Mentored by Juice WRLD and collaborating with Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, Sydney-born rapper The Kid Laroi’s ascent has been fast and furious.
Born and raised in Sydney, Charlton Kenneth Jeffrey Howard, better known as The Kid Laroi, set his sights on a career in music from a young age. “I always wanted to do music. For ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to rap and make songs and shit,” he smiles into his phone screen, lying back on a hardwood floor in sunglasses and a hoodie.
Laroi grew up on a diet of US hip hop and R&B, embracing the music of icons like Tupac, Lil Wayne and Kanye West. His mum played a lot of music in the house, his father wasn’t really about. “The internet speculates about a lot of things. I heard somewhere on the internet that my dad produced for Nelly and all these big people and I was like, that’s not even fucking true,” he says.
As a kid, he began to write raps, filling notebooks with rhymes and lyrics, eventually uploading his own freestyle videos. At the time, Laroi was attending the prestigious Australian Performing Arts Grammar School. “I guess the performing arts school was just good for me, because I didn’t like school,” he explains. “Going to the performing arts school, you would only do three days a week of real school, and then the other two days would be acting classes and arts classes and shit like that. I wouldn’t say it started my thing, but it definitely helped me.”
One of Laroi’s early supporters was his uncle, who was murdered when Laroi was eleven-years-old. The loss spurred Laroi to focus even harder on his artistry, and he began to pick up attention in the local area. He was offered studio space by a contact on Facebook, and started to record his music, sharing it on Soundcloud. He attracted a would-be manager who encouraged him to submit one of his tracks to Australian radio station Triple J’s Unearthed High competition. Entering his song “Disconnect”, it was shortlisted as a finalist. The same month he self-released his debut EP, 14 With a Dream, catching the attention of US artist-turned-exec Lil Bibby.
For Laroi, it was the first of many seminal moments. “Everything that I do always feels like a turning point for me. So yeah, that definitely felt like a turning point because I got like four-hundred followers from that shit. I was like, oh my god, this is crazy,” he laughs. “But then I look back and I’m like, oh shit, that really wasn’t anything. Every fucking month I’ll be like, oh this is a turning point, because something crazy happens. But then it always gets topped by something even crazier.”
Signing with Lil Bibby’s Grade A Productions and Columbia Records, Laroi picked up Australian support slots for his label mate, the late Juice WRLD, who quickly became a mentor, friend and collaborator to the young rapper. He also gained early support from the Lyrical Lemonade YouTube channel, which has since grown into a creative relationship with director and owner Cole Bennett. “Cole is a god. I think he’s a genius. He’s so talented. He’s been with me since like the jump. He’s been on my stuff since the beginning,” says Laroi.
Early tracks like “Diva” featuring Lil Tecca, “Let Her Go” and “Addison Rae” began to blow up with streams into the millions and a growing, devoted following joining Laroi on socials. Looping rich, melodic production over clipped, trappy hip hop beats, Laroi’s synthesised delivery is full of smart cultural references and diary-entry sentiment.
As his career began to take off at breakneck speed, Laroi moved to LA, opening up more opportunities for collaboration and creation, just happy to ride out the journey. “I don’t really process it, to be honest. I just don’t really think about it a lot. I just feel like this is what I was meant to do, so now I’m doing it,” he explains. “When you’re around people who are in it and doing shit at the highest level, it inspires you to want to do that too. So I guess that it’s just super inspiring. Seeing other people do it and being in the presence of those people makes you want to go ten times harder to get to where they are.”
The last eighteen months have been a whirlwind for the seventeen-year-old, and one he credits in part to the space that the pandemic afforded him. “For me, it was kind of a blessing. Not that the pandemic happened, but in a way for my career, because everybody paused with their music,” he explains. “So that was the time for me where I was just going, going on and putting out a lot of stuff. Because there wasn’t a lot of music, people kind of had to pay attention to the other stuff that was going on.”
At the start of this year, Laroi appeared on Justin Beiber’s album Justice, featuring on the emotion-heavy ballad “Unstable”. Today, Bieber repays the favour, featuring on Laroi’s new single “Stay”, a fast-paced yet tender rush of devotion over bright and crunching, hook-fuelled production.
For Laori, collaboration is an important aspect of his work. ‘I love working with other people and I love hearing everybody’s ideas and the collaboration process,” he explains. “I like to go into their world and I like for them to come into my world. I think that’s the coolest shit ever. You could be two different people from two different sides of the globe and come together and make music. That’s crazy to me.”
Another recent collaboration was an alternate version of “Without You”, a standout track from Laroi’s 2020 F*CK LOVE (SAVAGE) release, a deluxe version of his debut mixtape. Recorded with Miley Cyrus, Laroi joined the star to perform it on Saturday Night Live. “It’s fire and it’s crazy and I love it,” he laughs of the experience. “In the moment, for the first couple minutes of it happening, you’re like, holy shit this is crazy. And then you’re just like, oh, okay, cool. This is what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know, it’s weird. It kind of becomes normal, in a sense.”
Living his success through the lens of the pandemic hasn’t stopped Laroi from embracing such moments, and unlike some acts, he can find a connection past the data, streams and likes. “I know my fans really well to the point I literally call them my family,” he says. I’m very active on Instagram and Twitter and shit like that. I always see what’s going on. I respond and I talk to them, because I feel like some sort of responsibility to do that. It’s like, they’re putting all this time into listening and supporting and sticking up for me, so why would I not do that? I know exactly who my fans are. I like to think I know what they like and I know how they see things.”
As western countries take their first steps towards normalcy, for Laroi the future is surely anything but. “Hopefully it’s a bright future,” he smiles. “Hopefully I can go on tour and I can see all my fans and have a great time. Just keep making music and go on tour.”