Selected by: Emily Roney

Name: Graft

Where He’s From: Leeds

Genre: Grime/UK Rap

File Next To: Bugzy Malone, Aitch, Stormzy, Krept, Potter Payper

When He Started: 2015

Sounds Like: “I don’t know! I don’t know anyone who sounds like me. I’d say Kendrick, though [laughs].”

First Music That Inspired Him: “First song was Ghetts, ‘Sing For Me’. I used to watch a lot of Channel U, Channel AKA. Sky 385 it used to be on—I remember! But mostly my parents’ music—soul, old-school hip-hop, neo-soul and lover’s rock.”

Graft’s accented flow cuts through noise in the scene like a knife through soft butter. You may recognise the Leeds-born MC from his appearance on BBC Three’s The Rap Game UK last year; impressing judges with his pen and clarity on the mic, Graft’s finale freestyle led BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Kenny Allstar to wheel it up with no hesitation. But even before earning the winner’s title, the 22-year-old ex-footballer had been patiently honing his craft. Standing as a spokesperson for a generation that, more often than not, quantify success in yellow Selfridges bags over authenticity, his lyrics narrate critique of materialistic clout chasers and flexing for strangers. Now he’s back with his winner’s single, courtesy of Krept & Konan’s Play Dirty Records, and a clean-sheet of industry accolades. “I think I’d still be doing very well if I didn’t win [The Rap Game UK], but I feel it was all meant to be and part of my journey,” he tells TRENCH.

Graft’s journey on the show runs parallel to his personal one, one of perseverance and unwavering self-belief. Writing bars at the dinner table in his childhood home at the age of 14, Graft’s Jamaican and Kittitian heritage supplied him a musical melting-pot of neo-soul, ‘90s hip hop, lover’s rock and reggae. “I wrote my first song when I was 14,” he says. “It was called ‘Time Is Of The Essence’ and was about a girl I was crushing on in school.” As he welcomed in his early teenage years circa 2014, moving and shaking under the alias Killa G (his Xbox live tag), the playlists on his iPod consisted solely of classic grime riddims. “I was a grime kid,” he says. “The way the kids love drill now, that was me with grime.” This set the tone for his first appearances on JDZ Media and SBTV.

Graft’s debut EP, All Sorts, released in 2017, was exactly that—a pic ‘n’ mix project rejecting genre classification, jumping from Sheffield-style bassline beats to patois-switch ups in dancehall and bashment tracks, showcasing his versatility. Graft’s score sheet previous to his Rap Game win is a clean one, boasting commendable achievements such as winning the 2018 MOBO Unsung Award and sharing stages with the likes of Wiley and Tion Wayne. On his new single, “You Know What”, Graft blends the conflicting binaries of his soulful inspirations and auditory introductions to grime and rap, marrying up nostalgic trumpet-soaked melodies and Chicago-drill beats. Almost swayed by the chart topping, but quickly forgotten commercial sound, he tells us his boys were the ones who brought him back to reality in staying true to his own sound with the track.

Blissfully unfazed by the pressures that seemingly come with the game, Graft is unafraid to wander off-piste from a scene where virality can overshadow talent. All he wants, from now on, is for people to see him how he sees himself. Representing Leeds, a city seldom mentioned in most music conversations, he sets the precedent for how a West Yorkshire twang can kick the door down, becoming an inspiration for many grime and UK rap hopefuls who live far beyond the M25.

TRENCH Highlight...

Posted on July 29, 2021