Presented by Puma Rookie of the Year

Acclaim Allstars Card JK47

JK47

Acclaim Allstars 2020

I ain’t in it for the fun, I ain’t in it for the funds, I don’t want none, all I wanna see in life is a better life for my son“, JK-47 raps on ‘Abandoned’, the passionate opener for his debut album Made For This. It’s a fragment fitting for the Tweed Heads rapper, who has risen to the forefront of the Australian rap scene as a beacon of change with a barrage of bars.

JK-47 first caught national eyes with a standout feature on Nerve’s ‘Sunday Roast’, before establishing himself as a solo juggernaut in his track ‘The Recipe’; a buffet of wordplay over a boom-bap beat so banging that a full plate simply isn’t enough. This undeniable finesse is transferred seamlessly into Made For This, where he enhances his lyrical prowess with the wisdom of becoming a father and husband. Throughout the project, he ardently confronts issues like inequality, racial injustice, institutional violence, and identity loss in indigenous communities as a proud Gudjinburra man of the Bundjalung nation, speaking not only for his community in Tweed Heads but for people all around the country.

To dig into the new album and celebrate him becoming a finalist for our Acclaim Rookie Of The Year award, we hopped on a zoom call with JK to break his journey down. What followed is a 30-minute conversation on the power of being real in your music, how becoming a father and husband affected his songwriting, the significance of speaking your mind despite naysayers, and the importance of finding the light at the end of the tunnel.

First and foremost, I want to take it back to the start real quick. Was there a particular time you knew music was the goal?
I was never really sure of myself. But the boys always backed me when I was spitting raps and would tell me I was going somewhere. I was telling my stories through songs, and they felt it. I’m still good friends with them to this day, and they tell me that they’re proud of me. I’ve always admired dope artists coming out and telling stories about their communities, and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. No ones really made it from my area hip-hop wise, so I figured I’d do it and tell the story of blackfellas coming from the Tweed area to provide opportunities for my brothers, sisters, and family. Because to tell you the truth, the only work I saw myself doing was in labour or hospitality, and that wasn’t the go. So it was this music stuff, or it wasn’t, and I had to put 100% in for it to happen. I had to work and provide money for bills, but the rest of my time has been dedicated to making this album and collaborating with artists like Nerve. I’m thrilled that it’s all being recognized and that it’s all paying off.

What was it like rolling out your debut album amidst a pandemic?
It kind of feels like it was god’s plan. Everything worked out well for me because I had a son in June, and I got married at the end of May. When you have a wife and a newborn baby, you have to be there, helping out. If shit kicked off with this album and I had to be away a lot of the time, I think it would have created a barrier between us, and our relationship wouldn’t be as good as it is today. She has my back when it comes to music, and I have her back as well. So everything that’s been going on has allowed me to be there for my family. And while the gigs aren’t rolling through, the love is. The reaction to the album and everyone supporting me has resulted in big numbers and big moves. It’s all been great. And this album meaning something to people is all the gratification I need; the extra love is just on top. I had an elder in my community reach out to tell me that he’s proud of me and that I’m representing the mob from here right. So while this year has been challenging in many ways, it’s been a pretty good one for me.

I love the title Made For This and the hunger it represents. What are the traits that make someone made for this?
It’s all about the passion, man. You can hear it. You can hear that they’re meant to be doing this shit. Many rappers these days are made for the music industry, but the music they’re making isn’t saying much. So it’s difficult to determine. People are blowing up and getting money by not keeping it 100 with themselves and not speaking from the heart. Which I think is the industry in general. You can’t rap about certain things and expect to blow up. Because who’s going to want to listen to confronting shit? Only the real people make that stuff. Some people aren’t honest with themselves, and at the end of the day, that’s cool because you gotta do what you gotta’ do. But sometimes, it has to be more than that. And once you get to that part, you know that this is what you’re meant to do.

You touch on inequality and institutional violence on this project, which are topics the news unjustifiably doesn’t cover, making the album an educational tool like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly or the Roots’ Things Fall Apart. Why do you think music is such a vital device for spreading awareness on these issues?
Music is a voice, man. When you’re speaking for your community, they feel heard. Sometimes, when you feel heard, you don’t feel as helpless. When you think no one’s listening, you think that people don’t give a fuck about you. And when you think no one gives a fuck about you, you don’t give a fuck about yourself. Music has a big part in how I’ve learned to conduct myself. When you look at rappers that spit real shit, you want to stand for something. Rappers hit me up, asking questions about what they should do, feeling inspired, and energised. I tell them if they want to do it, that they shouldn’t worry about what anyone else is thinking, and try to figure out what they want to say. I almost had second thoughts about dropping this album because the issues I cover are things the majority don’t want to talk about. But someone told me to drop that shit because it’s my story, and I’m telling it how it is.

