WORDS AND INTERVIEW BY BEN FREEMAN
The Leeds music scene has been taken to previously unseen heights in the past couple of years. The music our city produces continues to grow and gain the appreciation and respect of grime and hip-hop fans from across the country.
As one of the most thriving young artists that Leeds has to boast, Graft certainly has a prosperous career ahead of him. Having already appeared on Charlie Sloth’s official youtube channel with his ‘Fire in the Streets’, and given that his most recent hit, ‘Man Like’, has amassed almost 40,000 youtube hits in little over a month, it’s no longer a question of ‘if’ the local musician will blow – it’s a question of ‘when’.
It isn’t only music fans with the name Graft on the tips of their tongues. The young artist has also caught the attention of grime veteran Wretch 32 (hit the vid below to check out what he had to say!). Wretch is one of the best selling and most highly regarded British rap artists of our generation, so for him to name drop Jovanni in a recent interview only highlights the potential the Leeds resident has.
I was lucky enough to speak with him about his inspirations, his artistry, and the direction he hopes music will take him…
firstly, for anyone unaware, who are you? Introduce yourself.
Hi everyone, nice to meet you. I’m a footballer/ rapper from Leeds and I go by the name of ‘Graft’, but you can call me Jovanni, I prefer that.
Musically, who are your inspirations?
Ermm, I’d have to say Nas, Potter Payper, Youngs Teflon and Skepta. One of my reasons for why I picked those artists is because they’re REAL. But also, their music gets to me and really makes me think. I like that in music and that’s something I try to create through my own. As well as, I’ve been listening to these artists for a good few years now and I’ve stuck by them, which proves although time has gone on, the quality in their music hasn’t changed.
When did you begin to take music seriously and why?
I started to take music seriously in January 2015. I was at Yefe’s house with a few friends (a close friend of mine who’s also a rapper) and we were all listening to music whilst Yefe was spraying bars.
I started writing bars in 2014 and hardly anyone knew, but during my time in high school, for some reason, Yefe always used to ask to hear what bars are I’ve got for him. It made no sense to me because I was keeping it on a low! I tell you, them Rasta’s
are powerful people. So after months of Yefe pestering to hear my bars, it came to that evening at his house where I just thought, you know what, let the mandem hear. So I recorded a track there which I wrote at the start of 2014 about a girl I fancied, called – ‘Time Is Of The Essence’ and from that moment the rest was history! Solely because of their reaction. They couldn’t believe it! They all gassed me up so much I had to at least make a few more tunes…
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Well, as an artist I’d describe myself as a very versatile one. Although a lot of people know me as a Grime MC, the first bars I ever wrote were to a hip hop beat. I continued to only write to hip hop beats until July 2015, where I did my second freestyle to a grime beat. For ages I thought I couldn’t write to grime instrumentals until then, but because of that freestyle, I started to write to more fast paced beats more often. I enjoy listening to various genres of music, such as: Reggae, Jazz, Gospel and Soulful. I try to implement the vibe I like which I get from them into my own music.
Also, as an artist, I try to give people who listen to my music something real and with substance. In this day and age, many rappers try to influence young listeners with false, negative lyrics. What I set out to do when I first became an artist, was to always remain true to myself and whoever listens to what I’m putting out there, but also, implement more positive and thoughtful lyrics into my local music scene. Especially as no one my age was doing that.
What’s your favourite track or freestyle or any piece of music basically that you’ve worked on?
My favourite track that I’ve worked on so far has to be ‘Man Like’. Finding the beat in my bedroom was a madness. Hearing the bass in my speakers go straight through my chest told me I had to write to it. I love that old skool grime/garage vibe because that’s a genre of music I grew up around. I was in my element.
I wrote the whole tune in about 2-3 hours and once I got into the studio that’s all I wanted to record. During my time in the studio recording that was sick because it was my first proper grime tune. Hearing the recorded version sounded so grimey! So I was very happy with what I produced.
Also, the video shoot for the track was live! A lot of people came out to support me and make the video look as good as it did, so love to everyone involved in that. It took a whole day to shoot it all but the most memorable moment I’ll take from that was blocking off the whole main road! The road was full of people bopping and shouting to my tune whilst cars waited until we were done. That was mad! Proper ghetto settings on Chap road.
If you could pick one musician to work with, who it be and why?
Hmm, for me, I’d have to say Jay Z In the 90’s era where he released the album “Reasonable Doubt”. I’ve listened to that entire album hundreds of times and each time I listen to it I realise the complexity of his lyrics time after time. I’m young but I have an old mind and if I’m honest with you, I prefer music like that to anything now. To me, it seemed like Jay Z had his art crafted to perfection and with that album he changed the game. Considering there was so much hip hop music coming out of New York; Nas, Mobb Deep etc. Just listening to that album defines how great the music scene was in that era.
what’s been your proudest musical achievement thus far?
I’d have to say performing in Leeds at Leeds University Union on the same night as Big Tobz & Blittz, Tion Wayne and Mist. It was sick meeting a few of them because they were very humble and down to earth people. Also, because I listen to their music and watch their video’s, being able to meet them and talk to them on a normal basis makes you remember that they’re all human. That’s something we as people tend to forget because we see them on the Internet, but that’s the power of social media today. We can save that discussion for another time.
What can we expect from Graft in the future?
What you can expect from me in the future, music wise, is very good music you can relate to which lasts forever. Music with purpose and meaning. Also, to see me on your television as a professional footballer in the Premier League. That’s my real dream. What you can also expect from me is to continue to mash up the music scene! It’s that plain and simple. Keep looking out for me and my team Phantom because there will be a lot coming from myself, Yefe, Notez, Luca and K Dee. Keep supporting us all, because without you, there’s no us.
Thank you for taking your time out to read my interview, I hope you enjoyed it.
So there you have it. Special shout out to Jovanni, of course, for making this possible. Be sure to check the links and share. Keep supporting people!