In Talks with BBC Rap Game Champion and Leeds Frontrunner Graft!

Mixtape Madness Bloggers

By Mixtape Madness Bloggers

Mixtape Madness Bloggers

12 Jul 2021

Hailing from Leeds, 22-year-old ex-footballer turned artist Graft sure has been living up to his name. He’s been honing his craft behind the scenes almost a year on from being crowned champion by South London legends Krept and Konan, earning the winner’s title of BBC Three’s The Rap Game. Back with a bang and ready to fly the flag for his city, his new chapter comes in the form of a relentlessly energetic, unapologetic new drill infused-jazz single, courtesy of Play Dirty Records.

Sealed with the stamp of approval from some of the UK scenes OG’s including Wretch 32, Ghetts, 1xtra’s Kenny Allstar and others, Graft’s sonic composition was inspired by the contrasting melting pot of neo-soul and old school HipHop flooding through his family home in North Leeds. Growing up on Giggs, Beenie Man and Wiley, Graft started penning his bars at the ripe age of 14, and although he played ball at Leeds United, his true calling was the pen after all. Evident from his more introspective recount of struggles, Chapters, to up-beat summer bangers like ‘You Know What,’ he displays wordplay and lyrical ability beyond his years.  Graft has been in the pipeline for years, appearing on a Charlie Sloth Fire in the Streets, and looking fresh faced on a JDZ media spitting over an old school grime beat. Unafraid to experiment with sounds and progressing from grime style flows to drill-esque beats, the self-made rapper is fulfilling Complex’s prediction of being “One to Watch for 2021.”

Graft’s new single released on Play Dirty Records “You Know What” showcases his ability to manoeuvre his style and grow alongside the UK scene, putting his unique spin on a ruthless drill-beat with a combination of profound bars. Having already shared the stage with commendable faces from the UK scene, from the likes of Tion Wayne, Wiley, he’s here to let people know he is not messing about, whilst representing a city seldom included in UK rap conversations.

The accompanying video to his winners single, out 9th July, was directed by none other than Kevin Hudson, the brains behind NSG’s videos. Unable to file him next to any artist in the scene right now, his patois switch ups and slick delivery place him outside the box. His mission to maintain his authenticity and represent his city as an independent artist position him as a seriously promising prospect for UK music, with potential to be chilling with the elites of the UK scene.

The last time we spoke we had no clue we’d have had another lockdown! So nice to be in contact with you again! How’s life been since our chat with Notion?     

Life has been eventful in a very good way. Loads of new opportunities like. Collaborating with brands, TV ads, presenting, networking with new producers outside of Leeds. The opportunities have been endless and its testament to myself getting them without releasing any music. I feel blessed in that way, it’s been really good.

You entered the game at the ripe age of 16. Walk me through how you fell in love with music and why you made it your career.

I’ve been writing lyrics since I was 14! I fell in love with music when I was around my family. My uncles used to play reggae, lovers rock, then my other uncle would play neo-soul, my mum would play RnB. And because I had all of these influences around me musically, I grew up loving music, all these different genres. Introductions to different genres meant me being around my friends, I was listening to grime, garage, US hip hop – all of that. I’m just being introduced to everything.

So, what was your first experience with UK Rap?

Probably early high school listening to Giggs, Let Em Have it, Walk in the Park, Benny Banks, Tiiny Boost, Youngs Tef. I fell in love with it at a young age.

How would you describe your sound to those who’ve never heard your bars and tunes?

You can’t put me in a box!

I knew you were gonna say that!

One week you might hear one type of song, next week it’ll be different. But one thing that runs consistent is live instruments and jazz – that’s the kind of music that resonates with me.

For those less familiar with you Krept and Konan crowned you the winner of BBC Three’s the Rap game a year ago! I recently watched your reaction video from the highlights of TRG. How do you feel watching those moments back, and what have you reflected on since the show?

The main thing is my journey from then to now. Seeing how my life has changed now. The music I’m making. It’s been amazing. Even if I didn’t win, I still think I’d be doing very well, but winning was the right path I’m meant to be on.

Talking of Krept and Konan, your long-awaited single with Play Dirty is finally out! You told me the single is all about kicking down the doors that were slammed in your face. Talk to me more about the track.

It’s a banger. The idea behind it was to be myself, something hard hitting, showcase Leeds in the music video. Give people an insight into my style, my flow, my flavour. Raaa! Hard-hitting, in your face, new, fresh, fun.

Obviously the sound of the UK at the moment is very much drill dominated – there’s some good stuff, there’s some shit stuff. Your track uses a drill beat but the lyrics aren’t your usual drill lyrics! Talk to me about this.

When I was growing up, I used to do a lot of grime. When we were growing up it was grime, but now its drill. I feel like drill is the new grime in the sense that the youngsters like it – its 140BPM, its gritty. I find it easy as it’s the same tempo, same style – I can adapt well to it.

Was the Play Dirty single you got off the back of The Rap Game a test of your authenticity?

Raa. That’s a sick question Em. I’ll tell you why. After I won the Rap Game I was speaking to my friends and I was like – I wanna make a club banger!

Oh, like Skepta Rolex Sweep – hahah!

Yeahh! Literally. I felt pressured to live up to the label expectation and of people as well. But I went away, spoke to my friends and they were like bruv – fix up. Stay true to yourself.

Your mission is to set an example for Leeds city, and the visuals to You Know What feature not only Leeds landmarks like Elland Road, but even some local legends too. Do you feel like the odds are stacked against you from being from up north?

It’s a blessing, because it’s not as saturated creatively in Leeds compared to London. Numbers wise! Not many people have broken through from Leeds, people from Leeds want that! They want someone to represent them. It gives me a different type of driving force behind me. Nuff people behind me wanting me to get there. The music video is a representation of my upbringing and how I view Leeds – one of the main reasons why I did that, is cause I was in London with a producer and I showed him the draft version of You Know What. He was like – banger. But he said you need to do a video showcasing your vision of Leeds. I wanna be one of the greatest artists out of Leeds.

It’s gone full circle cause in my video I’m back in Elland Road, where I used to play! I’ve been presenting on BBC Match of the Day X, which I’ve loved, and this sick football magazine that looks after apprentice footballers, LFE.

By the age of 21 you’ve already achieved so much and yet you’ve grown so much too. What’s it like being so young in an industry and society that exerts so much pressure to make it by 25?

I don’t care. I’m a human so it affects me like everybody else, but I don’t focus on it. I feel like know what I’m doing with my life, I know what I want to achieve, and whenever that comes it comes. I’m not pressuring myself to be a millionaire or have a house or car by 25. Allowing my journey to unfold and enjoying it is better than having these time limits. I know my time will come.

Right – looking forward. Who are you looking to have feature on your tracks?

Every time I think of this, I can’t think of anyone.

Okay who’s your dream feature?

Oh – Chip, Dave, Potter, Wretch 32, Ghetts.

Oh my god. Graft x Wretch 32 – I wanna see that. Last question. When do you feel like you have officially made it?

Moving away from the materialistic stuff, I will feel like I’ve made it when universally people know who I am. If I’ve inspired them, helped them, changed the way they may view things, inspiring the next generation. For me to be viewed that way, because I know I am that person, that would be it.

Words by Emily Olivia | Stream “You Know What” here.