As one of the most lyrical, and innovative artists coming up in hip-hop right now, Grafh has a lot to prove. Although heâ€™s been putting it down for years, album pushbacks have led him to be deemed a mixtape artist by many, and a one hit wonder by others. With his debut release Autografh set to drop in Summer 2007, and a leak of the album flooding the Internet already, however, heads are already starting to turn. Backed by one of the strongest independent unitâ€™s nationwide, Black Hand, Grafh is ready to take over hip-hop in 2007.
â€œonly I could tell my story. Itâ€™s called Autografh. No one else can tell my story but me.â€
Format: Whatâ€™s your label situation right now? Youâ€™re obviously still rolling with Black Hand, but besides that, whatâ€™s the deal?
Grafh: Well, in general, itâ€™s always Black Hand first and foremost. Basically right now we independent, and we kind of competing with the majors, but we create so many innovative ways to market ourselves and compete with those higher powers that be. Thatâ€™s what it is, we strong enough doing our own, so thatâ€™s how we doing it. Even though the majors are hollering at us every damn day.
Format: What happened with DDMG?
Grafh: Nothing really, Dame Dash is a good friend of ours, shout out to Dame, he definitely extended those connects to us and we do whatever we can for him, but that was more like a friend and a business partner rather than a label. We actually had a film deal with him and were gonna put out a Pro-ked sneaker as opposed to our music situation. I was never on DDMG, it was always Black Hand.
Format: Are you considering any major labels?
Grafh: We listening to them talk. We gonna let them fight over each other till they kill themselves. They talking good, we gonna let em keep doinâ€™ that. Basically, right now we about the strongest independent in the street. We do everything in house, we got our own producers, our own photographers, our own clothing line, our own engineers, everything man, we do everything in house, own rap vans in the street. Dudes think that we have a million dollars behind us from a major; we have our own money and our own power. Basically everything is self contained; we the strongest self contained unit out here especially in New York City. So we donâ€™t really need them, all I would prefer to have is their marketing dollars, but in terms of there know how and say so, we donâ€™t need any of that. We understand exactly what we doing, we understand the nature of the business and the climate. And itâ€™s all finances right now, we listening to them, but we doinâ€™ the damn thing right now man. Black Hand we stand firm on the street.
â€œIf I walk in the room and smack the biggest dude you see, everybody gonna look at me, but if I come in there and be a nice guy, you wonâ€™t even remember me.â€
Format: So far in your career, youâ€™ve been marketed, or at least perceived by many people, as a mixtape artist. How do you manage being placed in that category, and needing to drop so much material, without over-saturating yourself?
Grafh: Well, I donâ€™t like that title persay, but that is the only way they can judge me, thatâ€™s the only format that I have. Itâ€™s either mixtapes or radio or TV. Iâ€™m not all over radio yet and I wasnâ€™t all over TV as crazy as Iâ€™m gonna be when I release the next single, so, thatâ€™s the only way they can judge me, and thatâ€™s the only form that I have, so thatâ€™s cool that they feel that way, that I do run the street. We definitely take pride in our stance in the street, so itâ€™s a good thing. And I always keep on putting out music, I never feel it will be oversaturated because itâ€™s so versatile and so different; itâ€™s so fresh and new to the ears, and people always want it. But thatâ€™s the main reason why I donâ€™t put out 1000 mixtapes back to back. I give them one, I let it live, another one, let it live, because I like for people to enjoy the music to its fullest. I consider it like a treat man, my flowâ€™s so different and fresh to the ear, itâ€™s like a treat compared to what you get, I donâ€™t want nobody to ever get used to that.
Format: You just leaked Autografh. Why did you decide to make the album available for download?
Grafh: Well itâ€™s not the whole entire album, but I did release some selected tracks off the Autografh release because I wanted people to understand what I do, and how introspective I get and how serious the caliber of the music I make is. A lot of people donâ€™t know. Itâ€™s like you said, some people think, oh heâ€™s a mixtape artist, or they may have heard â€œMySpace Jumpoff,â€ but they donâ€™t understand Grafh as a person, so I said let me give them this record. Itâ€™s like hustlinâ€™ to me man; if you hustling on the block, if you donâ€™t give out no samples, the fiends wont come to you. Or itâ€™s like if I was a chef in New York City; Iâ€™m the best chef in the world, if I donâ€™t give out samples of my food, ainâ€™t nobody gonna know Iâ€™m the best chef except for me. I had to spoon feed them with a couple of courses, a couple of meals.
â€œmixtape projects in the past is really just me talking to the street. On Autografh Iâ€™m really talking to the whole entire worldâ€
Format: It doesnâ€™t seem like the album got a lot of promotion outside of the leak. What else are you doing to promote the album?
