A Tale of Two Sydneys // How Onefour and The Kid Laroi Took Australian Hip-Hop to the World

The Australian music scene is diverse and brimming with talent. In the 21st Century, artists such as Tame Impala, Flume, Tash Sultana, Courtney Barnett and Sia have achieved commercial and critical success in their respective spheres both at home and abroad. However, while hip-hop and rap culture is the dominant force in global pop culture, Australia’s place at the table is only just emerging.

Thanks in no small part to the energy coming out of Western Sydney, Australian hip-hop at home is currently experiencing a surge in interest and artistry. Leading the charge are Mt Druitt’s proudest sons, Onefour. In six short years, the group and their contemporaries have forged a mythology that has already re-written the history books for Australian music, culture and society. (I covered this in-depth in both a written and video essay earlier this year).

To say that Onefour’s success is unprecedented is a gross understatement. Without any major label backing, they have exported their life stories, culture and slang to the world, making a mark not just for Aussie drill, but a burgeoning Aussie hip-hop scene as a whole: one that is authentically raw and straight from the street level.

As they rap on 2019’s “In The Beginning”:

All of a sudden
They all wanna trap, drill, ching, and shoot

Despite major setbacks such as clashes with local police and prison time, the group has endured. Spearheaded by the vision and drive of J Emz & Spenny, and their team, their highly anticipated debut EP, titled self-awaringly Against All Odds dropped today, and promises to be a turning point for the local scene.

This release marks the end of a thrilling opening chapter for the boys in Onefour. They have struck viral success without necessarily seeking it out. J Emz humbly admitted to ABC this week, “We never thought that our music would make this much of an impact, you know?…But as we’ve progressed and through everything we’ve been achieving, we’ve realised it actually is something.”

J Emz and Spenny are still in their early 20s, and represent the new sound and energy of urban youth dominating the streaming airwaves. Another artist who calls Sydney home is also making waves on the global stage. The Kid Laroi represents another avenue to success.

Being dubbed something of a musical prodigy at the age of 12, Laroi (real name Charlton Kenneth Jeffrey Howard) was picked up by local music gurus, before relocating to Sydney City. As he was being mentored through the ropes of the music industry, buzz was growing rapidly. His natural ear for melody and rhythm saw him gravitate to the then exploding scene of emo rap. He even garnered early co-signs with artists such as Lil Skies and JuiceWRLD (even before Juice was blowing up).

Somewhere along the way (rumours and controversies aside), Laroi packed up his bags and set his sights on the US. This year, he struck viral gold with his Juice WRLD collab “GO”, followed up by further viral hits fuelled by Tik Tok stars and trends. He has barely turned 17, but is already a household name amongst his fellow Gen Z-ers.

Onefour and Laroi have similar beginnings. From rough neighbourhoods in typically maligned hoods around Sydney, to global audiences hungry for more and more music. For Onefour, their road followed an organic, homegrown recipe for success. For The Kid Laroi, he chose to shoot straight for the big leagues to pursue success Stateside.

For that reason, Laroi has drawn some negative attention from Australian listeners. Some would consider Onefour’s path to be the ‘more valid’ one. I would argue that this is unbeneficial for the local scene, and for the culture.

The talent brewing at home is unparalleled. If an artist chooses to go to the US, then so be it. If anything, we should be supporting them even moreso. For a teenager on the cusp of adulthood to have achieved this level of success with two full-length releases under his belt (F*CK LOVE and the reimagined F*CK LOVE (SAVAGE)) is worthy of praise and support, whether in Australia or elsewhere.

The Australian music scene is high quality, but relatively small. A 2017 report stated that the music industry only makes up to 9% of GDP, lagging behind the 20% of other developed economies. Everything and everyone is connected with a sense of camarederie. In a subculture that is still growing such as the hip-hop scene, these networks are even tighter and close than you could imagine.

This sense of camarederie is most evident on the recently released collab track “My City”, which closes Onefour’s debut EP. By collaborating with Laroi, Onefour are extending that sense of family. Onefour’s bond of brotherhood has not only helped their success, but arguably is core to their success. They never forget their real ones, and invite along anyone else who supports their message and music.

As they explain on their Beats feature, it was actually Laroi who first came up with the hook, before sending it to Onefour’s camp, wanting to bring in their energy to complete the track – their love letter to Sydney.

Despite the trappings and attraction of fame in the US, Laroi shouts out Western and Sydney city postcodes, clarifying that he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

I’m in downtown, all my brothers is with me
Shout out my boys from the 70
Shout out my boys from the 60, they know what’s in me
Shout out my boys from the 17, they really know how I was livin’

I might just give a hunnid to my dawgs
Thank you for holding it down and I’m sorry if you ever felt like there was love lost

The US has a secret formula for star power that is near impossible to emulate. With Laroi chasing his dreams over there, a powerful synergy with the Aussie scene can be created. Onefour have already turned heads UK-side thanks to their take on the established drill aesthetic and sound, but now with co-signs from the likes of A$AP Ferg and Dre, and now this new Laroi collaboration…there’s simply no stepping this Australian wave.

Australian hip-hop is finally coming of age. In today’s global digital village, artists like Onefour and The Kid Laroi are finally able to thrive. They both represent very different career paths, but equally as valid as one another. It’s a monumental occasion, not just for Aussie hip-hop, but Australian culture and music as a whole. By doing it their own way, Onefour and The Kid Laroi haven’t just helped Aussie artists find a seat at the table of global pop culture, but they’ve begun serving whole feasts for all to enjoy.


Published by Kevin Loo

Live, laugh, stare into the existential void, love

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