Back in 2002, the mixtape scene was rapidly launching little-known New York City rappers into the forefront of the hip-hop game. Names such as 50 Cent and Joe Budden were dominating the streets with various freestyles while making bootlegs by the likes of Kay Slay and DJ Clue must-haves. One MC whose name appeared alongside 50 on many of these releases was Jamaica, Queens native Grafh, but unlike his fellow Q-borough chart-topper, Grafh’s debut album has yet to see a street date.
While his buzz rang heavy through the five boroughs, Grafh’s exposure had been limited to endless mixtapes due to inevitable label drama. 2003 saw his future flirt with potential success, with his signing to Sony/Epic in preparation for his official long-player, AutoGrafh. Unfortunately, his story’s pages continued to turn for the worse, as problems with Sony led to further delay for his album.
Possessing unique talent backed by confidence and focus, Grafh continued to cement his Blackhand family’s name into the minds of listeners with a stream of independently issued music. Now in 2004, Grafh’s career is at its most exciting point, as he and Blackhand have inked a deal with Roc-A-Fella Records. With Dame Dash and The Roc cosigning, Grafh is ready to finally capitalize on his hype and prove to the world that he has next.
AllHipHop.com: You’ve been on the grind for awhile, with little help behind you. So how does it feel to be a part of the Roc-A-Fella family right now?
Grafh: It feels good, man. It feels good to have a strong label behind me that feels what I’m trying to do. It feels good to have somebody behind you that feels the music and sees the vision, because at Sony they couldn’t see what I was trying to do. They don’t understand my kind of music. I tried to bring somebody a record that’s different and that nobody has done before. It might seem like the future and it might set a trend, and they can’t see and understand it. To them, it’s not hot because they are only used to what they have heard before.
AllHipHop.com: How did this deal between Blackhand and Roc-A-Fella come about exactly?
Grafh: At first, we had a film deal at Roc-A-Fella, and we have a movie coming out called Inside Out, that should be out by the end of next year. So we had that already. They felt the music over there and understood the vision, and they actually wanted to do the deal before Sony but they had so many artists to put out first that it wouldn’t have been the best move at the time. Plus, I was in a big bidding war at that point, so I was just feeling out everybody. Sony won the bidding war because they were talking that million dollar talk. They made it seem like they were gonna do what they were supposed to do, but they don’t know how to do rap. Sony is history now. So Roc-A-Fella came out through the history they have with Blackhand. I’m the president of Blackhand, but the CEO is my man Chaz and he had a relationship with Dame Dash. We did the movie deal, and after that it just led into the music.
AllHipHop.com: You touched on this a little already, but why do you think Sony wasn’t able to handle your project?
Grafh: I think they will never break a rap act at Sony unless the artist is on some real sweet shit. I’m not B2K, you know, they don’t know how to market me. It’s not like my music is mad underground. I do shit for the hood. I make big records, and I have hit songs that they just couldn’t seem to market. A lot of the records I brought to them they couldn’t understand cuz I don’t bring you what you have heard before. They were looking for records that sounded like what was on the radio already. I’m innovative and I do new shit, and you have to get with me or just forget it. I’m never gonna bring you a record that sounds like somebody else’s. That isn’t gonna happen. I’m not gonna bring you some B2K-sounding sweet shit cuz I don’t do that. A lot of labels don’t understand that you have to market the artist, not just the record. You can’t just sell people a record, because people buy artists. You can have a hit, but nobody knows who the artist is, and that’s why niggas don’t sell. People just like the song but they don’t know who the fuck made the record.
AllHipHop.com: So what’s going to happen to the AutoGrafh album you recorded for Sony?
Grafh: The album is still gonna be called AutoGrafh. I made so many records that I have like three albums, man. I’m just weeding through the songs and making sure everything goes together. When I recorded the album, the theme was just me, my life, my struggles, and my introduction to the world. Every song is basically from the same point of view. It’s going to be a cohesive album where everything makes sense. So what I’m gonna do now is weed through the songs I got, and keep making more records with the Roc-A-Fella producers. The album that Sony has, they can keep that shit. I don’t need it. “Bang Out” and all that, they can keep it. It’s in the streets already and niggas love it.
AllHipHop.com: Can we expect any collaborations with the Roc-A-Fella artists to prepare for the album release?
