JK-47 has a mission with his music: “I’m just trying to leave something bigger than myself behind.”
The rapper born Jacob Paulson isn’t in hip-hop for fame or glory. He wants to make Australia a fairer place, to spread positive messages and build a better future for his infant son. His bars tackle the big issues, shining a light on what needs to change. But with every line he writes, JK-47 interrogates his lyrics to make sure what he’s putting out there is for the greater good. Because as he puts: “Words have power”.
He’s not interested in rapping about the irrelevant. “A lot of artists kind of do the dance, get props and get paid to do it as well. But they ain’t spreading that right message,” he told Macario De Souza on Red Bull’s Behind the Bars podcast. “There’s actual real problems going on, there’s stuff that needs to be talked about.”
His own path into rap started as a teenager -- but it wasn’t the original plan. “Before I wanted to be a rapper I was trying to go to uni. But then I found out that system isn’t really built for people like me,” he explains. “So I stopped that and dove into the bars, dove into my raps and started working on myself as an artist.”
JK-47 first made his mark on the Nerve collaboration ‘Sunday Roast’ back in 2019. In September of the following year he delivered his debut album, Made For This. Then he kicked off 2021 by delivering a powerful cover of Tupac’s ‘Changes’ for triple j’s Like A Version, rewriting the lyrics to reflect the realities of life in Australia as a young Indigenous man.
Now, JK has reached another milestone, stepping up for Red Bull’s 64 Bars series, which you can watch below. Then to hear more about JK-47’s mission statement, read on for a snippet of his conversation with Macario De Souza. You can hear the full Behind the Bars interview next week.
JK-47 Red Bull 64 Bars
JK-47 -- where does that name come from? I assume it’s [likening] the speed at which you rap to an AK47?
Yeah ... It’s because ‘I spit dis shit so quickly / you better be with me / and don’t try to get ahead of me’. It’s that type of steeze.
But now I know that it have a different meaning, because there’s so many different things that can affect your thinking in a negative way. Mental health is a big problem in every country and every community -- you need a weapon and you need ammunition to defend your mind and yourself against the things that have a negative affect on your life and your thinking.
So that's what my music is: ammunition. It’s a weapon. To defend yourself against that bad thinking, bad way of living. I’m trying to have a positive effect.
That's what my music is: ammunition. It’s a weapon.
For those who have no idea, talk us through your story, where you were raised, how you got into music.
I was born in South Australia but my Pop’s Country and my Dad’s Country has always been in Bundjalung nation -- Northern NSW, on the coast there. I started rapping when I was 14. I always loved hip-hop since the flip phones; grew up on the 2000s rappers like Lil Wayne, The Game, 50 Cent and all that. They had a big influence.
But as I grew older I evolved and learnt lessons in my life. Then looking at the stuff that they would say, I realised that they were telling a different story to where I’m at. I caught myself out when I was younger trying to rap like them, but we don’t live that similar lifestyle. But the pain and the passion that they had when they got on the mic is something that I really related to and tried to keep when I stepped to the mic.
And stuff has happened in my life that had an affect on my message and the way I talk. My family wasn’t all that put together. So now I have a son, it puts stuff in perspective for me. I wanna make music that he can listen to and that will guide him the right way and not lead him astray.
I know that there’s little fellas looking up to me in my community. Where I’m from, it’s not the worst community, there’s stuff there. But sometimes you can’t see that there’s help there, and there’s all these programs and stuff around that say they will help you, but you get home and you feel hopeless. You feel like no one’s really there.
So no where I’m at right now, I just wanna make music and build up the funds to actually make a change in my community and do something that’s bigger than just me.
Have you had some hard times growing up?
Yeah, for sure. Everyone has their own perception of what pain and what a hard life is. That’s why I can’t look at another person and be like ‘they don’t know my pain’. No, everyone knows pain. Everyone knows hardship. Even if it's a little white kid going through his parents’ divorce, that might be little to me, but that’s big to him.
So I look at my life and my upbringing and I’m thankful because my Dad, he did a lot of things to me and my family; done us this way and that way. But I’m thankful because that’s where I draw the line and I know that I never wanna be like that. He showed me what I don’t wanna be. And now I’m gonna be what I do wanna be.
But I don’t show hate, I don’t show resentment, because that just holds me back from who I’m supposed to be. I’ve just got to walk and love in forgiveness and empathy.
What have you got planned for the next 12 months?
I’ve got a lot of shows coming up. But I’ve got to raise my son -- that’s gotta be the first thing on my mind. I gotta keep a level head, keep grounded, because stuff is picking up and people are saying ‘you should be proud of yourself’. But I don’t feel proud, I feel humble. More and more people wanna come up to me and say ‘you did this all yourself’ but I’ve gotta fight them, and fight my own thinking, because I didn’t do it all myself.
So if people are putting all the praise on me, it’s like nah -- it’s you, it’s the listener, it’s the people, that’s what it’s all really about. It’s about God, it’s about the people who back me, the producers, the people that believed in me and give me the platform. Give [the praise] to them people, don’t give it to me. I’m just a cog trying to spin and do my job.
Everyone’s got a gift they’re trying to contribute to this world, to this earth, to everyone. I just encourage other people to find the gift that you have and embrace it and use it to have a positive effect on other people in your life.