When you tackle these issues, you always provide a sense of hope throughout, especially on tracks like ‘I Am Here (Trust Me)’. How do you find that light at the end of the tunnel?
Sometimes you get stuck where you live; you get stuck in that hopelessness. It gets to the point where you don’t see the beautiful country around you. I’ve been there. I live on the coast in Tweed Heads, which is on the coastal border of Queensland and New South Wales near Coolangatta. So I’ve got the beach. I’ve got the river. I’ve got the bush; it’s beautiful here. But sometimes I don’t see the trees or the beach because I’m struggling with my own shit. I think it’s important to open your eyes and see what you’re blessed with. You’ve got two legs, you’ve got a mum at home, some people don’t even have a mum at home, there’s always someone that has it worse. Finding that light at the end of the tunnel is needed when you’re making music because if you’re taking them on a journey, you want to take them somewhere. You want to uplift people and make sure that the listeners are there with you. If they start the morning with your track, you want to make sure that they’re going to have a good day. You want them to go out and live by that song until something happens, and they listen again to get motivated. Don’t just rap about the problem; talk about the solution, even if you’re not there yet. If it’s over the horizon, it’s only on the other side.

I came across a quote from John Legend on fatherhood, where he says, “It humbles you, and you start to figure out you don’t have all the answers’. Your music feels like a quest for answers. How do you think becoming a father has impacted your music?
Before I had a wife and kid, it was just about who else was rapping. As you know, music is an influence. You see others doing their thing, and it makes you want to do it that same way. You can’t help being influenced by others doing a good job. But when your life starts popping off, not in music, but by becoming a father and husband, there are different traits you have to have and stick by. It makes your whole writing process different. You can’t just be rapping nonsense. Because after dropping a track, you’re going to go home to your wife. I feel blessed to have a beautiful son and a wife that supports me, but I’m still going to make it a point to rap about the problems that need to be fixed and try to relate to the people I was like before all this good stuff started happening. Before this, I didn’t know where to go, and I struggled with an addiction to pot and stuff. People think because it’s pot, it’s all good, but when you’re going to school and smoking in the morning and the evening, it becomes a problem. It fogs your mind. I feel like that shit held me back, and I’m grateful now that I feel free. Having a son at home to care for has had a massive effect on my life and put things in perspective. I have someone at home who needs me. It makes music something so much more significant.

Seeing you thrive as a husband, father, artist, and activist makes people want to get involved and follow the same path. What can people do to contribute to the change needed in this country?
When you want to get involved and do something to effect change, you have to want to. When you do, you have to get on the computer to research these things, so you can find the ways you can help. It’s all there. Everyone has their gift that they can give to this world to assist in the change, but not everyone contributes. The people that are doing things are the ones keeping it alive. The world feels like it’s all about getting yours, and that’s it. You’ve got bills to pay, you’ve got mouths to feed. And when you’re going to work everyday, you get stuck in a rut where you don’t want to help anyone else. For this album to be big, I knew it had to be more about me. Because as it grows, my whole family is going to be looking to it like it’s gospel. We look to the people who are close to us, and we model our actions after them. As a teenager, I was a misfit, but deep inside, I didn’t want to be that. But you have to make do with what you got. And even though my mother and father stuffed up at times, I can see what they did for me in times where they had to.

That comes back to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have to focus on the good things in life, to then tell people about them. Change is a long time coming, and we’re not in the place we used to be. They play my music on the radio; the people back me. But when you see the black deaths in custody and the destruction of sacred sites and historical landmarks in our culture, you think they don’t care about you. That’s where I was coming from on the song ‘Abandon’, where I feel like the government has abandoned their care for us. The injustices are still happening to this day, where I feel like everyone, especially in the government, should know what the right thing to do is. They’re ignorant. I’m not coming at them with hate in my music; I want them to understand and confront themselves. This whole change thing is so complicated and needs to happen in the higher offices. That’s why sometimes it seems easier to go about your everyday life because it feels like there’s not much you can do.

Lastly, what do you have planned for the rest of the year? 
I’ve got a couple of tracks that I’m going to drop soon. Hopefully, we can do an album tour next year in February. Nothing is set in stone; we’re just taking it as it goes. But the aim is to display what I’ve made and connect with people on a whole other level.

Follow JK47 here for more.

Words: Henry Owens
Photography: Joey Bailey