How This Masked Musician Captivated An Online Audience

Captain Murphy came into the internet spotlight in 2012 and instantly gained attention. His album gained around 750,000 views on YouTube and had 90,000 downloads off of datpiff alone.

How did he do it, and who was behind the mask?

1. The album had inexplicable features.

The most notable feature was rapper Earl Sweatshirt, who was famous for his work with the Odd Future group. Also, notable producers on the album were Flying Lotus and TNGHT, although these musicians may not have been involved but rather just had their previously produced beats used by Captain Murphy.

Still, the implication was that this musician was more than just some SoundCloud artist doing a summer project.

2. The album had one continuous music video.

As if this project weren’t already unique, along with the album release a full-length, 37-minute music video accompanying the album in its entirety was posted to YouTube. The video was strange and psychedelic, and it explains a lot of the meaning and metaphors in the lyrics and samples from the album.

The video featured clips from cult recruitment videos and a bombardment of subliminal messages.

3. It created a buzz about who was behind the mask.

With all the effort and talent that went into creating this project, the murmurs as to who was behind it became shouts. It was inevitable.

Rarely does a real life pop culture mystery such as this appear, so when it did, it garnered immediate attention.

4. The great reveal marked the end of the project.

Captain Murphy only had one live performance. He played his album in its entirety, wearing a gold cape and ski mask, at the famous “Low End Theory” in Los Angeles. At the end of the night, before playing his last song (the bonus track on the album), he removed his ski mask to reveal that he was, as many had presumed, Steve Ellison, aka Flying Lotus.

The unmasking received a boisterous response from the audience, and it indeed marked the end of the Captain Murphy persona.

5. Captain Murphy returned for one more song.

As a final hurrah, Captain Murphy released a single with Adult Swim in 2013, with Earl Sweatshirt featured as well as a persona that many thought was the actual Captain Murphy, Viktor Vaughn, aka MF DOOM. The song wasn’t meant to be a teaser for anything to come, but rather, it was a way to get the trio together for an inevitable collaboration.

Since then, Captain Murphy has stayed in the shadows, which is likely a reason the original project had a second spike and remains a legendary event in the hip-hop scene.

Captain Murphy is a perfect example of gaining fame and recognition through mystery. By taking advantage of the anonymity of releasing music online, Flying Lotus was able to attract a whole new audience that may have never heard of his original work. Sometimes being mysterious can gain more attention than going the traditional route.

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Gabriel Dufurrena is a mathematician, writer, and educator living in Oakland, CA. When he’s not watching YouTube videos or teaching math, he’s bumping music on the radio.

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