Chances are that whatever you got for your last birthday, it doesn’t compare to what The Kid LAROI got upon turning 16 in 2019: a trip to Greece, and a feature from Juice WRLD.
The young Aussie upstart and the late Chicago superstar already had a history. LAROI had opened shows for Juice in Sydney and Melbourne earlier in the year, and had become the latest signing by Juice’s managers, Grade A Productions. But one night last August, Juice surprised The Kid with a freestyled verse for his brand new song “Go,” the first taste of LAROI’s mixtape F–k Love, which drops later this month. The music video, out today, opens with footage from that night in Greece. “That’s a $200,000 dollar gift, bro!” Juice says with a laugh before he lays down his vocal.
In retrospect, of course, the feature was even more priceless. Only four months after that gift, one of hip-hop’s brightest stars was gone, a sudden death that was a gut punch to music and the culture, and devastated Juice’s family and friends, including Grade A and LAROI, who to this day calls Juice his “big brother.”
As a keepsake, “Go” sparkles, with the mentor’s voice blending effortlessly with his protégé’s. The Steve Cannon-directed visual alternates between heart-rending road footage of Juice and LAROI, and more recent scenes, shot in Los Angeles, of LAROI with a biker crew, and alone on a balcony, in front of a mic that recalls the one used by Juice at the beginning of the clip. It’s melancholy and affecting, but somehow, also lighthearted.
It’s been a whirlwind year and a half for LAROI (real name: Charlton Howard). Until the one-two punch of Juice’s death and the coronavirus outbreak, he had been on a steady, upward trajectory: a record deal through Grade A with Sony Music, a pairing with Lil Skies on “Moving,” those support dates for Juice (in both January and November of last year), a life-altering move across the Pacific, from Sydney to Los Angeles, a spot on Rolling Loud’s inaugural New York festival, and a major label debut single, “Let Her Go,” with a video directed by Gen Z rap’s premier lensman Cole Bennett.
The two paired again for the even bigger hit “Diva,” LAROI’s January collaboration with Lil Tecca, which featured the two rappers playing hilariously off each other in a trailer park. Then came COVID, and a global quarantine that threatened to put the brakes on a young career in the process of blowing up. Nonetheless, LAROI has stayed remarkably visible over the past couple of months — scoring a viral hit from out of the blue in March with “Addison Rae,” named after the TikTok starlet, followed by “Fade Away,” a musing on quick fame and fortune with NYC hotshot Lil Tjay, with whom The Kid toured in early 2020.
This month promises an even bigger spotlight with F–k Love. It’s LAROI’s first collection of songs since 2018’s independently released EP 14 With A Dream. The new project – melodically even stronger, sporting immediate, infectious hooks – is steeped in relationship drama. Charlton’s love life seems about as active and turbulent as you’d expect from a 16-year-old with newfound fame, particularly since his relocation to the City of Angels. Still, he’s never been more vulnerable than on tracks like “Erase U,” “Too Scared,” “Wish” and the tuneful “Tell My Why.”
It wasn’t that long ago that LAROI’s life was very different. For much of his early years, Howard and his family bounced from one hardscrabble New South Wales community to another, including the South Sydney suburb of Waterloo (the place he most considers “home”) and even spent four years in far-off-the-beaten-path Broken Hill, a outback mining town that was not exactly a hotbed of hip-hop. But starting with raps over beats recorded on his mom’s phone and posted to SoundCloud, one thing led to another, and attention truly ramped up when LAROI placed third in the 2018 edition of “Unearthed High,” a competition for high school artists by renowned Aussie radio station Triple J.
Charlton has mostly spent this quarantine period in the house he shares with his mom and brother, in LA’s Chatsworth neighborhood, which includes a home studio where he can work on music with his friend and beatmaker Haan. In mid-May, Billboard jumped on Zoom with The Kid LAROI, to talk about F–k Love, inspirations, anxieties, relationships, memories of Juice, gaining fame, and whether the kid from Down Under has “gone Hollywood.”
Laroi! The new project is great. Lots to talk about. But we might as well start with “Go” – an amazing song, and I can only imagine how much it means that you were able to do a song with Juice.
A hundred per cent. I had the song, I recorded it a while ago. And then we all went to Greece together. Juice was doing some shows out there, but it was my birthday, so they decided to take me with them.
