The Kid Laroi has scooped the top prize in the 2021 National Indigenous Music awards after an extraordinary year for the Kamilaroi rapper, which saw him storm up Australian and international charts, open the VMAs and collaborate with Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber.
The 18-year-old, who is now based in Los Angeles, took home the artist of the year award, beating nominees Sycco, Birdz, Miiesha, Baker Boy and Jessica Mauboy.
The Kid Laroi (real name Charlton Howard) grew up in Waterloo in Sydney. He got his first break in 2018 as a finalist in Triple J’s Unearthed High competition and then in 2019 when he was signed to Grade A Productions, the labelmate of the late emo rapper Juice Wrld, who mentored the teenager.
Earlier this year, on the back of his album F*ck Love (Savage), he became the youngest solo artist to have a No 1 album on the Aria charts. In September, he opened the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards, performing his mega-hit Stay with Justin Bieber. The Kid Laroi is set to tour Australia for the first time next May and June as part of his international End of the World tour.
Sunday evening’s reimagined Nima ceremony was broadcast over two hours on Triple J, Double J, Triple J Unearthed and via the National Indigenous Radio Service in partnership with Triple J’s First Nations show Blak Out. The event was scheduled for August at the Darwin Amphitheatre but was cancelled due to Covid. Sunday’s broadcast was presented by Yuin rapper Nooky and Triple J’s Karla Ranby and featured performances by electronic duo Electric Fields and this year’s Triple J Unearthed Nima competition winner Tilly Tjala Thomas.
The album of the year award went to Bundjalung rapper JK-47, also known as Jacob Paulson, for his debut LP Made For This. He was last year’s Triple J Unearthed Nima competition winner.
Made For This explores intergenerational trauma, new fatherhood, racism and colonialism, and was up against Tia Gostelow’s Chrysalis, The Kid Laroi’s F*ck Love, Leah Flanagan’s Colour by Number and Benny Walker’s Chosen Line for the coveted album award.
Gela, the highly anticipated debut album by Yolŋu hip-hop artist Baker Boy – who took home the Nimas’ artist of the year award in 2019 and 2020 – was not considered in the 2021 shortlist as his album was released on 15 October, months after the cut-off day for nominations.
But Baker Boy (real name Danzal Baker) didn’t go home empty-handed on Sunday, edging out Budjerah, Troy Cassar-Daley, Sycco and Tia Gostelow to win film clip of the year for his high-energy single Ride, featuring his cousin Yirrmal – the pair’s first collaboration since Marryuna in 2017.
The best new talent of the year award went to 19-year-old Coodjinburra musician Budjerah (born Budjerah Slabb), whose soulful R&B and debut self-titled EP has been generating significant buzz.
The Aria-winning Aṉangu and Torres Strait Islander neo-soul singer Miiesha, who won last year’s Nima for best new talent, picked up the gong for song of the year for her single Damaged, about her fractured relationship with her mother.
“I wrote Damaged about a situation between me and my mum; we’ve always had a real rough patch since I was a kid,” Miiesha said as she accepted the award. “I definitely found healing through it; it actually helped me a lot and it helped her, too.”
Mak Mak Marranunggu rapper J-Milla claimed the Archie Roach Foundation award, which rewards up-and-coming talent. Presenting the award on Sunday evening, Roach said: “I really like what [J-Milla] says about his people … I think we’ve got some great rappers here [in Australia].”
Galpu singer Guwanbal Gurruwiwi and composer Netanela Mizrahi received the Indigenous language award for The Djari Project, a collaboration featuring exquisite choral arrangements in Indigenous languages. The community clip of the year award went to Kakadu Collective and Victor Rostron for Mayali, a collaboration with young people in Jabiru.
Murri singer-songwriter and member of the stolen generations Kev Carmody, whose music career spans more than three decades, was inducted into the hall of fame.
Carmody said he was “proud, humbled and honoured to accept the award on behalf of all of us. Past, present and of course future … I’m so proud of the young ones. It might be rap, it might be hip hop, it might be reggae; we’re still expressing [ourselves] through the oral cultural traditions, which is songs and storytelling, it’s just in a musical sense.
“I can sit back now. I’ve played my four chords and that’s it.”
Electric Fields performed a rendition of Carmody’s From Little Things Big Things Grow, a protest song he co-wrote with Paul Kelly.
Kelly also paid tribute to his friend and collaborator, who he met in the 1980s “singing polemics that tore strips off the establishment”. He described Carmody’s body of work as “one of Australia’s enduring cultural treasurers”.