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Baker Boy on the importance of sharing language, and what’s next for hip hop’s next big thing

They work well with one another – there are some words in language that don't have an English word, and it's the same the other way around.”

“Oooooh man, it's gonna be a big year.” It's safe to say 21-year-old Danzel Baker – better known as Baker Boy – is grinning from ear to ear. He has every reason to be, too – with only two singles to his name, he's quickly ascended to the upper crust of Australian hip hop. Widely regarded as an important and progressive voice, Baker is noted for his dual-language rapping – he goes between English and Yolgnu Matha, an Indigenous dialect that's native to the north-east of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. It's where Baker grew up, and his unique approach to utilising both is a matter of wanting to be the change and enact something positive for his community.

“Growing up, I always spoke in language,” says Baker. “I didn't speak all that much English until I started learning more at boarding school. I'd get up my confidence by talking with my cousin. We'd go between speaking in English and speaking in language in the same conversation. It comes out naturally now. They work well with one another – there are some words in language that don't have an English word, and it's the same the other way around. This way, people from my country know where I'm coming from, and people from around the world know where I'm coming from too.”

For context, Beat is speaking to Baker on January 25th. The following two days are significant for the rapper in a lot of ways. January 26 is, needless to say, a day of mourning and solemn reflection for Baker and the rest of the wider Indigenous community; the debate now ceaseless and exhausting over its status as a public holiday. On this day, Baker will perform at the Yabun Festival in Sydney to an audience of thousands – taking a day routinely pitted against people of his background and using it to make a positive statement about his people's resilience. “The energy is always different on that day,” Baker reflects. “I feel it every year.

“I'm looking forward to a time where there's a day where all of us can celebrate the great things about this country and this land. The 26th needs to be a memorial day – a day that we pay respect to our ancestors. It's something that just seems so clear and so obvious – by this point, everyone is so aware of the history of the day and what happened. We need to create something constructive – something that's welcoming for all of us.”

The day after, the 27th, sees the annual triple j Hottest 100 countdown take place on its brand-new date. He doesn't know it at the time of this interview, of course, but Baker will go on to have both of his singles feature in the list. ‘Cloud 9’, featuring Indigenous vocalist Kian, hit number 76; while its follow-up, the Yirrmal-assisted ‘Marrybuna’ scored a hugely impressive #17. It's the second highest an Indigenous act has ever gotten in the countdown, second only to A.B. Original; as well as being one of the only songs in the history of the Hottest 100 to feature Indigenous language.

Of course, Baker – being the humble young man that he is – acts bashfully when queried on his Hottest 100 chances. “I'm just excited about the fact they changed the date,” he says. “It's the best feeling to know I'll be able to listen with all my family and friends and be able to celebrate all this great music. It's a real celebration, and I'm really excited about it.” Does he think he's in with a chance? “Oh man, I'm really nervous. It's crazy. I honestly don't even know what's going to happen. I wasn't expecting all of this support at all. Bring it on, I say – I'll give it a shot, for sure.”

Looking ahead to the months to come, Baker Boy is going to be a remarkably busy young man. February sees him warming the stage for both British grime veteran Dizzee Rascal and American hip hop giant 50 Cent, the latter of whom is doing a 15-year anniversary tour of his game-changing Get Rich or Die Tryin' LP. “It still doesn't feel real,” says Baker. “I remember the day it got announced. My phone would not stop blowing up for hours. Everyone back home is so proud. They can't believe it. I mean, come on. It's 50. Growing up, 50 was the OG for us. There's no way to describe that feeling, knowing I get to share a stage with someone like that.”

Baker will also find himself performing at St. Kilda Festival, Yalakut Festival and Pool House Party in the weeks and months to come. While hip hop crowds are obviously Baker's bread and butter (pardon the pun), it's clear Baker will find himself playing to a lot more crowds that aren't familiar with either him or the genre as his profile rises.

“As long as people see what I'm doing up there, and they are reacting to it positively, then I'll play in front of anyone,” he says. “My shows are about dancing, feeling the music and having a good time. All I can do is go out there and be me. I just hope people like it, and that people get involved.” No doubt they will, Baker Boy.

Baker Boy will peform at St Kilda Festival, going down on Sunday February 11. Catch him on the New Music stage at 8.20pm. For the full lineup head to St Kilda Festival’s website. Baker Boy will also perform at Laneway Festival on Saturday February 3, Yalukut Weelam Ngargee on Saturday February 3, WOMADelaide in Botanic Park Adelaide from Friday March 9- Monday March 12, and more.