Jack Parow’s success is a prime example of the importance of doing something that you love as a career – even if that means singing rude songs to entertain people. Don’t be fooled by his casual demeanour, though. Behind Parow’s silly jokes lies determination to build his brand. As he told broadcast star Ruda Landman: he works very long hours – pretty much seven days a week, in fact. When you are following your heart, though, work feels like one long party. – JC
By Ruda Landman*
What do you do when an employee cites “to become an Afrikaans rapper” as the reason for his resignation? You tell him he’s crazy, right?
That’s exactly what Jack Parow was told when he was at the cusp of rap superstardom with his viral hit, “Cooler as Ekke”. Jack had his fair share of weird and wonderful day jobs before he handed in a resignation that changed his life forever.
Read the transcript (below) or watch the interview:
Here’s a transcript of the interview:
Ruda: And our guest on the Change Exchange – Jack Parow. I won’t let anyone know what your real name is… [laughs]
Jack: [Laughs] Asseblief… Secret…
Ruda: [laughs] Secret!
Jack: Thanks for having me, I’m really glad to be here. It’s an honour.
Ruda: I’m so glad. This is about the change moments in your life. What did you want to be when you were a little boy?
Jack: Ag, I think I started obviously probably wanting to be like Superman or Flash or something like that, and then I was… I was actually wanted to be… and then I got really into comics and stuff and… I’m still very much into comics. So I wanted to do… but then I thought like South Africa… how can you… like… there wasn’t any comics… so I wanted to become an architect… just something like create different drawings and stuff and then I ended up… actually… ja… not becoming any of those things.
Ruda: How did that happen?
Jack: Ag ja… Then I actually… I appy’d as a mechanic and I did horrible jobs when I was younger… I actually did some of them… I shot a new music video that actually just launched called “Ode to You” where I do some of those jobs, like I worked at a fish factory, which I hated so much that I stopped eating seafood. I don’t eat seafood at all. Because it was so horrible – everything you touch, everything – you don’t even have to touch a fish – if you walk into there you smell like fish straight away…
Ruda: But why did you do that? Simply because you had to earn money?
Jack: Just to earn money. That was my first job. And then I like… I worked in the cemeteries division of the Cape Metropolitan Council, giving people graves and stuff. And then I appy’d as a mechanic for a while, which was pretty fun. And then…
Ruda: Are you into cars?
Jack: Ja I dig cars. I like old cars – like older cars like sixties and seventies cars, like that kind of stuff.
Ruda: What do you drive?
Jack: At the moment I drive an Amarok, actually. Volkswagen. Ze Germans are always the good cars. And then… ag ja…. soos… and then I ended up… actually studied at City Varsity, and studied multi media design…
Ruda: That’s where we’re filming today… so he’s back on his own… old stomping ground…
Jack: Ja. Just much nicer and new stomping ground. Not my old one. Ja, ag… So it’s… I studied multi-media design and then I worked as a graphic designer and stuff for a while and kind of got into that kind of thing, which was really fun, obviously just the creativeness about it and I really enjoyed it a lot and kind of being around creative people and meeting creative people and it inspired me a lot… and ja…
Ruda: And the rapping? Where did that come from?
Jack: Then I always been writing rap music since I was young. I was into it like when I was say about 12 or so. I kind of like started listening to my own music, and my mom bought me, still for Christmas, I can remember, the… like… Moster Hits – like mix of all the different ones and then I… There was a song by Snoop Dog on there called “What’s my name”, and then from there on out I was like into rap music. It was like the only thing I wanted to listen to. I listened to nothing else. I literally only discovered like Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton and all like those legendary stuff when I was like 23, because I did not want to listen to anything but rap music. That was all I listened to. Since I was like 12 till like… I listened to like cool stuff like David Kramer that I got from my mom and stuff and some stuff from my sister, but 99% only rap music. That’s how I got into it.