Grafh: Yeah, we definitely gonna do some things. I don’t know what yet. Kanye West is my man, and I got mad joints that I did with him before he even blew up. Two of them are on my mixtape out now, The Oracle, the songs “Damage Is Done” and “We Ridin’”. I like Beanie Sigel, and I did something with Juelz Santana already. I’m working, not just with Roc-A-Fella. Me and Jadakiss is gonna do something, and I’m on Lil Flip’s album. Me and Bun B from UGK got music, and me and Stat Quo did like three joints. I’ve done some shit with Shyne. With the Roc, I know it’s gonna happen and radio is gonna love me. I’m gonna make the radio one big-ass mixtape. It’s a wrap, man, and when I signed the deal I just started laughing. I already know what’s about to happen. People are dick riders, and they wait for people to cosign on someone. Now that Dame is fucking with Grafh, people are gonna want to listen. I do have a lot of fans that are die-hards and love my music, though. Now, I get the mainstream’s ear, with the video and all of that. I’m gonna be in your face, and the world has to deal with me now.
AllHiphop.com: When do you expect the official album to hit the streets?
Grafh: It’s ready now, but it won’t drop until probably the beginning of 2005. I don’t want to drop yet, I want to have this country buzzing. I’m gonna put so much heat out on the streets, that people will be waiting on the single. I’m gonna make them sick.
AllHipHop.com: Roc-A-Fella albums like ODB’s, Cam’ron’s, and M.O.P.’s have been delayed heavily. Is that something that concerns you at all with AutoGrafh?
Grafh: I don’t concern myself with no other artist. I’m gonna make sure that everybody around the country is so hyped about the album that it will have to be released. I want to be in demand. A lot of the time artists choose to push their album back, so I don’t know what it happening with those albums. At one point I even told Sony to push my shit back cuz I wanted more heat. I want to be highly anticipated, and if I’m not then that means something went wrong. There will be so much heat on the streets that niggas will want to know what Grafh can do with an album.
AllHipHop.com: What bigger plans do you have for Blackhand now that Roc-A-Fella is behind it?
Grafh: I want to take the company to the top, man. I want to make niggas feel like it is Blackhand or it’s nothing. Roll with us or get rolled over. We doing a lot of big things, like the movies coming out. It’s a movement by itself, and we are like 10,000 deep throughout the country. That’s why I call it “Blackhand America”. Me and Bush are gonna have to go 50/50 on this country. The five fingers of Blackhand rep the five regions of this country. It was originally founded in the federal prison system back in like 1975, by all of the strong street dudes while locked up, and when they went home to their parts of the country they took Blackhand with them. It’s not just your average rap label, it’s a real movement. It’s older than I am.
AllHipHop.com: The Green Lantern hosted Oracle mixtape is making heavy noise on the streets right now, so do you have any upcoming mixtapes that people should look out for?
Grafh: We have one that Dame Dash is gonna host, and Big Mike has one with me hosting. DJ Splif and DJ Blue Steel have one with me, and Kay Slay has one coming out with me and Stat Quo, from Shady/Aftermath. Stat is a real nigga, man. He came to my crib and we did those joints. Right now, my buzz is so crazy that everybody wants to do a fucking tape. I’m gonna be on the covers of all types of magazines, so I’m gonna be doing a lot of tapes. So only God knows what is coming out next.
AllHipHop.com: What’s up with the My Name Grafh Y’all DVD that you have coming out?
Grafh: Yes sir, that’s definitely coming out. Smack DVD is putting that out, a special edition with me and Blackhand. It’s really done already, but I want some more footage out of this Roc-A-Fella deal. Everybody’s on there. I got P. Diddy, Scarface, Jadakiss, you know, all big dogs shouting out Grafh.
AllHipHop.com: For all of the people that are still sleeping on Grafh, or aren’t aware yet of what you are bringing to this rap game, what do you want to say?
Grafh: Man I just want to be heard. I just want you to listen, and hopefully you can feel some of the struggles that I’ve been through. These kids look up rappers like father figures, cuz most urban kids don’t have role models in their lives. Rappers dictate how niggas act on the streets. Like a kid would be damned if they disappoint Jay-Z or Jadakiss, you feel me? I’m not trying to be a role model, I’m just trying to express myself and hope that people can learn from the negative and benefit from the positive. I got a lot of pain in my heart. Growing up, my first role model was an O.G. from the hood, who got his brains blown out in front of me. Then the same happened to my father when he came back into my life. I try and put all of that into my music. You don’t have to be from the hood to relate to me, because I don’t know anybody that’s happy. If you are as fucked up as I am then hopefully you can relate to what I say, and hopefully my music can get you through your day. So, my main concern is for people to listen and for my stuff to be heard, cuz it’s real music.