After decades of being predictably overlooked across its major categories, hip-hop has broken through its ceiling at Australia’s top music awards.
Rapper Genesis Owusu became the first hip-hop artist ever to take out the ARIA Awards’ top album of the year prize.
In an impressive coup against major label power, the Canberra rapper, real name Kofi Owusu-Ansah, managed the win with an independent release, the first artist to accomplish the feat since Flume did with Skin in 2016.
“This is insane. I used to get side-eyed a lot for the way I dressed and the things I did, but all the people I loved and respected always stood firm, unmoveable and unshakeable ’cause we knew the power in who we were and what we created,” Owusu-Ansah said in his acceptance speech.“This just means so much to me.
“For all those people, Goon Club worldwide, eccentrics, black people – know that it’s not up to us to change for people, but it’s up to people to catch up and see what they’ve been missing out on.”
The 23-year-old topped the evening with four wins, also claiming trophies for best hip-hop release, best independent release, and best cover art.
The wins cap a solid run of honours for Owusu-Ansah’s Smiling with No Teeth. Released to international acclaim in March, the ambitious album – a remarkable blend of allegorical storytelling, personal politics, and playful sonic exploration – last week also claimed Triple J’s J Award for Australian album of the year.
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Wednesday night’s ARIA Awards, a patchwork ceremony featuring pre-recorded segments, international crosses, and live performances at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, offered overdue recognition for Australia’s exciting hip-hop and R&B scenes, and the diverse talent largely Indigenous artists, and first- and second-generation African-Australians who’ve drawn an international spotlight to our local offerings.
After his breakout debut was snubbed at last year’s awards, global chart-topper The Kid Laroi claimed two ARIA trophies, winning the awards’ first gender-neutral best artist category, as well as best pop release for his Justin Bieber-featuring hit Stay, which reached #1 on the US’ Billboard 100 chart and spent 14 weeks atop the local ARIA singles chart.
The win for best artist marked the 18-year-old as the first male rapper to claim the awards’ top solo artist prize (Zambian-Australian rapper Sampa the Great won the best female artist prize at last year’s ARIA Awards.)
Rising Indigenous R&B star Budjerah also claimed his first ARIA, winning the Michael Gudinski breakthrough artist prize for his debut self-titled EP. The 19-year-old’s award was introduced by popstar Ed Sheeran who offered a special tribute to late promoter Gudinksi, who died in March.
Sydney dance trio Rufus Du Sol beat out stiff competition including AC/DC and The Avalanches to win best group, while also winning the ARIA for best dance release for a record-tying third time for their brooding single Alive.
The night’s other major prize, the publicly-voted song of the year, was one win to curb any knee-jerk “Is Oz-rock dead?” debates: it went to Perth slack-rockers Spacey Jane for their Triple J Hottest 100 runner-up, Booster Seat.
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The awards, which were broadcast on YouTube and 9Now, featured performances from Genesis Owusu, Amy Shark and The Kid Laroi.
2021 ARIA Award winners
Album of the year: Genesis Owusu, Smiling with No Teeth
Best artist: The Kid Laroi, Stay (with Justin Bieber)
Michael Gudinski breakthrough artist: Budjerah, Budjerah (EP)
Best pop release: The Kid Laroi, Stay (with Justin Bieber)
Best hip hop release: Genesis Owusu, Smiling with No Teeth
Best independent release: Genesis Owusu, Smiling with No Teeth
Best soul/R&B release: Tkay Maidza, Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3
Best dance release: Rufus Du Sol, Alive
Best group: Rufus Du Sol, Alive
Best rock album: Middle Kids, Today We’re the Greatest
Best adult contemporary album: Crowded House, Dreamers Are Waiting
Best country album: Troy Cassar-Daley, The World Today
Best hard rock/heavy metal album: Tropical F**k Storm, Deep States
Best blues & roots album: Archie Roach, The Songs of Charcoal Lane
Best children’s album: Bluey, Bluey the Album
Best video: Missing Piece, Vance Joy and Annelise Hickey
Best Australian live act: Lime Cordiale, Relapse Tour
Song of the year: Booster Seat, Spacey Jane
Most popular international: Taylor Swift, Evermore