GRAFH (noun) 1. slang. A personís own signature or handwriting.
2. Ill emcee from Queens, NY.
Amid a bidding war is the last place Queens-bred Grafh expected to be, but in late 2002, thatís exactly where he was. With one foot in the streets and the other in the rap game, Grafh's raps and reputation flooded the streets at the onset of the millennium. Soon his freestyles appeared on every major mixtape and reached the offices of Black Hand Entertainment Ė a Queens based label operated by family friend Chaz Williams. It didnít take long for the rest of the world to catch up as Grafh found himself in XXL and The Source magazines. So by 2002, it should have been no surprise that the likes of Epic (a Sony Music division), Def Jam and Warner Brothers all wanted a piece of him.
In the end, Grafh signed with Epic while simultaneously serving as President of A&R at Black Hand Entertainment. His debut album, Autografh is scheduled for release May 25th.
In the midst of a radio promo tour, Chronic caught up with Grafh for a two-part interview.
Chronicmagazine.com: For your thousandth time now, talk about your entry into the game.
Grafh: Really just doing the mixtape circuit. The streets run this shit. I just reached out to everyone and created a big buzz in New York City. My first tape was Kay Slay. When that came out, everyone wanted a freestyle from me. After that, the majors got in a big-ass bidding war Ė Sony, Capital, Warner Brothers, Def Jam, everybody.
Chronicmagazine.com: Your first tape was with Slay? You didnít start out doing any local tapes?
Grafh: Oh yeah. I did local, public access shows. I battled n*ggas; all that shit. I was just getting it in. Even in the beginning, I thought it was a dream to be here. I didnít think it was going to really happen.
Chronicmagazine.com: So when did you first realize that it was really going to happen?
Grafh: It was more times than one that I thought it was really going to happen and it didnít. Probably during the bidding war between the labels is when I knew it was real. I knew it was going down. I had the upper hand. I had a choice to sign with whoever I wanted to. I knew it was real then.
Chronicmagazine.com: Why Epic?
Grafh: Sony was talking that talk. They gave the right budget, the right money. They had the right focus. They understood what I was doing. A lot of labels donít really understand the street shit; the hip-hop market. They donít really understand how to connect to n*ggas in the hood. They canít reach them. Theyíre corporate people. Theyíre in the office all day. They donít know how to reach them so they allow us to reach them.
Chronicmagazine.com: How much politicing did you have to do to get on these records?
Grafh: I had to do a lot. N*ggas front. They donít want to let in the game for whatever reason. They rather you be affiliated with someone or cliqued up with someone whoís on. Like Cassidy has Swizz or Fabolous got Clue. You have to be somewhere or with someone so it doesnít feel like a favor. I donít know what they think. They donít really try to break new acts. I just think theyíre on some other bullshit. They need to give new n*ggas a chance. Thatís the first thing I [did] was give new n*ggas a chance. On my whole album, all the producers are new n*ggas. Iíve got new rappers. I want to invite new blood to the game. They keep it stagnant. They keep the old people in circulation. They donít let new n*ggas in. Not all of them are like that. Some people keep it real with you. A lot of n*ggas kept it real with me in the beginning. Some werenít that receptive, but when you get hot everyoneís on the bandwagon. When you get hot, everyone fucks with you.
Chronicmagazine.com: Are you afraid that youíll lose some of your control on this major?
Grafh: No. The average artist thinks about crossover and conforming. I ainít doing that shit. I ainít crossing over to mainstream. Iíll make mainstream crossover to me. Iíll do the same shit Iíve been doing. I ainít going to change it. For what? I was in a big-ass bidding war doing what I do on mixtapes. Why not give the whole world that same shit? Iím not going to change my formula. Theyíll just have to get used to what I do.
Chronicmagazine.com: Are they game for it?
Grafh: Yeah. Theyíre game for it. Iíve got a new record out called ďI Donít CareĒ and itís starting to spin everywhere. Thatís why weíre working the radio to make the shit as crazy as possible. Itís also on the NFL Street video game. They loved it. They felt the mood of the song fit the game. So shit is poppiní off. Everyone is being real receptive. Iím just happy.
Chronicmagazine.com: How much new material is on the album?
Grafh: The whole thing. Iíve made so many records. It was hard to even complete the album because I had so much hot shit. I couldnít fit all the shit on one CD. I wanted to put out a double album, but the label didnít want to hear that for a new artist. They donít want to spend that kind of money, but Iíve got that much to say.
Chronicmagazine.com: How many tracks do you think youíve done in total?
Grafh: Probably about 3 or 4 albums worth.
Chronicmagazine.com: Do you ever run out of things to say?
Grafh: Hell no. I have a lot to say. I surprise myself. Growing up was difficult. There was a lot of pain and suffering so I always have something to get off my chest. Thatís what I use my music for. As a kid, I was only expressing anger. With music, I get to touch on everything.
Chronicmagazine.com: Why do you think so many people feel what youíre doing?
Grafh: My shit is real. I donít do that super thug bullshit that n*ggas do Ė flippiní bricks and talking about shit Iíve never seen. My shit is real basic and realistic. Itís just basic, everyday hood shit. You hear it in my voice. Iím dead-ass serious. I want people to feel what Iím saying. I donít have anything to lie about, nothing to hide. I want yíall to know everything. Thatís what Iím here for. My life is now under a magnifying glass so Iím going to give it to you. You donít have to go searching in the tabloids looking for shit. Iím going to give it to you.
Read Part II of Grafh's interview HERE