RedefineHipHop: Grav (Full Interview 1-3 + Bonus Clips and Demos/Freestyles!!

April 02, 2012 10 min read

Here is the full Grav story collected into one comprehensive piece and includes many bonuses! Extra footage, music, demos, freestyles, and a radio interview from 1996 promoting "Down To Earth"!!!


Although he may not be a household name, Grav’s history is a very interesting one. Not just from the great music he created, but also the different artists who were involved in his career along the way. From the early to late 90s, he was a prominent rising force on the thriving Chicago Underground scene. Although originally from Harlem, it was in Chicago that he started to take a career as an MC seriously. In that somewhat short time-span, he found himself working with Trends Of Culture, DJ Nu-Mark (Jurassic 5), Andy C, NO I.D. and most famously, launching the career of a young and persistent Kanye West!

In this three-part interview we go thru his career and how each of those people mentioned above were involved, as well as some other intriguing stories!

In Part One we explore his roots growing up in Harlem and how that inspired him to submerge himself in the Culture of Hip Hop, including incredible stories of how his Dad helped Marley Marl get one of his first gigs and how being neighbors with DJ Barry Bee of the Get Fresh Crew allowed him to listen to Doug E Fresh practice sessions thru the floor of an apartment!!!

Part one comes to a close talking about he ended up being roommates in Chicago with Free, from Legendary Chicago Underground group, Kinetic Order. That situation lead to him forming the short-lived group Indigenous Theory

Indigenous Theory-Universal Styles Demo:

GRAV INTERVIEW PART TWO: It was briefly touched on in Part-One, but Indigenous Theory was the crew Grav formed when he first moved to Chicago. His partner in the group was Magpie Jones a.k.a Black Man Zeke and at the time I was living with Zeke and his Dad in Waukegan, IL. Before they connected to be a group, I had been working with Zeke for years and produced all his first demos. Black Man Zeke a.k.a BMZ started to make some noise on the Chicago Underground scene for his bugged out style and over the top antics. In other words, he was quite the character. Although Grav seemed so serious in his music, he was also quite the jokester and when him and Zeke got together it was pure comedy and energy.cIndigenous Theory worked on a handful of demos. I have four Indigenous Theory tracks and that may be all they ever recorded, although I’ve heard “rumors” of some other things that were in the works, but may have never got completed. In the Indigenous Theory era a Chicago Super-Group started to form, the mighty, mighty Elements Of Nature. The crew was largely centered around two groups, who were among the most prominent, talented, and hopeful Hip Hop acts in Chicago at the time, Rubberoom & Spalaneys. In addition, they recruited Children Of Reality, Dirty MF, Syllabyss Illabyss, Verb, Thawfor, Buddah, and, of course, Indigenous Theory, to form one of the most fierce crew around…anywhere. I don’t believe it was too long after the E.O.N.S formed that Indigenous Theorysplit up. Grav continued on solo and eventually secured a contract with Correct Records. It was a big deal in Chicago. Although he had only been transplanted from Harlem just a few years earlier, he had firmly paid his dues and cemented his feet in the world of Chicago Hip Hop. Plus he was among the first artists in the scene to get a national record deal.& Correct Records was a small upcoming independent label, but they were funded by old money and lots of it. They came in the game to spend money on their label dream and they did just that. As a result, Grav’s “Down To Earth” album got some attention. He had ADs in all the prominent magazines, he got some press coverage, and was able to do some tour dates. “Down To Earth” wasn’t just a defining moment for Grav, but also for the people involved Andy C, NO ID, DJ Nu-Mark (his A&R/Assistant Engineer), Dug Infinite, Liz Mercado (Engineer at the legendary Powerplay Studios), Shakespeare Briggs (demo production), and of course, a young, Kanye West. Essentially, the album got more spotlight than the average indie album of the time. However, Correct Records foray in the Rap business was short-lived, ultimately affecting Grav’s career, but not before launching a new one for Kanye West
Indigenous Theory-Aspects Of Being Fat Demo (circa '94)
Indigenous Theory-Come On (Original Demo Version, Ruff Copy, Circa '92/'93)
Grav-World Domination [Produced By Kanye West] "Down To Earth" Album (Correct Records '96)
Grav-Keep Moving [Produced By Kanye West] "Down To Earth" Album (Correct Records '96]
GRAV INTERVIEW PART THREE: Grav Part Three focuses on two key stories; recording his album at the Legendary Powerplay Studios and what path his life took after the “Down To Earth” album... Back in the day a key part of the experience to buying an album was reading the credits. Didn’t matter if it was a Tape, CD or good ole fashioned Vinyl, I would read every detail, name, and piece of information available to better help me understand that artist, their relationships, how their album was recorded and things of that nature. As an aspiring MC and Producer you would wonder about the studios they were recording in; what equipment were they using, how much did they cost, and would you ever get a chance to record there? If you were reading album credits thru out the 90s, then you were bound to see the name Powerplay Studios, as some amazing albums and artists were recorded there. Chances are, if something got recorded there you would probably note the engineer was Liz Mercado. This was intriguing because, although there is no reason why women can’t be every bit as good a Sound Engineer as their male counter parts, I never witnessed or seen a woman credited as an engineer before and rarely afterwards. Certainly you can chalk that up to a long list of prejudices and sexist views that plague and litter the Recording Industry, as well as the world…

