It may have taken him a while, but the Fresh Prince of Arnhem Land has come through with the goods. Since bursting on to the scene in 2017 with “Cloud 9”, Baker Boy has slowly but surely pieced together a debut album that highlights the dance beats he’s become known for, willingness to indulge modern music and pay respects to his ancestors, while putting at the forefront of each song his ability to perform in both his native tongue and English. The former Young Australian of the Year, Baker Boy has been ever-reliable in releasing catchy pop songs that the public has flocked to en masse. Here on his debut album, Gela, this has not changed.
With half of the album’s 14 songs already released and on streaming services, there isn’t a heap of new material on Gela left to surprise the listener with a first listen. This normally wouldn’t be ideal, but based on the overall quality of the remaining album tracks, when combined with a flurry of hit singles already released, Gela stands up as one of the better debut albums of 2021. Gela, Baker Boy’s skin name and one of the truest forms of his identity, takes you into Baker Boy’s world as he paints the best and most vivid picture of himself. A proud Yolngu man, Baker Boy (or Danzal Baker as his friends know him) incorporates his rich connection to his culture into all of Gela which, as he puts it, makes the album him; it’s his story. At the root of it, Gela is Baker Boy’s connection between his home, his people, the big city and his progression to being one of the most exciting artists in the country.
The album has its notable peaks in the form of its singles, with Baker Boy melding his native tongue and English effortlessly across all his hits, from the slinky and bass heaving “Cool as Hell” to the clean and killer “Meditjin”. As probably the best known of his tracks, it’s the quality of these two tracks that ooze and fill the remainder of the album with quality. Notable collaborations with G Flip on “My Mind” and Yirrmal on “Ride” showcases Baker Boy’s ability to delve into full blown pop mastery (“My Mind” being an absolute love song and hit), while “Ride” embraces elements of modern hip-hop, big band and Indigenous Australian music. It’s this willingness to embrace different styles and voices that helps Gela stand on its own.
The love of “My Mind” continues on “Butterflies”, a deep dive into the feelings everyone has felt when they think about their crush or partner. Describing the song as being about that adrenaline hit and feeling of excitement you get while chasing love, “Butterflies” once more shows the overall strength and catchiness of Gela.
While the pre-released singles are all hits and worthy singles, it’s the remainder of the album tracks that hold the key to maintaining Gela at such great heights. “Stupid Dumb” is the closest of tracks to follow a traditional hip-hop style and flow, with its three minutes run time just not long enough to allow the song to go to another level. Flipping the album on its head once more, “Funk Wit Us” gives the album a little disco flavour, with its simplistic hook intertwined with the vibes of a great house party and classy backing vocals. “Make You Want to Dance” is cut from the same cloth as “Funk Wit Us”, and as the album closer features the experimental elements of a Beastie Boys track if it were to be released in 2021.
Baker Boy is to be commended on his willingness to have friends, family and industry colleagues feature across Gela. From the aforementioned features of G Flip and Yirrmal, to the faultless vocals of Lara Andallo, or the intense and forceful delivery of “Survive” featuring Uncle Jack Charles on a spoken word verse, Gela highlights Baker Boy’s want and ability to invest his time and efforts into his story, people and industry.
It’s not often debut albums hit like Gela does. It’s been a slow build for Baker Boy after seemingly breaking through overnight, but in the end, waiting four years to hear the album was worth the wait. Gela might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the album and the artist who created it will undoubtedly do wonders for many people for many years to come.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Header image credit: Charlie Ashfield