Graft aka Jovanni Sterling, is one of Leeds most exciting up and coming MCs and someone who already holds an impressive resume of achievements dating before his time as a rapper. Spending two years at Leeds United football academy, Graft made the brave switch to pursue music and started releasing expressive music mixed with impressive bars about his early struggles and life experiences at aged 16. By 2018 he was on stage with his now mentors Krept and Konan, collecting the MOBO for unsung artist.
Jump forward a few years and Graft is back on our screens for Season 2 of Rap Game UK. The show where Krept and Konan, DJ Target and a whole host of proven artists search for the UKs newest and most talented lyricist. With the first season proving to be a great success the opportunity presented to the 6 competitors; Graft, Zones, Shogun, Ddroid, Leshia and Micah was certainly a life changing one. Only one of them could win the record deal at the end of the competition, but who was it? [Spoiler Alert]
We caught up with Graft to reflect on his time on the show and discuss life after Rap Game.
You and the other contestants had all been doing music before the show so what was the competition like behind the scenes? Was it friendly competition? Were you comparing accolades/streams? Or did you all let the music do the talking?
For me the relationship between us all was very very good, everyone got on and was very supportive. We were all riding for each other as you can see from some of the later challenges everyone was gassing up the performances. It was good energy.
Me as a person I don’t really engage in all the bosting. A few of them were talking their numbers and whatnots but I just let the music do the talking. The rapping spoke for itself. Overall everyone got on. We were all hungry to win.
For me, one of the best parts of the show is seeing the opportunity for young artists to live the lifestyle of a rapper. What was the adjustment like moving from your home to a penthouse and living with your competition?
You know what’s mad, I’ve never lived with 5 other individuals that I didn’t know anything about so that was hard as it was. But on top of that, were all artist trying to win this competition, everyone got their own different egos so it made it mad difficult at times.
Who was difficult to live with?
I’d say the hardest people to live with in there, for me, were Shogun or Ddroid. And the reason I say shogun is because shogun snored and I shared a room with him. And Ddroid his energy is infections but sometimes in the morning its very loud.
And on top of that having cameras in your face 24⁄7?
Coming straight from Leeds into Brum my transition was very quick so I went into the show in 2 weeks where as others had months to prepare. And when all the cameras were there it was very insightful as they are around you 24⁄7! And that was a real change. At times, it was quite difficult because some things never felt as natural as you wanted to. But it was a great experience because as an artist that’s the life I’m going to live so it was a good learning curve. A lot of us were walking on egg shells as we didn’t know what the opinion of the viewers were going to be so we were sometimes cautions of what we said.
So, the first challenge arrives. You’re in front of Krept and Konan and DJ target and they ask you to preform your 16 bars acapella. Was that really the first time meeting them in person? Were you ready for that first challenge?
That was the first time I met them in person and actually spoke to them. I met them at a MOBO after party but never spoke to them. I felt overly prepared for the first challenge, I was up all night making sure I had it. But when it came to that environment I let the nerves get the best of me, I was still adjusting to how best I should prepare. We had the night if that to memorise the lyrics, come to a new city with all the cameras, it was a of pressure. I was still finding my feet.
People probably remember the first challenge for Konan calling you out about the pressure being new to you, but the second challenge is where I was really worried for you. After flopping in the first two challenges and being bottom of the leader board where was your head at? And what did you do behind the scenes to bring it back?
So obviously me messing up was new for me and also an eye open. Konan has a funny but laid-back persona and he’s very honest with you. So, when he said that it stuck with me and I used it a driving force to show them who I am and step up my game. Ep 1 I was very down, frustrated, I was pissed, so I was speaking to my family and Girlfriend and even the others like Shogun asking how they remember their lyrics because usually I was fine with that. But obviously in the whole environment I realised I was taking on more than I’m used to. I was actually speaking to people from season 1 as well. I was just finding any way to step my game up because I was lost. Speaking to people close to me and trying to learn what was wrong.
Do you think the clash was where the tables turned for you and we started to see the real Graft?
I felt like when I showed everybody who I was in the first challenge on episode 2 the duo. That was an introduction to me and my artistry and that gave me even more confidence to bring that same level of performance to each challenge. The first challenge was going so well vibing with Leshia but the clash element is a side to me I thrive on and I put myself to the test in be in that combated state against someone else. So, my mentality was I going to destroy you and take your head off. And I said that. That was the first-time people were like shit! Graft is showing what he’s here to do. I made sure I was going one step ahead and won.