I love Greece. It was f–king sick. So we went to dinner, we went to Salt Bae, but he didn’t come. And we went back to the hotel, and he had just woke up and he was like, “Oh, I’m sorry I missed the dinner, bro, but for your birthday I’ll give you a verse!” [Laughs.] So we were just sitting in the room vibing, and I just pulled up some of the songs that I thought he might sound nice on, and he heard “Go,” and he was like, “Yeah this is the one, let’s do it!” And so he recorded the verse and it was f–king sick.
Hearing your two voices next to each other on the track is interesting, because I know that coming up a number of people have said, “Oh he kind of sounds like a young Juice.” I think here you can hear how they are similar, but also different. Does it bother you when people make those comparisons?
I dunno — it’s like, again, Juice was super big for me in terms of inspiration, and I learned a lot from him in terms of his recording process and stuff like that. So I can’t be that mad at that s–t. And I got to see a lot of things in terms of the way he would work that a lot of people might notice. And I do use that stuff when I record. So, I can’t be all the way mad at it. But at the same time, yeah it’s always a little bit annoying when people are comparing you to all these different people and you just feel like, “I just want to be myself!”
But that happens I guess to every artist that’s coming up. And if there’s anyone to be compared to you know, that would be the person I would want to be compared to. You know, I’m glad it’s not somebody whose music I don’t like.
Since Juice’s passing we’ve heard his voice pop up in all these features — with Eminem, with YNW Melly, on G Herbo’s recent “PTSD,” with Trippie Redd on “Tell Me U Luv Me,” his own “Righteous” and now with you on “Go.” Is it strange to hear Juice’s voice now, on new tracks, knowing he’s not here?
Nah, I think it’s great — I think he was a great artist, and the music shouldn’t stop being released, because he definitely deserves to live forever and his legacy deserves to be great. I mean yeah, hearing it you forget that he’s not here with us anymore, and so in a way it kinda feels like normal.
Back in February on No Jumper, Adam [Grandmaison, host] asked you about Juice’s passing, and you really didn’t want to say too much about it. Do you still feel that way?
I mean he was just such a nice and genuine dude, and for the time, the year or whatever that I knew him, that was like my big brother. And so, of course it was super shocking. I don’t know I don’t like to go too much into it because it makes me super emotional.
We all remember Juice’s “Legends” and how he performed that song on tour last year in front of these images of X, Nipsey, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain – all artists who died way before their time. Is that something that ever concerns you, that you think about in this industry?
What, like, dying young? No, I mean I’ve got good people around me, and I’ve got a good head right now. In the future, it concerns me with what might come of my career — and there’s certain things that I might be faced with and challenges, and all type of s–t like that. But in terms of dying young or that type of stuff, I’ve got good people around me to keep my head on correctly.
I don’t know. It’s 50-50. It doesn’t scare me personally, cause I feel like if you go through life scared about that type of s–t and emitting that type of energy into the universe, then it’s more likely to happen. But if you don’t think about that s–t and you just get on with your life and continue doing what you’re doing, and keep making music and trying to be the best version of yourself, then I think it will be easier. So I don’t really like to think too much about that s–t.
So the new mixtape F–k Love is your first collection of music since the 14 With a Dream EP that came out a couple of years ago. How would you compare the two, and how much do you think you’ve progressed as a writer?
I wouldn’t really compare them, because it’s like two different stages of life and growth and s–t like that. Like when I put out the first EP, I really liked it and I thought it was the best thing ever. And now I’m just — I’m super in love with the project that I just made, and I’m like, “Wow, the old one doesn’t have s–t!” [Laughs.]
I think if people only know you from the last year of singles: “Blessings,” “Boss Up,” “Let Her Go,” “Diva,” “Addison Rae,” “Fade Away” — they’re all great — but this record seems very much more introspective and relationship-oriented than you’ve ever been. Is that fair?
A hundred per cent. And again, I think that’s just me growing up, being a teenager, going through s–t and finding different things to talk about. And I guess it was just what was happening during that time, and it came to a point where we were listening to all of the songs, and I was like, “F–k! All of these songs are about girls, or a girl, and what was happening.” So I was just like, “Yeah perfect.” And I guess we just sort of shaped the project around that idea and filled in the missing blanks and stuff.