Ruda: And did you act with it? Did you stand around with it? I’m sure…
Jack: Ja, I… and Snoop Dogg is some incredibly dirty songs. And then my mom would sit and I would be like 13 or 14 and my mom would be like “Kom rap vir die mense, kom rap gou vir die mense”. And then it would be the most disgusting lyrics and my mom would be like “aaaah” and they would laugh and it was so hillarious, this little child rapping like incredibly dirty lyrics. I can’t believe, actually. That’s my mom. She’s crazy [giggles]
Ruda: So when did you switch to Afrikaans and why?
Jack: Ag ja. I actually was in a… I started… So I obviously when you start you rap in English, because that’s what you hear and so I did that. And then I started rapping with a lot of guys from Mitchells Plain and that was like the only people that really like… were doing it. There was no-one else that were doing it…
Ruda: But how did you come across them? I mean this is 20 years ago? There wasn’t much mixing?
Jack: Ag ja I was like… I don’t know my parents… I was mixing. I have always been mixing. I like my friends at school; some of the guys that I was hanging out with were the coloured and the black kids at school as well. Obviously predominantly also because I was listening to rap music and they were the only people that also were listening to the same music as I was. And my parents weren’t really like… My parents are very, like, open minded and they weren’t like anything weird or stuff. So that was how I grew up. So then when I, after school, obviously after school I just wrote and I unfortunately had to go to school… forced by my mom to do horrible things like that…
Ruda: It happens to all of us. [laughs]
Jack: And then after school I came to live with my sister… my sister lived in Cape Town, so I came here. And I lived with her in her flat and then I started meeting all kinds of people because I worked at… as I said… at the graveyard. Like that place – the Cape Metropolitan Council and kind of met people there and started meeting people all around and then at City Varsity studying met some more and more and more. And then I joined like this crew with two friends… the guys that I met, Anthony and Dennis, the first rap crew I was part of, called Family, but Famly without the “i” because there is no “i” in Famly… like horrible… [laughs] and then I did that, and then…
Ruda: What was it like, the first time you stood on a stage and you actually had an audience?
Jack: Ja, it’s crazy. It’s nerve wrecking. I think I was lucky enough that the first time I sat on the stage was like I had an audience of probably about 2. And there was 4 and then there was 10 and then there was 100 then it kind of built up like that. Because I think it’s a nerve wrecking experience. If you have to go like… ‘cause obviously the music scene wasn’t that big back then, like my tjommies like Francois and them did like Fokofpolisiekar and that was kind of like rock was really the happening thing and I was like their friend who did this weird rap stuff. And then, ja… so that’s kind of how it happened. And then… oh… so then I started rapping with all those guys in Mitchells Plain and stuff ec cetera ec cetera (sic) and then they wanted to do this one song, we wanted to do a song called “Hard-headed hobo” where they were the hobos and I was the boer and I said well I can’t rap in English if I’m a boer. I have to be Afrikaans. So I wrote and it was so much fun and I got so into it and it was so quick and it was just like I really love that I ended up completely switching to Afrikaans.
Ruda: Was there a hard-headed business decision behind it, that the Afrikaans market, for South African…
Jack: [interrupts] Zero. No. Nothing at all.
Ruda: You didn’t see it like that?
Jack: I mean then I hadn’t even… I was still playing to like 5 people, so it was never like, like I never, ever, ever, ever in my wildest dreams thought that I would become a rapper one day and make music for a living. It was literally like just because I enjoyed doing it a lot. And I think that was the cool thing about it and that’s how I came where I am. I think in a way, how I got where I am, it’s because I never concentrated on making hits or trying to make music that people will like. I literally just made music for myself that I enjoyed and I liked doing and it never was, I mean, at a stage… I’m dirty now, but I was extremely dirty back in the day. I had the most foulest mouth. And then that – I mean – no-one wanted to listen to that, but I liked it and just kept doing it. And then it kind of like evolved like to where I am now.
Ruda: Was there a moment where you thought this could actually… I could actually earn a living out of this?