I also have to ask, did Leshia have a word with you after about the violation? She seemed to take it well on the show.
With Leshia she took it on the chin in the moment but in the penthouse, she was very reserved. It was a lot to take in as her first proper clash so I understand where she is coming from and why it was tough. In all fairness, she took it like a champ but the first few days after were quiet. After that our relationship got stronger
Which challenge did you enjoy the most and at any point did you think this is my competition to win?
From the clash that is when I felt that this is mine to win. Very early on. And the reason why is because I believe in myself. I never went to progress and learn from my experience, I went to get all of that and WIN! And that’s why from episode two I was this is the real me man and watch what I keep bringing, so from that point on I thought I’d win.
The orchestra challenge bro that was levels. And the Kenny Allstar one as well I really liked that.
One thing I’m keen to find out is when meeting all these established rappers throughout the competition, were you able to chat to them off screen and get some good advice about your career?
Because of the Covid regulations it was a bit difficult speaking with all the artists so there was only a few I got to speak to. That was when I was able to ask questions, pick their brains and get some advice cus at the end of the day they are where I want to be. I had some really good chats with wretch 32, JME, Aitch and Kenny. I had no clue they were gunna be on their, we would always guess before the challenge but always get it wrong
Have you kept in touch with the other contestants and do you think any possible collabs could happen?
Yeah, we are all connected on social media etc. I can confirm that 100% collabs will be happening.
MAN, LIKE GRAFT! If you haven’t watched series 2 of the Rap Game it is defiantly worth a watch. So many twists and turns that we didn’t cover and it also give you a greater insight into what Graft and the other contestants stand for and portray their own messages through their music.
Season 3 of the show is expected to start filming this year and we cannot wait to dive back in and go through the emotions yet again. Graft has kept busy since winning the show and record deal so we found out more about his lifestyle, inspirations and upcoming music.
Since rap game has finished, how has your daily life been different? Can you still walk down the street without being stopped?
I think the only difference is the more people know about me. Which is great because more eyes are on me. When I’m walking around Leeds people stop me and wanna talk about Rap Game etc. Which is nice because everyone is showing love. I get heart-warming dms saying I’ve inspired them.
You won the single deal with play dirty records, when can we expect to hear that and do you feel a type of pressure to really deliver on that song?
The singles coming out sooner than you think man. I’ve been working on loads of music cus I don’t want to drop this single and have no follow up. On top of that I’ve been working on my own sound because I want to run with a certain sound for a while where people listen and recognise its Graft. The plans more important than the single right now.
Have any big musicians / celebrities reached out to you since winning the show?
Yeah nuff big artists have reached out to me and connected with me. A lot of artists that I grew up listing to are seeing me now and it’s a really humbling feeling.
Let’s say you’re making your album, if you could choose any 5 artists to feature on it who would you pick?
J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Santan Dave, Potter Payper, Nas
Your message is very positive and that’s one of the things I really enjoy about your music, are you looking to inspired a whole new wave of UK rap as much of it nowadays is very violent etc?
I feel like I’m just coming into this scene and being my true self and real to what I stand for and put out music and a message that resonates with me. That’s what I want to put into my music. If that’s gunna inspire a new wave of music then so be it. But I just want to make music that’s true to me. Hopefully I inspire younger artist to be themselves.
I’m sure you now want to be recognised for your talent rather than Rap game, how you looking to create your own identity now?
My identity before rap game was already created bro. I’ve been putting in work before Rap Game for years. All you have to do is check my backlog, it’s all there. For me now I’m just transforming myself as an artist. I just need to put out quality music and keep showing the world who I am.
What is the end goal for you as an artist?
I wanna be one of, if not the top artist in the Uk. I wrote a list of goals for festivals; Glasto, Leeds/Reading, outside the Uk and eventually tour the world. Headline shows at O2, Leeds, massive areas and be the main face and known all over the world and change people’s lives with the music and be inspirational to world.
In such a short space of time Graft has gone from strength to strength and there really is no limit of his potential and longevity within the music industry. Promoting a positive and inspiring message, that is needed now more than ever, we are eager to see what more Graft has in store! He promises new music very soon and if its anything near to the quality he portrayed in Rap Game then we are in for a real treat. We look forward to hearing more moving stories, crazy flows and Grafty (crafty) puns!
Instagram / Twitter — @iamgraft
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