We haven't talked in a minute. What have you been up to?
I've just been working, man. I've been doing a lot of ghostwriting and a lot of traveling. I've written a couple of records for a few artists who shall remain nameless. I've also been doing some of traveling overseas. It's harder to remain relevant in today's market because we're in the ringtone age and all that, but I continue to put my music in the street. I believe that is the only true way to touch the consumers, man; give 'em some real shit. I use DVDs, mixtapes and the Internet as a huge outlet to reach the people. GrafhOnline.com will be up in a week or so and that site will have all of my mixtape up for free downloads.
You're not one of the MCs who constantly talks about ghostwriting. Are people surprised when they find out you ghostwrite?
They're never really surprised because they know that I'm a good writer and that I have that talent. I'm blessed to be able to write like I do. It's a blessing and I really know how to use it. I can write any type of music. Right now I have my own artist that I'm about to put out who's a straight pop artist. We collaborate and write together, but it's straight pop music. I write all types of records, R&B, hip-hop, pop…I just apply my talent to whatever I'm working on.
I'm also glad that I have artists to sell some of these records to, otherwise they'd just be collecting dust. Some of them do not help define who I am so I gotta sell them. I could do so much with the pen.
Is it easy for you to crossover to other genres when you’re ghostwriting?
Very easy. Many of my influences exist outside of hip-hop. I listen to all types of music. I may go from Gym Class Heroes to U2, then from Led Zeppelin to Enigma, then from Madonna to Vibes Cartel, then back to a Kay Slay mixtape with your favorite rappers all in one day. I appreciate all types of music and I take influence from them. As an artist, it allows me to offer more. As a matter of fact, I just came back from Jamaica. I spent some time working with my cousin Jah Cure and just enjoy the vibe our there. You will hear a lot of the influence in some of my new shit.
Can you make more money as a ghostwriter than putting out music yourself?
Um, you kinda can. It depends. Dream wrote Rihanna's "Umbrella" and J Holiday's "Bed". He probably made more money off those records than his own joints. This is the ringtone, download, digital age. You can make more money writing somebody else's records. Shit, it pays most of my bills!
You're still maintaining a presence on the mixtape circuit. Do the mixtapes help you as much today as it did in the past?
Most definitely. Mixtapes will always be apart of what I’m doing, ‘til death do us part. Mixtapes are a direct outlet to the consumer, whether they are downloaded or purchased from your favorite bootleger. Either way it goes, it's an outlet to get your music heard. They are still a great tool to use to get the music to people. For example, I leaked some of the AutoGrafh album online like a mixtape for all of the fans who patiently waited for it. It received a great response. A lot of listeners said it was the best album they heard all year.......and that was only a leak.
Are you tired of the mixtapes at this point in your career or do you still enjoy doing freestyles?
Nah, I love what mixtapes has done for me and are still doing for me. The game is what it is. Times change and the game as a whole changes with the times. In life, things constantly evolve. Nothing is ever permanent so you have to learn to adapt quickly. The mixtape still represents the street therefore I'm still going to jump all over them shits. It still means something to be all over the tapes. At the end of the day, hip-hop started on the concrete and the mixtape and DVD platform is the streets and once you get the streets, you can never lose them because the 'hood doesn't change.
You’ve been rocking on the mixtapes for a long time without having an official album in stores. How do you maintain such a positive outlook?
I always try to stay ahead of the curve. Like I said, the game is constantly changing so I adapt. The labels aren't making their money off of album sales and they're not pushing artists anymore. They're selling one or two singles as ringtones then and the albums come out and the artists fucking flop. You can have the biggest record in the country and have a shitty first week in sales. The game is backwards. It's not about selling records. It's about having a quick song out there and making a quick dollar. I’m not knocking niggas eating that way but that's not my approach. When I do drop, I want to make an impact on the entire world because our grind counts. The hard work we put in counts. I got a voice that's going to be heard on a massive scale and it's going to make a difference when I release the product. It’s all about reaching the people and allowing them to get to know you, making it personal and allowing them to grow a real affinity for you. For example, niggas in the ‘hood love me because I'm out here. They actually see me on the grind because I'm in the ‘hood right next to they ass. They can shake my hand. I'm tangible.
People have been waiting on your debut album for a long time. How's the album coming?
I appreciate all the patience and support from the people. Shit, I been waiting my damn self! I learned two things in this business – one, nothing is personal and two, nothing is permanent. Everything is just business, it’s never personal and you have to work super hard to remain relevant because nobody's spot is solidified. Anybody can be forgotten. I am man enough to admit that I have made mistakes during the course of my path but I’m smart enough to learn from them. Through the errors you actually learn the truth. You learn the business and how to attack and execute your plan properly. I learned to embrace my independence and now we, Blackhand, know how to make the strongest impact that we can. You will finally get the Grafh album this summer...And yes, the shit is crack!
What's the best way for you to take advantage of the game today?
You have to go back to the old days when Bad Boy and Rocafella and Ruff Ryders were popping. They were doing mixtapes and pressing up posters and doing shows and shaking hands. We have to go back to those grassroot ideas and touring the secondary markets and the smaller cities. You have to really get on your grind and really sell yourself to the people. You have to take the middle man out and get right in front of the people, shake their hands, get them the music and let them know. The people need more music and more substance. They need something real. They need substance. I think everybody's empty because they're not getting anything real. Remember when Jay was hot and Biggie was out and the Lox were out? There were so many hot niggas to choose from at one time and hip-hop felt like something. There were so many dudes giving off that raw energy and it felt like something. It felt real.
