The Kid LAROI performing ‘Stay’ with Justin Bieber at the 2021 MTV VMAs. Courtesy of The Kid LAROI Twitter, 2021.
The Kid LAROI, born Charlton Kenneth Jeffrey Howard, is one of the youngest and fastest-rising hip-hop stars in the world. If you didn’t already know, the 18 year old’s performance name is an ode to his Indigenous Australian heritage, with his mother’s family hailing from the Kamilaroi nation in northwestern NSW. From humble beginnings in Redfern, Sydney, the young performer went from couch surfing and struggling to make ends meet with his single mother to signing an international record deal with Grade A Productions at the age of 16 (The Culture, 2021).
In a Spotify Radar documentary last year, The Kid LAROI (2021) spoke of his dreams and humble beginnings:
“As an Australian kid, I didn’t know how I was gonna do it or what was gonna happen. I was, like, seven years old saying, “One day I’m gonna be in LA and one day I’m gonna be a famous rapper.”” “I’m from Sydney, Australia. I kind of had, like, a crazy childhood…Me and my family didn’t have a house…But then it got to a point, you know, where we had nowhere to go. We were, like, staying on my mum’s friend’s couch…I had to watch my mum do a lot of stuff to survive and keep us, like, fed. So music was definitely, like, a way of keeping my head clear.”
The Kid LAROI working hard in the studio on his F*CK LOVE 3+: OVER YOU album, June 30, 2021. Courtesy of The Kid LAROI Twitter, 2021.
In Spotify’s The Culture podcast, Australian hip-hop lyricist, musician and radio host of Triple J Unearthed, Hau Latukefu (2021), explained his frustration towards the lack of focus and attention in Australia’s mainstream media of The Kid LAROI’s rapid-fire rise to fame:
“I’m kinda speechless with...the lack of attention, you know, he should be on the front of papers, magazines, everywhere...The music that we make has never gotten that kind of respect in this country ever, besides a few outlets...It’s the typical Australian way, you have to get bigger elsewhere…
People are still denying the talent from places like southeast Melbourne or western Sydney because traditionally we are thought to think that nothing good comes out of there...and I think for major corporations or major outlets, they don’t want to recognise that; it’s sad to say that but it might take a couple of The Kid Laroi’s to change that.”
Unlike America, Hip hop and R'n'B aren’t default categories that people listen to and that radio stations play in Australia. Very few Australian hip-hop acts have been able to take their music overseas, whereas Bliss n’ Eso, Hilltop Hoods and Iggy Azalea are some of the few that have. For those that do, they have to make a big impact on the local scene, such as getting signed to a major label, selling out festivals and tours before even trying to ‘make it big’ in America. This speaks volumes about what music media outlets and big music executives value and support here in Australia. So, this begs the question: was The Kid LAROI a missed opportunity for Australia? (The Culture, 2021).
This also begs the question: how did The Kid LAROI get his music out there? Well, Latukefu - aka MC Hau from the 90s hip-hop act Koolism - explained in the aforementioned podcast that he was in a fortunate position working at Triple J to be able to champion and push The Kid LAROI’s music. MC Hau (2021) went on to say that The Kid LAROI’s career really started to take off when he landed in Sydney and connected with a community of like-minded, boundary pushing managers, artists and producers:
“He was looking up to artists like Manu Crook$ and B Wise. They just took him under their wings cause I think they just understood his journey just being a young Australian and the mainstream not caring about...his music. And so a lot of these kids were of African, South Pacific heritage and they understood each other; understood the sound; understood the struggle of their music not being recognised...and it was just this new generation of Australians that were listening to the Travis Scotts..and the Kendricks and Drakes...influenced by different things and really turning it into their own.”
15-year-old The Kid LAROI, following the release of his EP ‘14 With A Dream’ September, 2018. Courtesy of Off The Clef, 2018.
For The Kid LAROI, being a part of this community of kids pushing a new sound was instrumental to his success. Even though at the time he worked in the Sydney hip-hop scene and collaborated with other Australian acts, you can tell just by listening to his music that these budding artists took inspiration from the states. With this, the Internet and Soundcloud have played a large part in the development of his sound: he listened to popular and underground artists around his age and made music that his peers could connect with (The Culture, 2021).
