“It’s crazy to sit down & just think about what we’re doing sometimes.”
He can battle with the best of them, but there’s one battle that 21-year-old MC Jack Johnson won’t grapple with: the idea that a white kid from Omaha, Nebraska has no business in hip-hop. In fact, he’ll be the first to tell you about his suburban upbringing. “When I was young, it was either what’s on the radio, or my parents playing Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin,” he explains. His mom even monitored his iPod to ensure that its contents were free of explicit lyrics.
But fortunately, Jack’s older brother didn’t have the same restrictions. “I remember sneaking into his room after he went to bed,” he remembers. “I’d grab his iPod, pop in my headphones and be alone in my room after everyone was asleep trying to memorize Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself.’”
A few years later, a school-issued laptop transformed Jack’s musical tastes. “I found this website called livemixtapes.com and realized there was hip-hop outside of what was on the radio,” he says. “I started discovering old-school hip-hop, the more lyrically-driven stuff.” Inspired, Jack wrote his own raps from time to time, but it would take years to gain the confidence to actually share his passion with others. “Being this little white kid, I didn’t think anybody would take me seriously,” he says. “I thought everyone would just laugh at me. It’s already tough enough not to get made fun of in school. I didn’t want to put any extra ammunition into the bullies’ holsters.”
However, while on a field trip during his junior year of high school, Jack heard students from other towns talking about Vine, a new social media platform where users could share six-second videos. When he returned home, he and his best friend, Jack Gilinsky, started posting funny videos, and began growing a loyal fan base.
And since they both loved music, it didn’t take long for them to post their first musical Vine, a cover of “Dive In” by Trey Songz. “It was me beatboxing and playing piano, and Jack G singing,” he remembers. “Trey followed me on Twitter, DM-ed me his number, and quoted my tweet with the 100 emoji. We were like, ‘What the hell!? Imagine if we made a whole song!’”
Three months later, the high school seniors did just that and in January of 2014, Jack and Jack released their first iTunes single, “Distance.” Recorded in a closet, the piano-driven track shot to #7 on the Hip-Hop charts. Since then, they’ve sold over a million singles, and completed multiple world tours. “It’s crazy to sit down and just think about what we’re doing sometimes,” says Jack J.
And the two best friends haven’t changed one bit. Okay, well maybe one thing about Jack has changed. “I look back at myself two years ago, how I dressed as a senior in high school and I cringe at every photo,” he smiles. “People think when you dress differently, that means you’ve changed. I’m just stylin’ now, that’s all!” And tonight, instead of rapping alone in his Omaha bedroom while the rest of his family sleeps, Jack Johnson will be celebrating his birthday in Mexico, with millions of fans sending their love from all over the world.
Photographer: Joe Magnani
Story by: Colleen Broomall
Hair: Matilde Campos
Grooming: Joseph Adivari
Styling: Robiat Balogun (Look 1 – Jacket: Zara, Shirt: Ames Bros, Shoes: American Apparel. Look 2 – Shirt: American Apparel)