolf spits, alluding to keeping his head above water during tough times.
Masked Wolf first released “Astronaut in the Ocean” in June 2019 after jotting down lyrics and scatting to rhythms in his car. As Jae Butt, Masked Wolf’s manager, recalls: “He said, ‘I think I got a title: ‘Astronaut in the Ocean,’ and I was like, ‘What the f–k is that?’ It was the weirdest title you could ever think of, but he was like, ‘Nah, this is it.’”
But when the track arrived via Teamwrk Records, it failed to take off. “I never felt like ‘Astronaut’ was going to be a hit like it is now,” Wolf admits. “I 100% knew it was a banger and would slap pretty hard, but I didn’t know if people would grasp and want to know the meaning behind it.”
However, Masked Wolf doesn’t mind people bumping the song without relating to its meaning. “I’m not the type of artist that would say, ‘You must listen to this and understand it’s about depression and feeling [out of] place,’” he says. “If you want to put ‘Astronaut in the Ocean’ on in your car while you’re driving because it makes you feel good, I’m not going to judge your happiness.”
As the pandemic forced the world into isolation in 2020, the song started to gain traction — and Elektra Records noticed the hit was making a major dent on global market data. It has now garnered 368.8 million on-demand streams, according to MRC Data, thanks to a TikTok craze in which users — 304,500 and counting — record feats of strength to the song’s intro.
“We instantly leaned into that because TikTok is fickle and it’s short-lived,” Jacob Fain, Elektra Records SVP of A&R, explains about his team’s strategy. “So when you get that window, you really need to reposition and then just capitalize on it for as long as TikTok will allow you to.” In December, Wolf signed a global recording contract with Elektra/Warner Music Group (excluding Australia and New Zealand, where he retains his deal under Teamwrk Records in partnership with ADA/Warner Music Australia). By the start of 2021, Elektra rereleased the track.