Grafh: Right now, putting it on the web was the best thing for me. The Internet is the storefront to the world. Itâ€™s spreading like wildfire online, everybodyâ€™s passing it around, itâ€™s all over Limewire; itâ€™s all over the internet. I think thatâ€™s the best way to really get exposure for an artist such as myself is to go to the web. I mean the internet is so strong, even when I did the â€œMySpace Jumpoffâ€ record. I did that record really just for the people on MySpace at first, but I used it as a marketing tool to really break into the mainstream market and tap into the Internet consumer. I mean on MySpace alone there are over 150 million potential consumers and people that enjoy themselves online, so I said let me tap into this market. When I made this record I made it as a marketing tool to get in there and actually compete with the majors, because they have all the marketing dollars and we donâ€™t; that was just me outsmarting them being creative. And that song grew so fast online and spread so fast organically, that the shit blew up in like a week man, to the point where MTV called me, put me on the DirectFX show. I said my MySpace page on there and talked about the record and then it went even crazier, then I shot the video and MTV added the video right away, and thatâ€™s all online, thatâ€™s just from my online presence, so me creating that avenue online got me a video rotated on MTV. I was just like, let me really take heed to the power of the web and when the Autografh album leaked online, it took over online. Right now the buzz is crazy. Every website wants an interview, every artist wants a feature, every fan or supporter I have, as well as new ones, are talking about the record and spreading it with their friends and family. Especially as an artist, I just wanna be heard, so itâ€™s a beautiful thing man. We just gonna use online and really saturate the web with the Autografh sampler.
â€œItâ€™s like hustlinâ€™ to me man; if you hustling on the block, if you donâ€™t give out no samples, the fiends wont come to you.â€
Format: How, if at all, did you approach Autografh differently from the mixtape projects youâ€™ve been involved in?
Grafh: Well, mixtape projects in the past is really just me talking to the street. On Autografh Iâ€™m really talking to the whole entire world as opposed to just the street and itâ€™s really just my life. I really honed in on who I am and put it on paper, so itâ€™s specific to Grafh. Itâ€™s really my feelings on the game. It describes who I am. If you didnâ€™t understand it before, youâ€™ll understand me now. Iâ€™m explaining who I am in detail, I paint vivid pictures through the music. With a mixtape, I might just be showing off my talent and showcasing skill and showing you that Iâ€™m better that every rapper you ever heard.
Format: Autografh has been in the making for a long time. With so much material collected for the album, how did you decide what to use?
Grafh: It all comes down to sequencing and what songs tell the story best, so it wasnâ€™t really hard to do. These songs state what I wanted to say, so it wasnâ€™t hard to pick the tracks for it. It ainâ€™t just about having hot records, itâ€™s about being a complete unit, it has to feel like a story, it has to feel like a book with chapters. You could have a thousand great chapters but only a few are gonna make a good book.
Format: There has been some criticism that youâ€™ve simplified your flow in recent years. How do you respond to comments like that?
Grafh: I had to simplify it a little bit on some joints because I was tired of going over peoples heads. Only the true Grafh fans only really understand what I do when I get complex, the rest of the people just be like â€œwhat?â€ And it sucks going over everybodyâ€™s head. So it was like, let me spoon feed you so you can catch up. I didnâ€™t water it down, but I did make it easier to understand for those who donâ€™t get it, because who wants to be misunderstood all the time.
â€œDudes think that we have a million dollars behind us from a major; we have our own money and our own power.â€
Format: On â€œHell Yeahâ€ off of Autografh, you open with the line â€œGod only notices me when I do something real filthy.â€ What do you mean by that?
Grafh: I mean itâ€™s true. When you commit what they would consider a sin, you get noticed. I said â€œGod only notices me when I do something real filthy, then he get mad cuz I donâ€™t feel guilty.â€ And its true man, I do what I gotta do to survive. To me it doesnâ€™t matter, I have no conscience, I do me. I gotta feed a family; I donâ€™t give a fuck how. I mean the good guys donâ€™t really win man, itâ€™s just the kind of world we live in. You get noticed when you step on people. Not saying that thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m doing, but thatâ€™s the truth. If I walk in the room and smack the biggest dude you see, everybody gonna look at me, but if I come in there and be a nice guy, you wonâ€™t even remember me.
Format: What made you go with all new producers on the album?
Grafh: I like to bring a new sound to the game. I really was striving for that. I need something new, something fresh. And I always reach out to them producers, like send me the track, Iâ€™m definitely gonna air it out, Iâ€™m gonna make something new and fresh on it. I always strive for the new fresh sound man, period.
Format: A Grafh beat does have a unique sound to it. Can you describe that vibe at all?
Grafh: I would say different. I like to approach music from a soulful point of view. If I want to make a kind of record, I need a beat that allows me to express how I feel, so itâ€™s gotta be kinda soulful, so it can draw that type of energy out of me. And I like a lot of space on the track cuz to me the voice is an instrument. A lot of dudes forget that and they may overproduce and put so many sounds in the beat and they leave no space for the voice. So a lot of times youâ€™ll find a beat thatâ€™s empty enough to have space for my voice because the voice is an instrument, itâ€™s just as important as a snare and a kick and anything else. So youâ€™ll often find that there will be space and there will be a feeling and a mode for the music before I even put my vocals on it.
Format: Autografh doesnâ€™t have many features either. What was the reasoning behind that?
Grafh: Cuz only I could tell my story. Itâ€™s called Autografh. No one else can tell my story but me.
More Info: http://www.grafh.com