Last week, a 16-year-old rapper from Sydney made it into the top 10 of the US Billboard Charts. If that sounds like a big deal, that’s because it is. Until now, this sort of thing hasn’t happened in Australian hip-hop.
The rapper in question was The Kid LAROI, an artist who is only a couple of years into his career. Laroi hit #8 on the Billboard album charts with his debut mixtape F*CK LOVE, positioning him just behind Harry Styles and above the late JUICE WRLD (whose vocals feature on the LAROI track, ‘Go’, which also placed on the Billboard charts -- peaking at #23 in June). LAROI’s label, Sony Music, says he’s also already amassed over 100 million streams in the US across his discography.
Bar -- um -- Iggy Azalea, it’s the highest an Australian hip-hop artist has ever placed on the Billboard charts. And, again, it’s a feat achieved by a 16-year-old.
Azalea aside, the only other Australian hip-hop act to have nudged the US albums charts is Bliss n Eso, who spent 1 week at #62 in 2013 with Circus In The Sky. That makes Laroi’s success particularly unusual.
“It’s extremely rare,” says Billboard Australia correspondent Lars Brandle. "The truly big deal in all this is that The Kid cracked the top 10 on the Billboard 200. It's a rare feat for an Australian act to go so high on the main US albums chart, let alone for a teenager from Sydney. You won't find a male solo Aussie rapper who has enjoyed such a huge start in the U.S."
It’s not the first big international moment for Australian hip-hop this year. In May, Mount Druitt drillers OneFour recruited A$AP Ferg for their track ‘Say It Again’, in what might be Australia's biggest ever rap collaboration. The reach of both OneFour and LAROI is evidence of how Australian hip-hop has broken out of its geographic bubble, reaching worldwide audiences by tapping into global sounds and scenes.
Clearly, The Kid LAROI’s chart success is momentous not just for him but for Australian hip-hop at large and the community he represents. To find out more about why this matters so much, we asked four journalists and hip-hop tastemakers to put things in context.
Hau Latukefu -- host of The Hip-Hop Show on triple j, one half of Koolism and founder of Forever Ever Records
I think it’s extremely fitting that the biggest hip hop/R&B export ever out of Australia is a young First Nations lad. We all knew LAROI was destined for greatness, but to actually see it – bloody amazing. His win is a win for Australia.
Madeline Hayman-Reber -- Freelance Indigenous Affairs Journalist and Gomeroi woman
Not many people are aware of the fact that The Kid LAROI is repping the Aboriginal community through his name. He's part of the Gomeroi/Kamilaroi/Gamilaroi community of northern inland New South Wales, hence the LAROI.
He also grew up in Redfern, which historically is a culturally significant site for Aboriginal people, because of the fact it's where many of us live, and of course the location of The Block.
At a time when kids from that area are consistently harassed and brutalised by police, The Kid LAROI is out repping community internationally, working alongside some of the world's best rappers and establishing himself as #8 on the Billboard charts.
An achievement of that magnitude is an achievement for all of the Aboriginal community. He is showing Blak kids back home that they can do anything.
He is showing Blak kids back home that they can do anything
Osman Faruqi -- Editor of 7am Podcast and columnist at NME
The Kid LAROI's latest success isn't just a huge moment for hip-hop in Australia, it's huge for the entire Australian music industry. Debuting his EP in the Billboard top 10 puts him in the same league as global superstars like Sia and Tame Impala. The difference is he did at 16, and relying entirely on streaming.
It's a reminder that the local hip-hop scene is one of the most vibrant and exciting on the planet, and hopefully we'll see radio stations, critics and labels start to invest in it properly.
Christopher Kevin Au -- Editor at Filter Zine and manager of Triple One and Nerve
There's no doubt that there's still a stigma attached to Australian hip-hop. There's an expectation that our hip-hop can't perform seriously on a global level.
When someone like LAROI shatters that perception by charting in the US, it makes everybody take notice of the scene back here, and realise that we can make music that translates to hip-hop fans on a global scale. LAROI's ascension in the US -- as well as acts like OneFour, ChillinIt, Nerve & Hooligan Hefs' moves in the UK -- will open plenty of international doors for Australian hip-hop artists for years to come.