Show & Prove
Words: Kemet High
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

While most 17-year-olds are wrapping up high school, The Kid Laroi is emerging as a rap star. This year, the Australian native cracked the Billboard 200 chart top 5 with his debut mixtape, F*ck Love, which peaked at No. 3. The tape, released in July, was pushed to higher heights when the deluxe version, F*ck Love (Savage), dropped in November. Both genre-blending efforts house Laroi’s biggest song to date, “Go,” featuring his departed mentor Juice Wrld. The hit has over 143 million streams on Spotify and peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. As a signee to Lil Bibby’s Grade A Productions and Columbia Records while recently attaining success, Laroi has become accustomed to winning.

Born Charlton Howard in Waterloo, Australia, Laroi absorbed everything he heard in the music his mother played after his parents got divorced when he was 4. To medicate her depression, his mom filled the atmosphere with music by Fugees, Eminem, Tupac Shakur, Erykah Badu, Kanye West and Lil Wayne—the latter two being Laroi’s biggest influences.

Laroi became intrigued with hip-hop by hearing a story similar to his own told by someone else through rap lyrics. ’Pac’s song “Dear Mama” did the trick. “That was really cool that someone like me from a whole other country and with a whole different situation could relate to somebody else in some way,” Laroi remembers of the monstrous hit record that came out way before he was even born.

As a kid, Laroi spent his elementary school years brewing his desire to create. Step one was swiping his mother’s iPhone 3 so that he could film himself freestyling over YouTube beats and post them on Facebook. His music back then was more traditional hip-hop in comparison to the melodic singing he does now.

In 2015, Laroi went off to an Adelaide, Australia boarding school where words of motivation from his late uncle Doug—a father figure, who sold drugs with Laroi’s mother to help support the family—to continue rapping, echoed in his head. Deciding to take music more seriously, a then-13-year-old Laroi recorded his first official song “Work It Out” in 2016, and threw it on Facebook, where it received 100 likes.

Through his lyrics, Laroi detailed the survive-or-die theme of his family’s life. This brought a disconnect, as his peers and teachers couldn’t relate to his hard-knock life tales. Laroi eventually left that suburban school and circled back to Waterloo housing projects where the struggle got real. There was no food in the crib and in addition to mom serving drugs, a young Laroi fearfully witnessed her use them. “I thought I was going to lose my mom at one point, which is really scary,” he admits. “Because I lived through my whole life with my mom being my best friend.”

They were eventually kicked out of those projects for noise and traffic complaints, forcing the homeless teenager and his mother to couch surf. During the low times, Laroi leveled up as a hustler, doing everything from entering radio competitions to sneaking backstage at concerts in hopes to get signed.

In 2018, Laroi dropped his debut EP, 14 With A Dream, on SoundCloud. The effort was led by the make-it-out-themed track “Blessings.” After uploading the record to Spotify, the song broke a million streams in just three months. The hit caught the attention of Chicago-bred Grade A label executive George “G-Money” Dickinson, who showed it to his brother Lil Bibby. G-Money sent Laroi an Instagram DM and a relationship blossomed from there. Upon meeting Bibby, it was how Laroi moved that sealed the deal. “When I first met him, he drunk water from the sink,” Lil Bibby recalls of his introduction to Laroi. “He was already humble, but after that, I knew where he came from and I just wanted to help him.”

In early 2019, the Kid Laroi also inked a major label record deal with Columbia Records by way of a joint venture with Grade A. With a major behind him, he also performed on the Australian leg of Grade A labelmate Juice Wrld’s Death Race For Love Tour last year. Before Juice’s tragic passing on Dec. 8, 2019, Laroi was given advice that never escapes his mind. “Stay humble,” he shares of Juice’s imparted wisdom. “And just make sure everybody around you is good.”

Laroi continued making music last year and dropped the guitar-driven track “Let Her Go” to close out 2019. The record acquired over 24 million YouTube views on the Cole Bennett-directed video and set the tone for Laroi’s 2020, when the water really boiled. He started the year with a batch of bangers like the Lil Tecca-assisted “Diva” and the viral TikTok anthem “Addison Rae." The Aussie rhymer also released a handful of tracks either with Juice Wrld or dedicated to the late artist in subsequent months. This includes the hit song “Go,” which features Juice, an appearance on Juice’s Billboard Hot 100 top 10-charting song “Hate the Other Side” alongside Polo G and Marshmello, and “Tell Me Why,” a tribute to Juice.

Laroi delivered his debut mixtape, F*ck Love, this past July. “I never expected it to do as well as it did,” he says of the project, which hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. “I’m a fucking rookie. Rookie’s don’t sell 40,000 first week on a mixtape.” In November, the budding rhyme slinger applied pressure again and dropped the F*ck Love (Savage) deluxe, backed by the rearview tell-all “Pikachu.”

He’s already reached new heights, but there’s still a lot for Laroi to learn and Grade A is putting heavy emphasis on educating the rising rapper. “I’m just teaching him how to maneuver through this industry,” Bibby says of Laroi. “How to deal with the different types of people, how to deal with the money, fame and pressure. [I’m] trying to make sure he goes as far as he wants to take it and making sure he doesn’t lose himself.”

Dreams are bigger than reality for Laroi, and he’s determined to not let his foot off the gas until he becomes the Australian megastar that Drake is to Canada. When asked about his plans for the new year, he quotes Drizzy’s haunting “Duppy Freestyle”: “Don’t push me when I’m in album mode.”

Expect The Kid Laroi to be in savage mode all 2021.

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