Grav’s “Down To Earth” album was my first-time being able to get an inside look at a “major” record being released on a national scale. I even got to assist, if only in a small way…

In the Mid 90s, a couple times that I travelled to New York, Grav and his Mom’s were ever so generous to open up their home to me and let me stay with them in Harlem. Staying with them was the first time I got to explore Harlem. I was walking around everywhere: day, night, and late night, just soaking it all in. Doing that is how I met a young and recently signed Big L in ’94 when all he had was his “Represent” verse on Showbiz and AG’s “Runaway Slave” album. Beyond that, I had many other adventures as well.

Among my favorite, was going to Powerplay Studios and witnessing a small portion of this album being recorded. I was able to watch Liz Mercado in action. It remains a very memorable experience to me.

The first day I went they were working on the track “What”. This was right on the ending-cusp of the popular New York Rah-Rah hooks, so the idea was to get as many of us stuffed in the sound booth as humanly possible and yell “What!” We were boxed in there so thick we could barely move, it was crazy fun and exciting to think my voice might make it on a record finally, even if only in a small way. Packed in there was myself, Kanye West, Rashawn a.k.a Gator (who kills it lyrically on the posse cut “Line For Line”), a bunch of Grav’s crew who I didn’t really know, and quite possibly DJ Nu-Mark was in there...he was definitely in the session. I actually think it was this is the session we all left together and while waiting for the train I was talking to Nu-Mark about Hip Hop and he let me know about his upcoming project, Jurassic 5..

The second time I came thru it was a mixing session for “Sick Thoughts”, with Liz Mercado in the pilot chair and DJ Nu-mark, Kanye West, and Grav on assist. It was cool to be able to see how a professional record is mixed. I sat back and just observed… 

I was planning to come to other sessions, but I had some other projects I was working on during the trip, so didn’t make it back. However, even then, I was known as the guy who knows a lot about Rap, so Grav called me when they were working on the title track, “Down To Earth”. They wanted to add some scratches and needed a quote saying “Gravity”. After a few moments of consulting the mental library, I told them I could do one better and give them the quote and an album title reference in one quote, courtesy of Royal Fam, who just a year previously dropped the line, “I come down like forced Gravity!” on “I Declare War”. They ended up only using the “Gravity” piece, with DJ Nu-Mark on the cuts doing it up nicely. It’s such a small thing, but I still recognize it as the first time one of my ideas made it to vinyl….

Another key memory from this trip was that Kanye West was also staying at Grav’s spot, at least part of the time. I’m pretty sure I ate homecooked breakfast with Kanye at least once…ha. What I do clearly remember is that at the time I was the Co-owner of Caught In The Middle Magazine and it was building a nice name for itself. Kanye West had a meeting with me in Grav’s living room about his potential as an artist. He played me his demo, which was great. I’m still mad I never got that demo! He was supposed to get me a copy before I left, but we didn’t’ reconnect and I never followed up. Kanye was pitching to me why he should be featured in the next issue of Caught In The Middle and made a compelling case and easily sold me on the idea, but unfortunately the Mag went out of print before that next issue. There was also some “loose” conversation about me helping him with some “management” stuff. Quite honestly, I doubt it was a very official offer. I think at the time he was hustling hard and I assume anyone that had some sort of possible connections in the business he was tapping into them. I’m assuming he had similar conversations with dozens of people. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the time to invest doing that then. He told me, quite confidently, that he was going to be a star. I’m not going to be one of those guys who says, “I always knew he would be a star”, because that wouldn’t be quite true. However, based on his approach, talent, drive, and mindset I absolutely knew that he was going to do everything humanly possible to make it happen and if he ended up not being famous, it would NOT be for lack of trying, being lazy or not being focused.

