Gela. Say it out loud, say it with pride, with the honour and respect it deserves: GE-lah. You've met the bright-eyed, ferociously talented rapper Danzal Baker under a handful of names -- the Fresh Prince of Arnhem Land, Baker Boy, the "proud blak Yolngu boy with the killer flow." Now, he's ready for you to meet him as Gela: his skin name, and one of the truest markers of his identity. Miles Davis famously said that an artist should only release a self-titled record when they know themselves well, know themselves truly, and when their music can reflect that. So there was only one obvious, perfect choice for the title of Baker Boy's long-awaited debut, a blistering, joyful record that paints the young rapper more vividly than ever before: Gela. "Gela is who I am," Baker Boy says, "and it's my story."
The journey to Gela has been winding and sometimes intense, with extreme ups and downs -- though, Baker Boy admits, "more ups than downs." Raised in Arnhem Land and now based on Wadawurrung Country (Ocean Grove), Baker Boy was first introduced to adoring fans in 2017, with the one-two punch of debut singles "Cloud 9," featuring Kian, and "Marryuna," featuring Yirrmal. The entirety of Baker Boy's art, from his infectious flow to his music's modern-throwback production to the jaw-dropping dance moves he perfected as part of the Djuki Mala dance troupe, connected instantly. With each successive release -- including favourites like the feel-good, ARIA Gold-certified "Cool as Hell" and "Better Days," with Sampa The Great and Dallas Woods -- Baker Boy continued to establish himself as a deft, talented rapper, with charisma and verve inherited from the genre's greats.
The Fresh Prince of Arnhem Land's freewheeling joy was only one part of the story, though. With Baker Boy's sudden fame came an internal struggle, between his ties to his community back home, and his love for his art and the inspiring figure Baker Boy was becoming. It's a struggle undoubtedly familiar to anyone who's moved from somewhere remote to the big city, but one uniquely heartbreaking for First Nations people who move from remote communities to more populated areas. Gela, then, is the story of Baker Boy overcoming this conflict, and coming to terms with himself both as Gela and as Baker Boy -- an inspiration and beacon of light to his fans, his family, and, most of all, himself. The record's striking album artwork, by iconic street artist Adnate, is a perfect encapsulation of this concept, featuring a split portrait of Baker Boy. "I want people to see what my life is like, and where I come from," Baker Boy says. "The journey from a remote community to living in the city and trying to adapt, and have that balance, is a lot of hard work, [but] it's an amazing journey."
True to that duality, Gela is a breathtaking portrait -- a coming-of-age tale, a powerful political vessel, and a story of a variegated, fascinating life, all in one. G Flip collaboration "My Mind," the record's lead single, fizzes with romantic joy, a love song that makes reference to Baker Boy's partner and stylist Aurie and harnesses the effusive, beloved talents of Georgia Flipo, a vanguard of Australia's pop landscape who shares Baker Boy's penchant for boundary-pushing, smileinducing bangers. "I've known G for a while now, and I'm a big fan of what they do," Baker Boy says of the collaboration, which feels destined to be a hit. "When the opportunity came up to work with them, I was super stoked. It's a love song -- really just a bit of fun." "Butterflies," like "My Mind," conveys the sheer adrenaline of love, its handclaps and skittering, almost militaristic drum beat conveying the excitement and frisson of getting butterflies in your stomach. "'Butterflies' has a lot of play on words and flavors," Baker Boy says of the track. "It's about chasing that feeling and excitement -- you know, being addicted to that adrenaline rush."
In a similar vein is "Ain't Nobody Like You," which features the talents of rising Zimbabwean-Australian crooner Jerome Farah, who also produced four of Gela's tracks. An ode to embracing your individuality, it epitomises Baker Boy's quest to inspire and uplift a new generation. "Working with Jerome felt like a bit of a moment in the studio -- it felt like going back to my roots working with him, which was really special," Baker Boy says. The song was written at a moment when Baker Boy was particularly inspired to share his story. "It's a song I wish I had as a kid -- for kids in communities, and kids of colour, seeing someone else doing [this] is really important. I want those kids to look at me and Jerome and be like, 'Damn
I want to be like them!'"
Baker Boy's belief in the power of music arises continually over the course of Gela -- this is his gospel, his ode to hip-hop's transformative, transportative power. On previously-released single "Ride," as well as new album cut "Make You Wanna Dance," one great hit has the power to bring a whole community together, while "Funk With Us" is sure to soundtrack many a memorable party. On "Headphones," a glossy, 80s-inflected standout produced by Willie Tafa and featuring up-andcoming vocalist Lara Andallo, just putting your headphones in can pull you out of the 9-to-5 grind and into a better space. "Headphones" speaks to the conditions in which it was made -- a studio session where everything just fell into place perfectly: "Working with Willie Tafa was amazing -- I had so much fun spending time with brotherman and Dallas Woods, just vibing."
Although there will always be a brightness and an appeal to communal joy at the heart of Baker Boy's music, Gela also takes time to explore sides of the artist that haven't always been visible to the public. In its opening moments, Gela introduces listeners to Baker Boy's culture, history, and future, first through the powerful, tone-setting introduction "Announcing The Journey," performed in Yolngu Matha by Baker Boy's uncle Glen Gurruwiwi, and then in the form of "Survive," a fiery, powerful single featuring the iconic Uncle Jack Charles. Thundering with intent and intensity, "Survive" finds Baker Boy spitting some of his most pointed, elemental lyrics yet: "We just survive/We just survive/I don't how we continue to thrive/We keep on going like we cannot die/We keep on going we living our life." Taking aim at colonialism and violent capitalism, it's a song that's important to Gela, which, in some senses, serves as a bridge between cultures and an appeal for the masses to understand the ongoing struggles faced by First Nations people.
"It's really important to share stories and share what we live with daily. On a day to day basis, we come across a lot of systematic [injustices] and we try to overcome them," Baker Boy says of "Survive." "Survive," like all of the songs on Gela, features Baker Boy rapping in Yolngu Matha, another one of the ways in which he uses his music as a way to bring First Nations culture to the masses. "It's really important to also show this side of the story of Baker Boy as well. I think it's really important to put it in the album, to basically raise awareness."
At the heart of Gela is "Somewhere Deep," a collaboration with Yirrmal that also happens to be the second song Baker Boy ever wrote. An ode to looking after the country and combating climate change, it's heart-rending without being twee, a clear-eyed love letter to the land. "Looking after the country is part of my culture and so it's really hard to see all the damage that is done to our land," Baker Boy says of the track. "It's really important to talk about climate change, because it's affecting everyone that's living on the earth."
"Somewhere Deep," like many of the songs on Gela, came together with the help of producer Pip Norman, Baker Boy's longtime collaborator and studio confidante. Pip was a crucial hand in the creation of the record, acting as a perfect foil to Baker Boy. "Pip Norman is just an amazing human -- hee is just so down to earth, and sometimes when I overthink [in the studio], we have a chat and he brings me back down to earth," Baker Boy says of working with Pip. "It was really, really, really awesome to have him jump in and believe in me as well."
All of this is to say: Gela speaks Baker Boy's truth, freely and brilliantly. It is a definitive portrait of an artist who's already shown himself to be a vital, powerful representation of Australia's past and our future. "There's still a lot of fun and Baker Boy bangers on Gela, but I think there will be definitely be some surprises in there," Baker Boy says. "But Gela isn't really a next chapter -- it's who I am."