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 247?

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 247! 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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Oscar Green

Oscar is straight out of North West Lon­don. A music enthu­si­ast who loves any­thing from Hip-Hop to Reg­gae to Drum and Bass. He is always on the hunt for new music and runs an events/blog page on Ins­tagram

About Oscar Green

Oscar is straight out of North West London. A music enthusiast who loves anything from Hip-Hop to Reggae to Drum and Bass. He is always on the hunt for new music and runs an events/blog page on Instagram