In any event, here are some other sides of the story from the man himself, Grav

Grav-What [Produced By Big Q] ("Down To Earth" Album Correct Records 1996)
Grav-Down To Earth [Produced By Kanye West/Scratches BY DJ Nu-Mark] ("Down To Earth" Album Correct Records 1996)
Grav-Y'all Stop Tellin' Me
AS AN ADDED BONUS: This is a rare demo of the track "Sick Thoughts" from the "Down To Earth" album over a completely different type of beat...
Rubberoom-The Pitt Featuring Grav (From Rubberoom's "Gothic Architecture" 1995)
Immortal Griffen featuring Grav-Let The Pen Speak For I (This is one of the first, maybe the first track I heard Grav on. He sneaks in on the last verse and kills it!)

BONUS CLIPS:All these bonus cuts are short 2-3 Minute clips, the full interview clips are below!! Don't miss the rare demo at the very end!!

-"Line For Line" Posse Cut from "Down To Earth" Album (Correct Records 1996)

Grav's '96 album, "Down To Earth" had a great posse cut called "Line For Line". Everyone throws down on it. There's two particular MCs on there who I heard and immediately wanted to hear more from. One is Rashawn a.k.a Gator. He was a younger cat from Grav's neighborhood. He actually kicked it with us the whole time I was out there. It got mentioned that he rhymed, but he didn't make much of a big deal about it and of course "everyone" in NYC rhymes so I didn't make a point to ask to hear anything. He was just so nonchalant and low key about it that I had no idea he was sitting on skills like that! When I heard that verse I bugged out. To this day I still fantasize about hearing other demos from this kid, but never heard anything else... The other MC is Kanye West, with his debut verse to the world! He starts his verse with this ill scenario describing MCs who are trying to hard to act hard... Well done Sir Kanye! He also speaks on who was supposed to be on the track, but wasn't around at the time...

-"Dunzillas": If you listened to a Grav song or freestyle then you probably heard him mentioned "The Dunzillas" quite frequently. In this clip, he breaks down who the crew actually was...
-"Black Plague": Back in the day, Grav used to speak about many of his hometown Harlem affiliate crews. One in particular always resonated the most in mind, Black Plague. First off, it's just the name sounds ill. Secondly, Grav spoke about them in very high regard. On one of my New York trips I got to roll over to the Black Plague lab and hear some demos and they blew my mind! I knew for sure they were going to coming out was only a matter of time. Yet, that never happened. They were cool peeps and we listened to their demos and then did an all out freestyle session...I wonder if they recorded that... In any event, I'm in desperate need of those Black Plague demos!!

-WNUR "Midnight Flava" Radio Show: Grav is the man with the golden voice. Besides using that gift for MCing and Voice Over work, he also applied to the radio. WNUR 89.3 is a huge influential college station at Northwestern University in the Chicago area. It hosted Rap Radio Programs since the early 80s and had many a classic Host, DJ, and Show take place there. Grav speaks on his experience there.... Shout out to DJ Cue!! Grav-Time Travel Radio Show 12-5-96 Interview And Freestyle: This was right around the release of his "Down To Earth" album we talk about the album in detail. He also accurately predicts Kanye West's rise to stardom!! He refers to Kanye as "Bound to be one of the most successful people out of Chicago..." and calls him a "Crazy dude". He also speaks about how he traded in a expensive gold chain for a SP-1200!! Plus people the legendary freestyle skills of Grav!!
Grav-Time Travel Radio Show 12-5-96 Freestyle Only
-Trip To Africa: After we finished the interview we kicked it a bit more and Grav started to tell the story about his trip to Africa. I had to go, "Hold up!" and went and grabbed a camera quick to capture this. Very inspirational and beautiful story about how that trip effected him!
Interviewed By Kevin Beacham

Filmed By Roper Fuentes Video Edited By Dan Schlueter

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