If you saw the Funkoars last time they were in town, Adelaide phenom K21 might look kind of familiar.
“The first time I went to Brisbane was with the Funkoars,” the young producer and MC laughs. “I played as Trials, because he did his neck in and he couldn't play shows for six months. I actually went up there and rhymed Trials' rhymes at a Funkoars set... [K21's next Brisbane show] is going to be a total headfuck for people who were there, because I'm bringing up Trials as well. They'll think Trials has a twin or something.”
He's barely 22 and he's only just released his first album, but K21 already counts some of the biggest names in Australian hip hop as friends. After dropping a guest verse and remixing a bonus track on the Funkoars' last album, 'The Quickening', The Hilltop Hoods turned to him to remix 'Good For Nothing' on their 'Drinking From The Sun' LP. Since then, The Hoods have called him back to work on two more remixes (one of which appeared on the deluxe iTunes edition of the album).
Surely spending so much time with veterans of the local scene is a little intimidating for a relative newcomer? “Definitely,” he admits, “but I've hung with some of those guys for such a long time now that we're just really comfortable around each other. I actually met Trials when I was 16 years old. He used to live a street away from me and a street away from my school. I used to wag school and get drunk with him. I've known the Hoods for about the same time. So they've always just been there, and they're such great guys and really supportive.”
Unsurprisingly, it was the Hoods that got K21 hooked on the local product in the first place. “I was inspired by the American stuff first,” he remembers. “NWA, Eminem... all those big US artists. My older brother was always playing Snoop Dogg's 'Doggystyle'. I always loved those tunes when I was younger; they're the first tunes I remember hearing. I stumbled across Hilltops when I was about 14, 15. I was playing footy and somebody burnt me a disc and said, 'have a listen to this'.
“At first it was like my ears weren't tuned into it. I'd never heard anybody spit in an Australian accent before. But once I listened to it a few more times, it got stuck in my head and I fell in love with it. That's how I discovered the local scene.”
It didn't take long for the local scene to return the favour. Debut album 'Single Minded Civilian', which rocketed to number three on the iTunes hip hop charts on the day of its release, features guest spots from the Funkoars, Vents and Brad Strut, as well as production from Trials, Sesta, Vampts and mdusu (responsible for horn-laden lead single 'Won't Stop'). The roll call says a lot about the raspy MC's collaborative spirit.
“I'm not really looking at the scene competitively,” he says. “I don't think it's a race. Everybody does their own thing in their own way. There are definitely some artists that are more successful than others, and I'm inspired to be as successful as possible and to get my music to as many people as I can. But I definitely think it's a personal thing, as well. That's how I treat my music.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the success of 'Single Minded Civilian' is that K21 has released it independently through his own Greenhouse label, without any help from the majors. “I didn't have a record deal and I really wanted to get the album out as quickly as possible,” he explains, “so I ended up doing it independently. I'm really glad I did, because it's been really successful. I haven't put any money into promo; it's all just been from word of mouth, through Facebook and YouTube and stuff.”
Much of that word of mouth has centred on K21's live show, which he's bringing to The Jubilee in all its glory this month. “The show's going to be packed full of energy,” he promises. “It's going to be rowdy fun! If you haven't heard the music beforehand, that's cool, because I think the live show is my strongest suit. That's the best time to hear it.”
‘Single Minded Civilian’ is out now. K21 plays The Jubilee Hotel on Friday July 13 with Realizm and Trials.