Baker Boy (aka Danzal Baker) has been proclaimed the Fresh New Prince of Arnhem Land. Indeed, this charismatic young Indigenous Australian dancer, musician and rapper is shaking up the homegrown hip-hop scene. And he’s just getting started.
It’s a Monday and Baker has latterly returned to Melbourne, his current base, from Canberra – being half-way through an expansive Groovin The Moo (GTM) run. Now a bona-fide festival rave, he’s attracted massive crowds for his daytime sets. “This is my first time actually touring!” Baker enthuses. “It’s just so much fun – it’s crazy! Mind you, I was in three states in one day.” He relishes networking with other acts – and soliciting advice. Remarkably, Baker only began rapping in 2016.
Born in Darwin, Baker was raised in the remote Northern Territory communities of Milingimbi Island and Maningrida – his primary language Yolngu Matha. Early on, he “went nuts over” Michael Jackson. However, Baker also acquired an appreciation for hip-hop culture from the OG Baker Boys – his father and uncle. “My dad introduced hip-hop to me,” he shares. “I got some old footage on my Instagram of my dad and uncle when they were young, dancing back in the ’80s.” Baker listened to classic hip-hoppers such as Afrika Bambaataa and LL Cool J. “To be honest, that’s pretty much sometimes how I learnt to speak English as well,” he says. “The way they rap and sing is like they are telling a story… It kinda inspired me to do rapping and all that.”
On finishing Year 12, Baker attended Brisbane’s Aboriginal Centre For The Performing Arts. Drawing on his cultural heritage, he became a professional dancer – joining the internationally-acclaimed Yolngu troupe Djuki Mala. He’s even acted. “Growing up watching Storm Boy and [Baz Luhrmann’s] Australia and all those films, I saw my uncle all the time – so David Gulpilil is my uncle [too]. He’s from not far from where I’m from, up in Arnhem Land. He’s actually around the corner – like the next stop is pretty much where he’s from. I grew up watching him. He’s a role model.”
Baker teamed with the grassroots Indigenous Hip Hop Projects as a mentor. His homeboys urged him to freestyle. Initially reticent, Baker determined to rhyme in his Yolngu Matha tongue on hearing Puerto Rican reggaeton pioneer Don Omar rap in Spanish. Baker immediately caused a sensation. In May of last year, he circulated his debut single, ‘Cloud 9’, with the teen KIAN. Baker won the triple j Unearthed National Indigenous Music Awards comp – and officially premiered live at BIGSOUND. Next, he unleashed ‘Marryuna’ – its title meaning to dance for the joy of it. The song features Baker’s poison cousin, blues vocalist Yirrmal (also a member of Yothu Yindi And The Treaty Project). Baker’s two 2017 singles made the triple j Hottest 100 – with ‘Marryuna’, now a pop phenom, landing at #17. He’s been nominated in three categories for July’s AIR Awards.
As an artist, Baker aims to unite worlds. Yet, most importantly, he is an educator – committed to empowering particularly young Indigenous Australians with self-knowledge and engendering pride. Baker wants to encourage future leaders.
Since 2014, Baker has resided in Melbourne – distant from the Top End. “I definitely feel like home – I’ve made new family down here and friends,” he says. “There’s a lot of opportunities down here. So I’m happy where I am – and I get to see all the families. Even working with the families is pretty cool. But, at the same time, I do miss my family back at home as well. When the time is right, I’ll go back and just have a break; go visit the family and then come back, start again, go hard, hang out – all that stuff.”
Baker has his favourite contemporary rappers – including 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole and Drake. He connected with Fif when, alongside AB Original, he supported him in February. “I met him – wow,” Baker recalls. “I was starstruck. I was just fangirling hard.” In fact, the star has prompted some “fangirling” of his own. He’s moved by the response from Indigenous Australians to his success. “All I’ve been getting is, ‘You’re doing good for the mob.’ Also, especially all the families back home, my dad called me the other day and he said, ‘Every time I walk past the school in the morning, all the kids look at me and just scream out, ‘Ah, Baker Boy! Baker Boy! Whoo, whoo!’ My dad calls me and says, ‘You’re like a superhero here. Everyone just loves you here. They can’t stop talking about it and they can’t stop blasting your song or walking down the street here and all that. Just crazy.”
Recently, Baker issued a third single – ‘Mr La Di Da Di’, on which he reveals how family and friends matter more to him than the materialism of urban existence. There is talk of an album, Baker newly signed to Select Music. Can he say anything about it? “Well, I wish I could, but my little secret is I’ll just drop it and then see what anyone says!” Baker replies playfully. “Everyone’s humbling me and just keeps asking me, ‘What’s next, are you making an album, what is it about?’ and da, da, da. I’m like, ‘Um, I don’t know!’ I’m still figuring it out. But I’ll be releasing an EP and then probably an album next year – but building my way up into it.” Baker is keen to collaborate. “If I wanna go crazy, crazy – like next level – hopefully one day I get to make a track with Kendrick or Drake or J Cole.” He has an Australian legend, too, on his wishlist: a fellow GTM co-headliner. “Paul Kelly would be awesome. He’s an amazing songwriter. I love him. He’s another role model.”
Baker may yet bump into K-Dot when both perform at Splendour In The Grass – and he’s already contemplating their conversation. “I’ll be fangirling him! I swear I’ll probably start talking language by accident… As an Aboriginal man, I’d say, ‘Welcome to Australia,’ using knowledge. [Then] it’ll be like, ‘What drives you to make music? What makes you wanna make more music – and what inspires you?’ So all that stuff – so I can get some tips as well… There’s a lotta questions that I can ask him! It depends if my mind is in the right frame and not fangirling and actually tries to think straight!”
Meanwhile, Baker, with deadly posse, is embarking on his inaugural headlining tour – dates selling out. What can we expect? “Lots of energy, dancing, having fun, playing yidaki [didgeridoo]…,” he declares. “Also getting brother man to open up for me – Dallas Woods. He’s another upcoming artist, pretty sick rapper, pretty sick songwriter… Everyone’s not ready!”
Ultimately, Baker considers ‘Baker Boy’ a stepping stone to different roles. “I’m not gonna be doing it forever, so I might as well enjoy it now. Hopefully, when I get older, I’ll probably be a professor or something… I’ll be a crazy actor… I can dream of so many things that I wanna do. I’m still young. I’m only 21 – so I’m gonna dream big, huge, humongous! The only way to do all that stuff is to put your mind to it. If you put your mind to it, you will definitely have fun. If you don’t put your mind to it, then it’s boring and you don’t even get to feel what all the other people feel.”
Baker has one last (self-)affirmation: “There’s no such thing as failure, there’s only mistakes. People often take failure as an option, but it’s not. They’re mistakes. You gotta make more mistakes to learn and become better and better every day. You make mistakes every day, you learn from it and then you get better from it as well. That’s how I live: if I make a mistake, I’ll learn from it. Next time it won’t happen – I’ll do better.”
Baker Boy kicks off his national tour this weekend in Perth. See dates and details below.
Baker Boy Tour Dates
Sunday, 13th May
Saturday, 19th May
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
Friday, 1st June
Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
Saturday, 9th June
Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney