Israel Cruz is on a mission. From his music teacher who told him he’d never do anything with his music to the label big wigs who told him homegrown R&B would never work in Australia, he’s determined to make his critics eat their words. And if his new single ‘Party Up’ is any indication, 2011’s going to be the year he serves them up. Blending underground cred with commercial appeal, ‘Party Up’ is a buzzing electro-urban party anthem that’s bound to send dancefloors into overdrive and establish Cruz as the superstar he deserves to be. But before we fast-forward to the future, let’s rewind a little. Born in Quezon City in the Philippines, Cruz moved to Melbourne with his family when he was 13. Inspired by artists like Ice Cube, Wu Tang Clan and Mary J Blige, he started making beats and rapping a year later, using a tape recorder and a karaoke machine to record tunes in the caravan he lived in his parent’s backyard. “I was just making demos - everything sounded terrible back then,” he laughs. “I was just in a phase of discovery and understanding. I wanted to be a producer more than anything and I didn’t have anyone’s vocals so I’d just laid them down myself…” After dropping out of school in Year 11, he spent his time writing tunes and developing his voice. He got a lucky break at 17 after his demos got airplay on a Melbourne radio station, which led to a string of packed club shows as word of mouth spread. Still, it was hard going. As an Asian-Australian making R&B in a music market dominated by rock and pop acts, for every door that opened, plenty more were shut in his face. “I got resistance from almost everyone,” he recalls. “It was something I had to overcome and the way to do it was make the best records I could…” So he got busy behind the scenes producing records and spent the money releasing his debut single ‘Wake Up With You’, which reached #44 on the ARIA charts in October 2004. The single grabbed the attention of Roadshow/Sony, who signed him at the start of 2005. Having been kicked out of home by then, Cruz signed the contract in his car which he lived out of. Finally, everything seemed to be falling into place. His second single, ‘Old Skool Luv’ did even better than the first, peaking at #18, and his debut album Chapter 1 followed in September 2005. On the side, this workaholic produced records for emerging stars like Jade MacRae (he appeared on her hit ‘So Hot Right Now’) and Ricki-Lee Coulter. But despite the buzz, it became clear that his label and him weren’t on the same page, or even reading the same book. “They loved rock music and that was it,” says Cruz. “It was a bad predicament - the people that signed me didn’t really like or understand the type of music I made.” So with his contract in limbo, he reached out to people overseas that did. Through mutual friends, he hooked up with chart-topping rap royalty like Lil Jon (who featured on his track ‘Crazy’) and Fabolous (on ‘Gemini). The latter track spearheaded his second album The Legacy, which was released independently in 2009. The same year, he worked on UK sensation Jay Sean’s US #1 smash hit ‘Down’. That feat saw Cruz land a deal a year later with Sean’s US label, Cash Money (also the home of Lil Wayne, Drake and Nikki Minaj). Since then, he’s been busy working his magic on new records for Wynter Gordon, Jordin Sparks, Ne-Yo and Sean’s new record. At the same time, Cruz continued to craft hits at home including Ricki-Lee’s ‘Wiggle It’ (which hit #11 on the charts) and Jessica Mauboy’s ‘Been Waiting’ (#12) in addition to producing songs for Stan Walker’s 2010 album From The Inside Out, which debuted at #2 . As for Israel himself, 2011 represents a second coming for an artist who now shares his time between Sydney, New York and Miami (where Cash Money’s Hit Factory studios are based). With a new deal between his label Nufirm and Ministry of Sound Australia and a new sound that fuses an R&B attitude with the energy of electro-pop, this man with the Midas Touch in the studio is ready to retake the stage. “I’m going all in with this,” he says. “All the hardships I’ve been through doesn’t really amount to the good things that are coming around.” And once he’s blazed his own trail, he wants to clear the way for those that follow, with passionate plans for his label Nufirm already in the works. “There’s no home here for hip hop or R&B in Australia,” he says. “There’s no label like Cash Money or Def Jam dedicated to these genres. In the UK, US, Europe and Japan, there’s labels that cater for that, so I wanted to start something like that here with Nufirm. In addition to being an artist, my label is my cause right now.” The party starts now.