For Nokz, Music Is A Family Affair

The Brisbane rapper talks family, changing his perspective on music, and his latest campaign with JD Sports.

Male artist sits on bench wearing a hoodie, looking at camera

Image via JD Sports 

Male artist sits on bench wearing a hoodie, looking at camera

Whether it was following in his brother’s footsteps by beginning to record music, signing with his longtime friend’s Lisi's record label, or changing his style so that his family could enjoy his songs, for Brisbane rapper Nokz, music has always been about family.

Coming from Forest Lake, Brisbane, a place that he describes as "pretty rundown," Nokz and his brothers—one of whom is rapper Amu Tha MC—did their best to avoid the well-known traps that kids from marginalized backgrounds often fall into. Luckily, a music program made its way to Nokz’s school when he was 16, altering his path for the better. “Thank god we made the decisions we made back then,” he said to Complex AU. In his own words, getting a chance to make music in a studio as a teenager kept him away from trouble, even if he was stealing lines from Jay-Z.

That music program sowed a seed that wouldn’t bear fruit until 2020, when he decided to pursue music seriously and ended up recording what went on to become his breakout single, “Warm Up.” He would later go on to sign with Castille Records, the label started by childhood friend and fellow Brisbane rapper, Lisi. He also became a father around that time, which strengthened his resolve to pursue music. “When you become a parent, you want to do anything to give your child a better life,” said Nokz.

In the four years since his fateful decision to pursue music seriously, Nokz has released a string of successful singles. While 2023 was a quieter year, 2024 marks a fierce return that’ll be filled with “bangers only,” as well as a string of other projects outside of music. One of those projects is starring in JD Sports’ latest New Balance campaign. In an interview with Complex Australia, Nokz discusses his latest JD x New Balance campaign, Brisbane’s rap scene, and the recurring theme in his work—family.

When did you start experimenting with music? How did that journey start?

When I was 16, I started recording music at the local youth centre, just hearing my voice on a mic and stuff like that—having some fun with it. But I didn't really start taking music seriously until about 2020. That was when we went into a proper studio session and really got to see what it was all about. So yeah, it was kind of two journeys, I guess? But yeah, professionally it was only in 2020. I think that those kinds of youth programs that kind of let you go crazy with what you wanna do are good. We just experimented and had fun with it—stole some lines from Jay-Z and stuff [laughs].

You’ve said previously that the place you’re from in Brisbane wasn’t the best place to grow up and that there were some traps you could’ve fallen into, but didn’t. Was it a conscious decision on your part to avoid those things? 

I'm not exactly sure how the quote goes, but it’s something like “Smart people learn from their own mistakes, and wise people learn from others.” I think I watched a lot of people, a lot of very talented people, people that I would say were even more talented than me, go down the wrong roads. But I think it was me who was smart about observing and learning from other people's mistakes.

Sticking with Brisbane, the Brisbane hip-hop scene has some established rappers like Nerve, Day1, and Lisi, but Brisbane rappers are still underrepresented in the Australian scene as a whole. What are your thoughts on the Brisbane scene right now?

Man, I love the scene here, but in terms of comparison to other states, I don't think we're there just yet. But there's so much hidden talent over here. The culture in Brisbane is very small, and [the sound] isn’t as popular as it is in Sydney and Melbourne just yet. I think we’ve still got a long way to go in terms of people wanting to mess with [the music], but it’s definitely on the come-up.

Who are you a fan of at the moment? Whose music in the Australian scene are you really enjoying?

Anyone, man. But at the moment, obviously, some of the bigger artists. I still have a Brisbane bias so I still mess with Lisi and Nerve heavy, and we got this young guy named Sharkey that's coming up out of our area as well. From Sydney, I love A.Girl. But I'm a fan of everyone, man. It's hard for me to pick just one.

Being a dad, I'm wondering if becoming a father changed your perspective not only on life, but also on music?

I think when you become a father or you become a parent, you want to do anything that will give your kid a better life, or give them more than what you were given. So for me, I just looked at the drawing board and I was like, “What am I good at that I can make money off?” And it was music. I saw OneFour doing their thing, and I saw Lisi and Hefs doing their thing. And I thought, “You know what? I'm just as good, so I'm going to give it a go.” And I’m really happy with how it’s turned out. So yeah, it’s definitely changed my perspective and given me more drive.

Your brother is Amu Tha MC. What’s it like having someone you're so close to be on their own music journey?

Yeah, it's been awesome. My brother, he's the man. I don't know how to put it into any other words—but he's the man. I'm so happy for the success he's having and it's been awesome to just have someone who’s close who can be brutally honest with me, but who I can also lean on. It’s important to have people around like that, and I’m lucky that it’s my brother. So yeah, it’s a blessing. Praying for more wins for both of us this year.

So, by the time this is live, your campaign with JD Sports and New Balance will be out in the world. What was it like working with JD and New Balance?

It’s been a great experience working with them both. They approached us late last year about jumping on board. I love New Balance as a brand and I love working with JD, so it just worked perfectly. They got my brother in the campaign too, so it’s just been a dream come true for my brother and me.

You said in another interview that you had an epiphany about your music some time ago. There was this moment where you looked at it differently and thought about the messages you were putting in songs, and felt that they weren’t the most positive. Where did that epiphany come from?

I think I was just listening to some of my favorite artists like Chris Brown to Michael Jackson and all that, and songs from like 30 years ago, and was like, “This is awesome.” And then I listened to mine and was like, “What the fuck?” You know what I mean? What good is that?

In 10 years my kids are gonna grow up and listen to this stuff.  And you know, I want my mum to listen to my music, and at the time she couldn't because there was just too much violence and stuff. So I just thought to myself, from now on I'm gonna put out music that I'll want not only my kids to listen to, but that [my family] can listen to—my aunties and uncles who support me and are in their 60s. I want them to hear all my music and not have to turn it down every time a swear word comes on.

When you do stuff like that, obviously you take a hit, sometimes labels don't want you. But for me, I want my music to be remembered.

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