Now the shit feels corny. I feel nothing. It's boring. It needs a kick in the ass. We gotta get back on that grind and give ourselves to the people. In my opinion, when you give yourself to the people, you become a star, period. To me, the public owns a part of you, a real small part of you, because they make you who you are. They own a small part of you and you gotta give it to them and give it up instead of hiding behind the music and a couple of interviews. You gotta give it to the people. When people are buying your album, they are buying into you. That's how it used to be. They weren't just buying your single. We gotta go back to that and you gotta sell yourself.
What's the most frustrating part of the game today?
I'm not going to blame the artists because a lot of them are just doing it to make the paper and I can't knock them for that. We all got families to feed and bills to pay. The money does motivate me in any arena so I'm proud of what some of people have accomplished in the game. It ain't the people. It's the game. The game is messed up. The labels are only number crunching and looking for record spins and shit. They're not looking for talent anymore. Talent isn't enough anymore and being hot isn't doesn't really matter. They don't care what's hot. They only care about how many spins records are getting and that's wack. I want talent to be put out again and I want to hear about artists I care about again. I want to feel the desire to hear new music. A big part of the game is the label's fault. They don't care about talent and it doesn't matter.
I'm still a fan of the music. I still want to hear dope shit and I still want to feel something. I don't want to hate records. I want to feel something. I think part of that is the label's fault because they don't give a shit. I like the days when niggas were hot and they had something to say. They had talent and skill. That's what it was about. Hip-hop ain't about lyrics anymore. How the hell did that happen? How the hell does that happen? How is hip-hop not about that anymore?
Do you care about signing to a major label at this point?
Depending on the situation. You gotta do the same thing on a major label that you have to do on an independent. You can spend your own damn money on the project and keep more of the profit. The grind is the same and you still have to work your project yourself. If I gotta do all the work, pay me for it.
How will your debut album come out?
With distribution thru Koch.
A lot of artists say going on Koch is a step down. Do you agree with that?
Definitely not. Back in the days, people could say what they wanted to about Koch. Now Koch is strong at radio and they are breaking records. Ask anybody in the industry, Koch is one of the strongest labels in the radio game right now. Independent is the way to go.
What producers have you been working with?
Oh, man, I work with a lot of dudes. I'm still working with new dudes and I prefer to work with new talent. I'll work with anybody who's hot. Most of the dudes I work with are new and fresh like J Montana, Stereotypes, Killah wit da Beat, Matheo and Ronin. Those are producers who are really dope. I still work with Develop and I recorded with this Jamaican producer named Teetimus, whose production is crazy. I'm adding a Jamaican feel to some my music because that's where I'm from and I love to implement the sounds from my culture in my music. I'm doing a lot of different types of records. I'm just working with different producers who have something to offer. As a matter of fact, if you are a producer with some heat, holler at your boy boy. I will definitely take your beats and kill them. I always like to get with new dudes who have something new and something fresh.
How involved were you in the making of Foxy Brown's new album?
I was creatively involved with the whole album. As soon as she got down with us she jumped right in the studio, the Blackhand studio, and went straight to work. It didn't take us too long to finish the project. We got busy. The record will be out May 13. She knows what she's doing.
Have you stayed in touch with Foxy?
Oh yeah. Chaz use to go up to Rikers Island to see her every week and I definitely held her down. We were all there to greet her outside the jail when she was released on Friday (April 18). She hasn't put a record out in six or seven years and the media was all over her. Friends, family and fans as well. It was crazy.
Why do you think she gets so much attention from the media, especially considering that she hasn’t dropped an album in so long?
She's a superstar and she gets what she deserves. It’s crazy that she's still so relevant being that she hasn't put music out but her persona supersedes her. She gets press like Britney Spears or some shit.
How did you and Chaz get her to sign to Blackhand?
She hollered at Chaz. She respects his gangsta and what we represent. She always rides with the street niggas. But it's so crazy. A lot of artists and labels come to us for different help, street-wise. I don't care who you are or how popular you want to be, if you don't have a strong foundation in the street, you can't stand up and you have to come back to the concrete. A lot of people come to us. There's a lot of things we do and we don't mind lending a helping hand.
Where do you want to take Blackhand in the future?
To the top. To the top. And only with record sales but also in at the box office. Different directors and investors are trying to buy the rights from us to do a movie on Chaz's life. BET filmed a piece on him for their American Gangster series. His life is crazy, man. He robbed over 60 banks and broke out of jail three times. We're doing a movie on his life and that shit is going to be crazy. Look at what American Gangster did. That broke records at the box office and Frank Lucas done told on all kinds of niggas. With Chaz, it ain't that kind of story. He didn't snitch in the end. It's going to be crazier. He's been a big part of my life so that'll probably be the first movie I play a role in. It's going to be sick my dude. We're taking it to Hollywood.
Are you still working closely with Prinz and Shalone?
Oh yeah. Shalone is my dude from the 'hood first. We got money together out here in the streets back in the day, he came with me when I toured with Scarface, and now we still record music with each other. Prinz and I met up with each other when he first came home and just clicked immediately. Those are my niggas. It's not about rap with certain guys. That's family. I see them all the time. Even if we're not always doing music, we're always kicking it and keeping in 100 with each other, definitely.
What’s the next move for Grafh?
I'm just concentrating on the album. I'm dying to get the album to the people. They definitely deserve it and that's my main focus right now. I'm about to release the single and go hard with it. The politics have slowed us down, but I've been sitting back and learning the game and observing the business- so now when we put the album out now, there are no mistakes. You have to cover all your loose ends. I'm also concerned with breaking my entire crew, the Blackhand family, into the mainstream. My man Nat, you already know Prinz doing his thing, and then we have the Blackhand Chain Gang – Young Rugged and Spotlight. I'm really trying to get my crew in the game as well because I feel like they need to be heard. They're from the same environment that I'm from and represent the same things. I'm concerned with introducing the public to something new and fresh.