LAROI DELIVERS OUR DEFINING MOMENT ON “F*CK LOVE”

For the international scene, The Kid LAROI is one of hip-hop’s most unexpected and promising new stars. A pimply teenager from the land of kangaroos, with co-signs from everyone including Chief Keef through to Drake, is one of the most talked about artists on the planet right now. To those stuck in the era of boom-bap from the Bronx it doesn’t make sense. To those of us in Australia, it’s been a long time coming. A dream we’ve long envisioned and hoped for. But one that now it has arrived, seems larger than anticipated.

“It’s hectic. This has always been my goal and dream. And I’m just happy to be starting to live that…” said the nonchalant 16 year old while drinking milk over a Zoom call last week when we asked how it felt to be that guy; the one breaking down doors that Australian hip-hop has only ever been able to imagine.

While his formal national recognition came at fourteen via his first EP 14 With A Dream and the Triple J Unearthed comp win that came with it, LAROI’s origins are even more humble. Born in Sydney’s notorious Waterloo, to a mother of Aboriginal descent, Charlton Kenneth Jeffrey Howard grew up listening to the likes of Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill and wrote rhymes in a notepad at the local youth centre while he and his mum moved in and out of housing projects in the area. It was in late 2016, at only thirteen that we first came across him on Youtube, when a poignant verse about the loss of his uncle spat over the Ocean Drive instrumental by 21 Savage & Metro Boomin gave us chills. A few DM’s back and forth, some Soundcloud snippets and AUD’$ Radio spins later, and we were convinced this kid was the star we’d been waiting on to emerge locally.

Not unlike many raised in his generation, he lists mega-stars Drake and Kanye West as his greatest influences. “I pretty much only listen to three artists; Drake, Kanye and Juice.” It’s no coincidence that his debut project walks a steady line of heartbreak, autotune and introspection. “My dream collab would be Billie Eilish. That’d be sick.” he remarks tongue in cheek, fully aware that his tweets have indicated he’d like to pursue more than a musical endeavour with the LA star only two years his senior.

The narrative since 14 With A Dream is well known. Lead single Blessings garnered attention from Lil Bibby and G-Money who signed the prodigy to Grade A Productions, throwing the full weight of Columbia Records / SONY Music behind him. A reality thought impossible for an Australian at any stage prior. He wasn’t an overnight success though, and despite lesser informed opinions, it wasn’t all handed to him. The stories of a teenage Charlton blowing up the Instagram DMs of industry figures or hanging out till the early hours of the morning with producer Haan and cameraman Riri on the off chance of a link-up with international acts on tour, are the stuff of legend. And it’s this hustle which has ensured LAROI has fast climbed the ladder when presented with opportunities in the hip-hop mecca of Los Angeles.

After spending the majority of 2019 stateside, silently plotting and working on his eventual debut, LAROI entered the international market with Let Her Go, directed by Cole Bennett and premiered on Lyrical Lemonade, a rite of passage reserved only for the top tier of new wave artists. LAROI’s run of hits continued into the new year, earning over 100 million on-demand audio streams in the US through the spontaneous Tik-Tok inspired Addison Rae and collaborations with contemporaries including Lil Tecca, Bankrol Hayden and Lil Tjay.

Though constantly surrounded by mega-stars overseas, and being on the verge on a million IG followers, he could quite rightly claim to be one himself, LAROI hasn’t forgotten home, and stays in regular touch with the local scene. “ONEFOUR are my favourite Australian act. They’re crazy. But even Sahxl, he’s only got like 2000 followers or something but he’s dope.”

Now, at sixteen years of age, The Kid LAROI has released his highly anticipated mixtape, F*CK LOVE. The project stretches just over the half an hour mark with eleven tracks and four skits. The first of which, BOOTY CALL, is a real recording that inspired the later skits, BATHROOM, NEW GUY and WISH YOU WELL. The Haan produced MAYBE immediately exhibits LAROI’s raspy crooning as he expresses teenage doubts in love before the song closes out with a string focused transition arranged by producer KhaledBEATS. These transitions pop up a few times throughout the tape and it’s hard to not hope for LAROI to feature on an episode of the an Audiomack Trap Symphony.

Moving into a the pop party track, WRONG, LAROI enlists the help of Lil Mosey, and Internet Money, who deliver their always enjoyable melodic production. This contrasts heavy to the rest of the album, and in particular the next track I WISH, but makes an appropriate metaphor for the tide turning emotions of teenagers navigating the challenges of love and growing up. It’s evident that the young emcee has quickly learned that new found fame and money can’t fix one’s inner demons. Similar to some of Juice’s more direct lyrics on mental health, LAROI calls out “Damn, I wish there was a way I could tell you everything. But I can’t, I wish I could, this shit affects me every day.” There’s only a handful of artists that can tackle issues of mental health with such haunting relatability and LAROI proves his spot on this list, hallmarks again of his greatest influences.

NOT FAIR provides the Sydney star one of his dream collaborations with singer Corbin, who he harmonises with for one of the pinnacle moments of the project. LAROI’s pitch changes are put to the test but are displayed best on one of the lead singles, TELL ME WHY. Dedicated to his lost ones, his song writing and singing ability excel in arguably his best performance yet. Vulnerable lyrics “I seen shit, I’m way too damn young it shouldn’t need to be like this”, cut even deeper after hearing the feature from big brother Juice WRLD on GO. Originally gifted to LAROI for his birthday, Juice’s verse describes their relationship and seems fittingly depicts what the recording artist is chasing throughout his debut project.

A billboard painted by Scottie Marsh appeared in Sydney last week to celebrate the release (Pic: SONY Music).

The back half of the album includes some more R&B focused cuts and confirms the potential of the young artist. From the aggressive ERASE U, the smooth SAME THING, the late night vibe RUNNING and the Ne-Yo flipped NEED YOU MOST (So Sick), it’s hard to find a miss. The limited placement of features feels like the best decision for a debut project, but with a Ne-Yo remix rumoured to be in the works, it would be stunning to have a female R&B artist join him on a remix of SAME THING. If you’re not convinced on The Kid’s talent, you only need to look to the final track, SELFISH (his own favourite from the project). With the soothing and angelic vocals from JOY. and the sensitive lyricism from the lead artist himself, it’s a beautiful finish to the start of a blossoming career.

At only sixteen years of age, The Kid LAROI has perfected the current wave of alternative trap sound, dipping into R&B and emo-rock for his first full-length project. F*CK LOVE is a passionate and concise project that presents The Kid LAROI as an undeniable talent on a world scale. It’s a moment for him. A testament to the legacy of Juice WRLD upon a generation. And ultimately, the tick of approval that Australia has truly arrived as a bed of talent for global hip-hop culture.

 

Review by Frank Tremain. Interview by Matthew Craig. Original photos by Charly Dwyer.

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Matthew Craig

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