Jack: Ag I think it was just… It was a crazy like thing, because I did it for so long, for like… nothing. And then all of a… and then my friends from Heuwels Fantasties, they… I did that “Cooler as Ekke” song, and I played it to them and they said ‘Ah, this is so cool, we must record it’. And we recorded it and then my other friend Duvan, who is like, obviously all are Bellville people helping each other out, and shot the music video for a, we just got all my friends and we kinda shot this thing and put it on the Internet and were like ‘I hope like a 1000 people see it or something and then it just like completely exploded and went crazy. I think it’s on like almost three million hits now for an Afrikaans song. So that was obviously then I started to get people wanting to book me for shows and people wanting to… and that’s kind of it went from… it was zero for very long and then to like a 100 for since well when it came. So it was never like a thing like ‘Oh my god, I think it’s gonna happen now’. It just happened. It was like quite a crazy thing.
Ruda: And what was that experience? From working… allocating graves, you were now doing the one thing you really love?
Jack: It was fun going to work and telling them I am going to stop working now and I am going to be a rapper. A Afrikaans rapper (sic). They thought I was crazy. That was probably my favourite thing…
Jack: … I have ever done in my life. So that was cool and then, ag… it was crazy. I hadn’t even been on a plane or anything. It just all like happened. It was the coolest thing. And I got to see South Africa, a place that I have never seen like I was just like this side of the world and still to me my favourite… obviously I go to… many cool places, but this country is so cool. I love it. I go to like the weirdest little towns where there’s the weirdest people and get to meet like the craziest people, ja.
Ruda: What do you do when you’re in a town for a few days? Do you hang out in the bar late at night and chat to the locals?
Jack: Sometimes, sometimes.
Ruda: And pick up more songs for tomorrow?
Jack: I think I’ve got a problem where I hang out in the bar too long the first night. So if I am there for a few days, the next two or three days would just be spent in my hotel room hiding from everyone I met at the bar the night, the first night. Ag but that’s also unlucky. The one unlucky thing is obviously it is very much an in-and-out thing always. It’s always I get there, I play, party the night, go. The next day to the next place. So… but then, obviously the more you play you start… now I’ve been doing it for five years, so everywhere I go, I’ve been there before and I’ve built up friends and it’s really fun. So it’s always like… cool going there because then I’m like I am going to see them again or we are going to hang out again, so it becomes like pretty rad.
Ruda: People you worked with made a real difference in your life. For a young musician starting out, how important is that? To choose the people you connect?
Jack: Ag I think it’s very important. I think it also, like, categorises you very easily into a certain category. So if you’re doing music with like, say like, someone from the alternative side, then that’s kind of where you are heading to. And if you are gonna do like something with like, whatever, Kurt Darren or that, then that’s the kind of market you’re appealing to. Because people obviously listen to people… like… say, someone does a song with me, then they, people that listen to me will obviously listen to that song. So that’s how you get [inaudible]. It’s very important to kind of like have a structured plan for yourself to where you want to be heading at the end so can like… you can kind of build that road in that direction instead of having too many directions, ja.
Ruda: And did you have that? You had a picture in your head of where you wanted to be?
Jack: Ja, I think I was lucky enough… As well not, I think. Because I’m very loose-headed. I used to be very loose, like I was like just.
Ruda: Loskop is die woord. [laughs]
Jack. Loskop. [laughs] And some… so I was just lucky enough because I come from Bellville and I came from that whole like I was friends with everyone from Fokofpolisiekar, AKing, Heuwels Fantasties ec cetera (sic) like Foto Na Dans and those were like the guys I automatically fell into that group because those were my friends. So that’s, so I luckily I was friends with them and not with any of those other Afrikaans artists.
Ruda: But you’re working with Valiant Swart now, I see?
Ruda: Isn’t he much more… middle-of-the-road?
Jack: No, I think, I mean Valiant and like those guys… people like…
Ruda: He’s prettier…
Ruda: Sorry to say.