Was there one big relationship or breakup that inspired the majority of these songs? Or is a mixture of a bunch of different situations?
It’s not necessarily one big serious relationship. I mean obviously the project is about a girl or two or three that I was messing with or whatnot. But there’s a few songs on there — like for example, “Tell Me Why,” that’s not even about a girl. It was about whatever it was, but it just fit in with the story that I was trying to come with on the album, and it fit in. So I was just like, “This is perfect.” ‘Coz really that song could be received in a lot of different ways, whether it’s losing somebody relationship-wise, or through death, or other things. So there are songs where I didn’t necessarily write about that, but it fit with the situation, and the story that I was going for, you know.
If you look at “Let Her Go” or even “Addison Rae” which you told Genius you considered kind of an empowerment lyric — that idea of moving from one girl to another – or “Diva” too, with Tecca. In those songs, it’s like you’re quite confident, and moving on, whereas I would say in a fair number of these songs, it’s like I feel like you’ve been let down.
Yeah exactly! And so I would say what the whole project is really about, it’s really about you know, you meet a girl, and you’re not taking her that serious, but she’s taking you real seriously, if you’re just out doing whatever, and eventually she gets fed up with it, and by the time she gets fed up with it and starts not f–king with you any more, then you really start to feel it – and you really start to like her, but by that time it’s too late. And by that time, you’re already feeling like, “Well, f–k love, f–k the whole situation.”
Well yeah. And so the name F*ck Love is perfect. So, do you find you’re the one that ends things, messes things up, or she’s the one…
I’m definitely the one that messes everything up! [Laughs.] But that goes back to like – and this is a true story – when I was super young, the first girl that I really liked, we were super young, but she fake cheated on me. And even though we were super young and the relationship didn’t mean anything, I guess you always kind of keep that in the back of your mind, so you never really take anybody else seriously.
In the song “I Wish” there’s a line about “skeletons in my closet” and in “Too Scared” you say, “I wanna be myself but I’m too scared.” Do you feel like you find yourself in situations where you can’t be open, or be totally yourself with people?
It’s more a thing of being open and trusting people. It’s hard for me to trust people, and especially girls it’s – I don’t really like doing the whole opening-up thing with girls. Obviously around my friends and stuff it’s different, but at times with girls, in certain situations it’s just hard to be yourself fully, open up and tell them everything.
You tweeted recently “Don’t change, evolve” – which reminded me of a line in “Fade Away” with Lil Tjay, where you say, “They say I changed since I got money, well that’s news to me.” Do you find that you get that, from friends back home in Australia? People saying you’ve changed, musically or as a person?
I mean, all of it. I’ve heard everything from people back home, like, “Oh you’ve abandoned us! You live in America now, you’ve abandoned us! Why did you change and abandon us?” and whatnot. Or like, “Oh, he’s Hollywood now!” Because people sometimes don’t understand that you have to do certain things like move to the United States and stuff, whatever. But at the same time I don’t care about that s–t too much, because I know what it is, and I know myself. I know what I am, so that s–t doesn’t affect me too much.
But it does give me something to write about! And when I think about it, it does make me a little mad, cuz it’s like, “How the f–k can you tell me I’ve changed? Like, you don’t even know me!” But you know, it is what it is.
I also noticed that going back a few months, some of the stuff you post on Twitter, at times, you’ll be like, “I’m the happiest sad person you’ll ever meet” or “I wish anxiety didn’t exist” or recently, “I’m sad 25/8.” You even posted a pic of Kurt Cobain. So I guess the question is – how are you doing? And are you happy with where things are right now?
Yeah, of course. I mean, I’m happy, I am doing great, and I love the way my life is. But I don’t know — being sad is something that you can’t really explain. It’s a hard thing to explain, and so, again, that’s why I like music, because it’s hard answering these type of questions. Because you can’t really explain how something feels, for real. And that’s why I like music, because you can tell it through sounds, and sonics, different lyrics and stuff like that. And Twitter – I love Twitter because you can write short like relatable things, and everyone will be like, “Oh yeah, I relate to this!”
Even when I’m not good, I’m good, man. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon! [Laughs.]