Exploding onto the scene with his May release of Cloud 9, this week’s triple j Unearthed Feature Artist Baker Boy has completely thrown the Australian hip hop community for a loop. Born in Darwin and raised in the remote NT communities Milingimbi and Maningrida, he is one of the first artists to rap in his own Yolngu Matha language, representing his Arnhem Land families.
At just 20 years old, it seems that the journey has just begun. Coming to the end of National Reconciliation Week, there seemed no better time for LunchBox to sit down with the man behind Baker Boy, Danzel Baker, to catch up on his latest track Cloud 9, moving to Melbourne, and collaborating with the biggest names in Aussie hip hop.
So how, you may wonder, did Baker suddenly become one of the most talked about new artists in the country? Well it wasn’t without hard work and a bit of good timing. Working alongside Indigenous Hip Hop Projects (IHHP), a collective of community-minded and music-focused leaders, Baker was exposed to an art form and quick to take and make his own.
“I had a few friends working with IHHP and they started playing around and joking and playing some bars and doing freestyle rapping,” he explains. “Someone was beat boxing and then asked me to do it and I was like ‘No sorry I can’t, I’m just getting used to all this stuff.’ And so I went back home and started writing songs in language and I didn’t tell them about it until they tried to hit me up again… That’s when I started freestyling.
“Dion Brownfield [got in contact] and he said ‘Let’s start making music’ and we just started mucking around. I was with a young producer named Tobias Fakhari, he’s 18-years-old and he’s pretty amazing as well, and he’d just been signed by Sony. From there we were just mucking around with beats and didge. Then he said ‘Let’s get recording’ and I started recording and rapping in language and it was pretty hard, but easy at the same time, it was really fun.”
So what’s Baker looking to say? Indigenous hip hop and the conversation around its politics within the industry is a relevant and necessary one, and for Baker, the next generation is where the change needs to start, sooner rather than later.
“Because the new generation is started to lose focus on traditional and cultural awareness and trying to be more distracted, jumping on the wrong path. I wanted to help get them back on track and on the right road, on the path of positive and healthy lifestyle… I made this track because I think there is a lack of communication and education through two worlds and I’m coming into the hip hop industry by making a bridge between two worlds. Making it one; as one world where we can see one human race and one strong nation where we can be proud of what we do.”
Single Cloud 9 approaches shame, humility and love in the same breath, without fear of judgment. As Baker Boy, he has introduced a model for hip hop that will hopefully inspire a new generation of Indigenous artists to take what was and transform it into something that speaks to everyone. Baker speaks briefly to the notion of gaps within the industry and where he would like to see change in the attitudes of his community’s approach to music and arts. “More encouragement and trying to get them to not be afraid and step up out of your comfort zone, be proud of who you are and represent your mob.”
At the moment, however, Baker is far from home. Having been on the road now for weeks at a time between festivals and mentoring gigs, the rising star has found himself calling Melbourne home… for now. “It’s something different, there’s more traffic, there’s more cars, and there’s more technology around. It’s a big city. Back at home there’s just beautiful nature sounds – fishing, hunting for native foods and traditional dancing. In the city, there’s more opportunity than remote communities. Remote communities have less communication and education.” It will hopefully transpire that in light of Baker’s success, more attention is placed on young people in communities having access the tools they need to build futures that have music and arts as viable options.
For now, Baker is jumping from city to city (when we spoke he was in Tasmania), working with kids and representing IHHP. No stranger to travel, he continues to work with other performers, including the renowned Chooky Dancers. But I can’t imagine that this will be the reality for long, with opportunities to collaborate with some of the nation’s best, we are surely just moments away from a phenomenal time in Australian music.