Jack: He is very pretty, hey. [laughs]
Jack: Ag I think it’s like him, David Kramer, Koos Kombuis – those people, they like kind of the struggle, very much part of the struggle music. And I mean, you can’t compare… I think Valiant Swart will fall over if someone compares him to someone like… whatever… Snotkop or anything like that. Not to say, I mean I… he’s not my vibe. So I mean it’s each to their own, but for me it’s not really the direction I want to go. I mean I don’t do music… I’ve been asked many times to do music with some of those artists, but I don’t. I just think it’s a… I’ve got my way that I… move.
Ruda: And now, Wynand Myburgh is your manager? How did that come about?
Jack: Yes! I begged him for many, many years and then I finally got famous enough that he said okay cool, he’ll manage me. Ja. He’s the best. Like, I’ve been trying to, he’s really like an amazing, amazing manager and he’s just like, it’s a honour to have him work, to be able to have him manage me, because it’s so cool because we’ve kind of we have an office together and everything and it’s happening. Because I used to have a management agency, which was very cool, but it was based in Jo’burg and I’m based in Cape Town, so it was always a thing, it always took much longer. Now if I want to do something, I decide it now. I go back to the office, and then we jump on it. And there I might phone and they won’t pick up and I forget. It’s like that kind of thing. So it’s really cool to have someone that we are every day in the same place together and he also obviously comes from the music world and he comes from, he’s played every single venue in the country. He’s worked, he’s built a band – same as me – from the ground up and it’s just a… it’s a honour to be able to have him manage me and it’s a honour to kind of have someone like that around and someone who is very business orientated, but also creative at the same time, which is, which is rare to find.
Ruda: You know, what strikes me is that I think many people think that musicians – and especially alternative kind-of musicians – just have this mad life. And you just go from one place to the other and you go mad. And in some way, you earn a living on the side. But it’s a business. You have an office. There is someone who manages it.
Jack: Ja. It’s actually the hardest business… job I ever had. Like, compared to like a normal 9 to 5, my job like literally never stops. It never, ever stops. So shows are obviously amazingly fun, always. But then if you think about that in the morning I have to get up at 06:00 and I have to be at the airport, I have to catch a flight to Jo’burg and I get to Jo’burg and I’m travelling in the car and get to the venue and sound check and then I go and grab something to eat and shower quickly and back and then I have to play the show and then I have to do autographs till like sometimes to 02:00, 03:00 in the morning. I leave and then I have to get up at 06:00 again to catch a flight, ec cetera ec cetera (sic). It’s very tiring. And then, when I get home on Sunday, then I have worked the whole weekend and I get home on Sunday and obviously watch like Carte Blanche and stuff and like cool things like that and then I have to get up on Monday and go 08:00 be at the office and work every day again. So I don’t really get much time off, which is… But I’m not complaining at all! It’s the coolest job, I love it. It’s just like really tiring. I understand why I… luckily I only drink a lot, and don’t do anything else, so that kind of saved me I think. I haven’t burned out yet, because… I can understand why a lot of people burn out. I even stopped smoking cigarettes. I’m like becoming super-healthy, I don’t know why. I’m joking. [giggles]
Jack: I’m Twisping now. [giggles]
Ruda: But it’s also the other thing is you lose your privacy?
Jack: Ag ja, it is… that’s why…
Ruda: You almost run two personalities side by side. There’s the private you with a different name and a family et cetera. And then there’s the public you?
Jack: Ja… ag… I mean it’s just people know who I am and people know who I… Luckily my public persona and my real life persona aren’t really that much different. So it’s not that easy… ag it’s not that difficult. It’s just like… for me… like for me it’s just… I just like the stuff that I put out into the world, that’s the stuff I put out into the world. And the rest of it is my own stuff.
Ruda: But you can never say to someone, ‘don’t bother me now’…
Jack: Ja… ag no.
Ruda: They pay your salary.
Jack: Ja, ag but it’s also like it’s cool. Sometimes it’s heavy, like I just wanna like… move… move… and get like that and that and then you have to stop and take photos. But it’s cool and it’s obviously… like that means that I’m doing something right. If people are still asking me for photos and stuff, that means that people still like me, and at the end of the day the fans are the most important and I know that’s like such a cliché thing to say, but it’s the truth. If you don’t go look after your fans, you’re going to become nothing and people will notice that, ja.