“I used to tap up, like, Eminem-type beats, Or, like, Kendrick Lamar-type beats and just rap to it…At first it was…therapy. But then, after that, it was, like, a realisation…we need to get money. I needed to go out and do something about it.” The Kid LAROI (2020) told Spotify Radar.
And do something he did! At 15, The Kid LAROI landed the opportunity to jump on stage with rapper Manu Crook$ at Listen Out and Tkay Maidza for Triple J’s 2018 One Night Stand concert (PileRats, 2018). Later on, he landed a spot opening for the late American rapper Juice WRLD on his Australian tour in 2019. This happened via Juice WRLD’s label manager and partner Lil Bibby and Peter Jideonwo from Grade A Productions discovering the young star via Soundcloud and inviting him to a meet and greet. The meeting went so well that they struck up a friendship and Juice WRLD took him under his wing as his protégé. Through this mentorship, the First Nations star was able to tag alongside Juice WRLD on his world tour, Death Race For Love (Spotify Radar, 2020).
For The Kid LAROI's 16th birthday in 2019, Juice WRLD gifted him a feature song together called Go, which premiered on June 12, 2020. Just six months beforehand, Juice WRLD sadly passed away after his Australian tour finished in December, 2019. The song Go gained such a huge success that it went Certified Platinum by the RIAA in December last year, clocking in over 145 million streams on Spotify. Although the release of their collaboration came out at a devastating time, The Kid LAROI owes a lot of his artistry to Juice WRLD, and the song is a dedication to the brotherhood between the young Sydney rapper and his late mentor and close friend (Hip Hop DX, 2021). The Kid LAROI (2021) spoke of this in an interview with Hailey Bieber on her Youtube channel:
“We had the song and then, um, Juice passed away. It was a super weird time and a weird feeling for me. We had the footage of us recording it and doing it, so that’s how we kinda made the video...That was the first song...that did really well. It’s, like, Platinum now. It meant a lot to me.”
“It was cool to just watch him be him and create. He was always in the studio everyday in his house...He was my big brother, I learnt a lot from him, and I’m super-duper inspired by him…he’s my mentor. He’s the reason for everything.”
Juice WRLD and The Kid LAROI's song 'Go' offical video. Courtesy of The Kid LAROI's Youtube, 2021.
The Kid LAROI’s immense success and popularity has resulted in him being, not only the first Australian-born solo artist to top the US Billboard charts since Sia in 2014, but he’s the first Indigenous Australian artist to top this chart ever. This success came in August this year with the third release of his mixtape F*CK LOVE, F*CK LOVE 3+: OVER YOU. Earlier this year, the then 17-year-old artist made ARIA Albums Charts history on his home soil, taking the top spot with his album F*CK LOVE (Savage) (NIT, 2021). In a post on Twitter, the First Nations rap-star thanked his fans for their support in the releasing of the charts:
#1 in my own country. Words cannot describe this feeling. Anybody who knows me, knows that where I’m from means everything to me. I’m more than blessed to have my country behind me, and I promise that I won’t let them down. pic.twitter.com/tXj6YjEckr— charlton (@thekidlaroi) February 6, 2021
In 2020 alone, The Kid LAROI not only moved to Los Angeles with his family, but he scored a number of hit records featuring renowned artists such as Machine Gun Kelly and Lil’ Mosey. This year, the artist has also collaborated with A-list pop-stars on singles such as the remix ‘Without You’ with Miley Cyrus and ‘Stay’ with Justin Bieber, furthering his popularity and reach (The Culture, 2021).
The Kid LAROI and Miley Cyrus live from New York performing for NBC’s Saturday Night Live April 29, 2021. Courtesy of The Kid LAROI Twitter, 2021.
The Kid LAROI x Justin Bieber single ‘Stay’ on billboard in New York City’s Time Square, July 10, 2021. Courtesy of The Kid LAROI Twitter, 2021.
At Yarn, we are passionate about sharing the stories of First Nations artists, shining a light on their creative journeys and how they give back to their communities. So, as The Kid LAROI’s success continues to reach new heights, we hope that his story inspires a new generation of Australian artists and shifts conversations about what talent the Australian industry should be scouting for and nurturing in the future. The Kid LAROI's story also provides hope for other young mob out there who wish to pursue their music career dreams but don't know how to or are doubting their capabilities.