Leeds Rapper Graft on new single ‘You Know What’ and showcasing his hometown

Graft is a jack of all trades and since I last spoke to him in March, he’s only got busier. It’s been “very hectic,” he says. Alongside music, there’s been TV opportunities, presenting, brand partnerships and an elusive, not-to-be-spoiled TV advert. You can tell he’s excited, and rightly so. Having not released any music since March, this interest from brands is encouraging, with Graft saying “I feel like, when the music comes, even more is gonna open up.”

 This doesn’t come without its struggles, of course, as such a rapid change in lifestyle is intense. He opens up, confessing: “If I’m being deadly honest, I feel very overwhelmed, stressed a lot of the time,” but he says, “I’m doing as much as I can to manage it all and, obviously, I’m going through all of this for a reason so I know things are gonna get better.”

His hard work is certainly about to pay off as Graft is finally releasing his single ‘You Know What’. This single, coming out under Krept and Konan’s record label, is the prize for winning Rap Game 2020 and is highly anticipated by many in the scene. He’s ‘gassed’ of course: “I’m so happy. The single has been long-awaited, highly-anticipated and the reason for that is because I’ve put so much work and time and effort into it. I’ve really created an amazing single, a great video. You’re gonna see why it’s taken a long time because you can’t rush greatness. I’m excited to share it with the world.” Seeing someone so animated about their work is a joy and this anticipation reflects just how much music means to Graft. 

This single, he reveals, is a step away from his usual Grime, but Graft explains that that was a younger style, influenced by the music he listened to a lot at the time. “I’ll love Grime until I’m dead,” he smirks, “but the music that I’m making now has shifted away from grime because that was a younger and different side”. With a huge smile on his face, Graft describes the upcoming single as ‘Jazz-infused Drill’. There’s live instrumentation but with ‘the drill slides, the 808s, the drops, the effects’; you can tell just by looking at him, Graft is beyond excited, this single means a lot, even more so because it was inspired by two of his closest friends. 

Graft reveals his mindset when he first won the Rap Game: “I was kind of letting the whole idea of being signed to a label get to my head in terms of my creative process and what I thought would be best to make.” But his friends redirected him, encouraging him to make music that spoke to him and was true to his vision, to make music that he really wanted to make. Only a couple of days after this conversation, ‘You Know What’ was underway.

Lockdown hasn’t hindered his creative process either, with Graft reflecting it’s been exactly the same as before the pandemic. “Obviously it’s stopped a lot, in terms of live performances,” he explains, “but in terms of recording, things are the same.” His outlook has stayed the same as well, with Graft stating that “it’s just a matter of adapting the vision to the current times”. He’s focused on staying true to himself and fusing his authentic style with current sounds. Graft reveals he made between four to six demos between December and May and was in no rush to release the single, taking time to ensure the end product was right. 

Being signed with Play Dirty hasn’t altered the process either, as Graft kept creative control over the single and worked independent of Krept and Konan for most of the process. That being said the iconic rap duo were updated with demos throughout the production. “They’ve defo had their input, their opinion, which is good to see what they think and now it’s come to the final result they’re like, ‘this is good, this is the one Graft’’’. Their support clearly means a lot as the rapper has a classic Graft smile painted over his face, and it is obvious that the encouragement of rappers such as Krept and Konan does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. 

It’s not only the single that has got our attention, however, as Graft revels in the music video, saying “making [it] was levels”. Following the intensity of lockdowns, the opportunity to perform outside was really special for Graft as he “felt like [he] was free”. The rapper makes it clear that he was in his element while making the video as he enthuses about bringing together all sorts of people who have worked with him or supported him over the years, including Rap Game 2019 contestant F.O.S..

“For the music video,” he states, “I just wanted as many people in the video that I’ve worked with, that I’m close with, that have been a part of my journey, to be in the music video because it’s really big for myself and for the city”. The video is also a homage to his hometown and features key Leeds locations including Chapel Allerton, Chapeltown, the city centre, Kirkgate Market, and, of course, Elland Road. “If I can be one of the many who are coming through from Leeds then I’m gonna showcase the city,” he states with pride.

After the release, Graft has plans for more singles and freestyles, with a potential project on the horizon for 2022. This approach is strategic, of course. Graft wants to build momentum and show people what he’s got to offer, so that when bigger things come out “people are [already] on board”. He’d also love to work with a live band, saying “I can’t put myself in a box. I just think the live instrumentation in songs is beautiful, it adds a different element to the song, a different layer, it relates to more people. To me, that’s proper music – instrument, feeling.”

My final question – ‘what’s your song of the summer?’ –  has, of course, an obvious answer: “my song”. He justifies himself however, saying ‘it’s got such a creative and catchy hook, there’s so many different dynamics and layers to the songs, there’s a lot of variation. I’m really showcasing myself, my Caribbean heritage, my grimey flows, drill flows also, and a lot of well thought out word play. I’m just very deliberate with what I’ve done. I’ve matched my lyrics with different parts of the music video, and I just think when people see it, they’re just gonna be like ‘You Know What, that’s my summer tune’.”

Graft’s single, You Know What, will be released on all platforms on 8th July, with the music video following on the 9th via GRM Daily.

Image Credits: BBC, Twitter