Ruda: Well, we have a tweet from Zackie Achmat, who says you must please blow him a kiss.
Jack: Okay. [blows kiss towards camera and laughs]
Ruda: [laughs] And what about the future? Can you see yourself building this into a permanent career?
Jack: Well, ag, I mean at the moment, I’ve been doing it for 5 years like permanently, so I hope it is already kind of like a permanent thing in a way, but I think music is an intense job. Hopefully I can still do it for a few years, but I don’t think my body will allow me to do it for much longer than that. So at the moment, like, I feel like me and Wynand my manager and I’ve kind of built a cool little team at my office. I’ve got a social guy and we’ve got a kind of girl that handles pretty much everything. And so at the end of the day I would like to build it up to a stage where we can obviously get other artists and build up other artists. Because I think the most people… music has changed immensely. Like, where you used to be able to make good music and you could go out and you and people would hear it and they would love it and they’d buy it and they make money. Like you didn’t even have to tour, like you put out a CD and you could sell 40 to a 100 000 in South Africa copies of it. But that has dropped drastically. And I think the importance of creating a brand around yourself has become like more important almost than… than the music in some cases. Which is obviously, like, pretty sad, but it is like that. People can… there’s people who make horrible music, but they create a brand around themself (sic) and they kind of…
Ruda: Talk to me about Parow-phernalia?
Jack: Ja, that’s my label slash everything I do. Just thought the name was funny so I wanted to do something with it. So I created a company which is pretty much just handles everything. So my label… I put out my own albums, and ja… That’s pretty much what it does. Ja.
Ruda: And what about the relationship with sponsors…
Jack: [interrupts] And also makes it difficult for me to tell because my label… because I always have to spell it because it’s such a difficult. I didn’t think about that beforehand, that was a bad move. Ja. They can’t even spell Parow, most people spell it with two r’s, so Parowphernalia is pretty extreme. Ja. [giggles]
Ruda: Sponsors? How does one build those relationships and what are the pros and the cons?
Jack: Well I mean, I think that the cons are mostly just people are always like… people don’t want to get bombarded by… say I’m sponsored… I’m sponsored by Puma. So and they’ve been looking after me for really long, before I even got famous or anything, they were my sponsors. So… so the thing is now people don’t want me to go and every week or every day say ‘I love Puma, buy Puma’. So that’s the thing. But from my side they support me, a musician from South Africa – I’m not like Jay Z or anything – so I’m not making millions and millions and millions of Rands like… so sponsors are very important for me to keep my career going. And people forget that. People don’t think about that. People think you’re whoring yourself out ec cetera ec cetera ec cetera (sic). But it’s also, always like when people tune you about that, like say I post some stuff on Facebook and stuff and now and then one guy or someone will tune me here or there and I just tell them that. I’m like listen, it’s the only way for me to keep my brand going and to keep doing cool stuff. I need people to be involved in it, and… and that’s like the importance of it, ja.
Ruda: Ja, but you have to maintain that balance.
Jack: You have to balance it out, ja. So that you can… and also…
Ruda: That you don’t bombard your audience.
Jack: Ja. And also it’s like become with Facebook and stuff like that has become very smart about that stuff. So if they see you’re posting a lot of stuff about certain things, they cut you down, so your posts go out to much less people. So it’s become like become even that side… Social has become like… where it used to be so cool, say I’ve got a 170 000 people on Facebook… If I post something it goes to all 170 000. Now, it goes to like 10% of that. So then you have to work out to kind of post like all these mechanics, it’s very interesting. Which I love, we’re kind of figuring it out. We’re figuring like how to go underneath that stuff, but it’s really cool. It’s so interesting. I love that. I love that, ja.
Ruda: What’s like… travelling in Europe and singing in Afrikaans and having a response from the audience?
Jack: Ja, it’s cool, I must say. It’s crazy.
Ruda: How did that happen?
Jack: Once again like that’s the amazing thing about something like the internet. It’s like… say like a few years, not even that long ago, I would have to have gone, I would have to go to say… like Holland. I would have to play a show. Maybe there will be like 20 people and then those will tell and then I would have to build it up like that. And now, I went the first time like… just thanks to like… like… once again “Cooler as Ekke” that blew up… like people saw it from all over the world. I mean, I went to Russia and then there’s like… and it was sold out. I mean… how does that happen? That’s like the crazy things. And Holland as well. I have been touring there for like 5 years now, and it’s always like packed and the response is so, so good. So… and that’s just all thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Webs.
Ruda: I was in America in the Museum of African Art, nogal, on one of the Smithsonians, and there’s a music video by Die Antwoord. “I think you’re freaky but I like you a lot” [laughs]
Jack: Ja I must say they are friends of mine and they blew up big in the States. It’s really rad. And just for doing, it’s so crazy that Afrikaans kind of like just enthralled the world in a way. It’s so cool. And it’s like really rad, because everyone says it’s going to stop. So now I went to Holland again – just now – because I took off two years from international touring for like personal reasons, so then I started touring now again and then I got this… like my previous booker said like… no, he can’t book a tour now, Afrikaans is over. It was only around that time like the World Cup ec cetera ec cetera. So I was like fuck, I now have to do it myself. If you guys don’t want to book me then I will get someone else. And I got this guy and he booked 8 shows and we sold them all out. So it was like ‘Boom! Afrikaans is definitely not over, bra’. And now, I was there, and I got booked for 3 shows, I’ve been back two months and I’m back again next week so… I’m just happy to be able to… It’s like… it’s like for me it’s like cool making music and it’s fun to get to travel but it’s also for me very important to show people how cool Afrikaans is, because I mean there’s idiot’s, like I’m not gonna name names, but you guys know. Musicians that are racist and horrible and fucking like red fr [inaudible] I don’t even know the stuff that they do, like absolutely joke musicians.
Ruda: We will not go there today.
Jack: I’m really proud of being like an ambassador for Afrikaans in the… in the across the world, and that people that e-mail me from all over that actually like from Russia to Holland to Germany to America to ec cetera ec cetera… Canada I got last week… People that are learning Afrikaans to kind of learn… so that they can understand what I say.
Ruda: So what will you say to keep people and there are people who say that Afrikaans is a dying language?
Jack: Ag, I think to those people, and people have said that to me in my face, and I said well then I’ll just… if they say it’s dying, then they can like stop speaking it and I’ll take it and then it’s mine. So it’s officially mine, I decided. I’m the official King of Afrikaans [giggle]
Ruda: [laughs] Advice for youngsters who want to go into this music world?
Jack: Ag, I think the most… the heaviest… the best advice I can give them always is like it’s a long and hard road. And I think people that kind of try and push it too soon, they won’t make it because it is like any job it is something… it is a job… like any art form rather… it is something that you learn. You can’t just pick up your pen and be an amazing artist straight away. Same with music. You can’t write a song and it must be the best song ever written, already. And I think a lot of people don’t know that. Say like, say, The Beatles. They played in a little small bar for ten years before they got big, and it’s all of that. And I think if you can stick with it and you can push it and you keep to it then, once you blow up, it’s totally worth it. Sometimes you don’t, luckily sometimes you do. It’s a gamble, but it’s fun.
Ruda: But perhaps keep a day job while you’re building it up?
Jack: True, true. Yes, that is very important. Just keep it for a while and then you can also quit and say you’re gonna become a rapper and they can laugh at you. And then you can laugh at them. That’s the funnest thing. People that used to think I was crazy, now ask me to be in ads and shit. And I’m like ‘ja, fuck you all’. Don’t worry. Cool. [laughs]
Ruda: [laughs] Thanks so much. And all of the best.
Jack: Thank you for having me. It was really fun.
This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform byBrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.