Interview: Grap Luva (Part 1)
Grap Luva is often introduced as the younger brother of Pete Rock, but with the upcoming release of the ‘Neva Done‘ EP Grap shows that he can stand alone as an artist. His talent is evident as he not only works his magic as a producer on the SP1200, but also shows his emcee skills on the microphone.
Throughout his career working with the likes of Kev Brown, the legendary INI, producer Damu The Fudgemunk and of course with his older brother and CL Smooth, Grap Luva has always been one of those artists we can’t wait to hear more from. We can only hope that ‘Neva Done’ results in a full-length release one day…
What do you do if you are not making music?
I am a youth development counselor at a alternative public high school in Washington DC. Basically, what that is, when the kids are having issues in the class or with their teacher, the teacher will refer them to me, and then I will deal with them accordingly. If it is a behavior issue and if it requires consequences, then I’ll issue the consequences. Or if it is a situation where they just need to talk or need advice, then I’ll try to provide that as well.
What’s so appealing to you in giving guidance and advice to teenagers?
Because their slate is not as “hard” as other people’s. Their slate can still be moulded and shaped, erased and rewritten. It is still in the state of moulding, so you can kind of help to create who they will be. And it is not so much like manipulating with your influence, you just apply your influence when it is needed and when you see that it is necessary. Hopefully the individual who is applying the influence is of a positive, so it can really apply it on the youth.
‘Work It Out’ was inspired by a couple of your students, is that true?
Yes, that is right. I work at a middle school and have some students there that I would talk to all the time, and try to help them and advise them as good as I could. But at the end of the day, I didn’t live in their reality. I couldn’t really tell them what to do, I just could advise them and pray that they listen to what I say. So they kept telling me their stories, having to deal with the court system, being in their hood, being shot at, getting shot, getting locked up, coming back out, jumping in stolen cars, getting robbed, robbing other people, all different kinds of turmoil in their neighborhood that they had to deal with. We discuss these things and talk about it, and that is what inspired ‘Work It Out’, lyrically.
So if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll find everything in there. “Walking on blocks with guns clap, watch your back, young fools packin’ tools, commit criminal acts, that’s all they know, the law of the land is ‘get dough’, it gets pumping the mind, so the mind won’t grow, and these are the future decision makers, and they’ll become the movers and the shakers…”, all stuff we talked about.
I had one kid coming in, telling me that he had to go to court. So I told him how to handle himself in a court room, in front of a judge, like stand up straight, speak clearly, don’t use any slang, try to tie your hair back, etc. I don’t want to encourage them to not be a free individual in the court room, but at the same time you are at the mercy of them, because you’ve violated one of their rules. At the end of the day you are who you are, but when you step in that court room, this is how you should try to function, a little bit.
So the kids at my school definitely inspired the lyrics for that track, so shout out to my youth, who I worked with in DC: I love ya!
When was the first time you heard hip hop?
The first time I heard hip hop, I was a little guy. My dad was a record collector and he was one of the people to expose me to it. He had a Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five record, like one of the very first ones they put on wax. Me and my brother [Pete Rock] we got exposed to the people in our neighborhood, since we had a lot of DJs in our neighborhood. And there was this other guy called Eric Jay, he was going to Bambaataa and Zulu Nation parties. And you know, Grandmaster Caz was on the mic and also Grandmaster Flash was there, and Eric just taped the show and would play them to us. And also my brother was making mix tapes at that time, so this was all happening around me.
But what made you actually wanna get actively involved in hip hop as an artist?
The first time I decided to get involved into hip hop, like to make music, it was about the production first. I wanted to be a producer and that was definitely and directly inspired watching my brother making music and seeing people’s reaction to what he created, being responsible for something that great. That was the thing I really wanted, I wanted to make beats.
But I didn’t know how to really use a machine, so what I did was, playing my brothers beats and tried to add a sound or two, until I knew what I was doing, in terms of samples. And then there was this friend of mine, who told me how to put out the memory of the drum machine, so I could start fresh. Then I learned how to sample and once my brother saw me trying to make beats, I went to his little “bootcamp” and that’s how I kind of perfected my style, my craft of making music with that SP1200.
I am very grateful and thankful for what my brother did for me in terms of music, and what my father did for me in terms of discovering music. Actually, both of my brothers, since my oldest brother put me on to fusion jazz and the funk rock, my dad had everything and we would listen to what he would play. And then when my brother got his DJ equipment, while we’ve been basically in the same room, while he’s been always making music and tapes and stuff. I would be right there all the time and this music is in me too. So this manifested, and once it manifested my brother helped me nurture it and he let me fly and then I made some good music.
Would you say your father and brother are your biggest influences in terms of making music?
In terms of making music definitely my family, we all have the music bug in us. My sisters would collect music, my mother would constantly listen to music, my father was a big music fan and collector, so my brothers and I we inhabited that in us. And of course my cousin Heavy D was huge influence to me!
But in terms of musicality I got a lot of different influences. I got influences from RnB, hip hop, rock, soul, like James Brown, RnB like Carl McIntire, D’Angelo, Easy Wright, J Dilla, Primo, Large Pro, 9th Wonder, DJ Spinna, Black Milk… A lot of influences out there. I have like a lot of jazz, Ahmad Jamal, Coltrane, there is also a lot of new jazz out there like this artist I heard about, a saxophonist, my man Quincy Phillips, he plays drums, a lot of influences. Also the standard guys like Tribe, Common, Mos Def, you name it…
I just take inspiration from whatever is good and creative and sounds like it is a work that is coming from God. Stuff, which if the most high heard it, he’d approve it. And you can find beauty in everything if you seek it out and see it for what it is.
Music: Grap Luva – Rocking With Elegance (One For Damu) (Free Download)
Is it a blessing or a curse to be Pete Rock’s younger brother?
It is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing, because I learned so much from him and I watched him experience so much, and when I saw him experience things, I learned. So I learned a lot from being around him and being exposed to the world that he engages himself with.
And it is a curse at the same time, because there is a standard that is set there that you need look up to and then if you reach the standard, you have to uphold it or surpass it, move beyond it and be good. And it is a curse, because sometimes people look at you like privileged, like “you’re Pete Rock’s brother”, and I don’t try to stand up like that, I try to stand up like my own man, because I am my own man. So it is a curse in that sense, too.
But I take it more as a blessing and appreciate it, I am humble, since the most high granted me to be in existence with this man and he is my brother. Even besides the fact that he is my brother, I’d be a fan of his music, since his music is so crazy.
And at the same time, my ear is spoiled, since I’ve heard so much, such a great extend of his work, work he has created and people didn’t even have heard. So I kinda measure everything to my brothers sound, and if there is anything that comes anywhere near my brothers sound, I appreciate it – that’s kinda rough, but that is how it is for me most of the time.
What was the most exciting time for you in hip hop?
I think that would be the year ‘Eric B. Is President‘ came out. That song, I don’t know what it is about that song, but that song changed my life. It is just a profound song in my mind, whenever says something about a great point in hip hop.
But it is all like moments, like Biggie’s first album. I was working at Soul Brother Records, at my brothers label and when Bad Boy is just jumping off. And I remember getting the “Big Mac”, a little package with the Biggie and Craig Mac CD inside, ergo the “Big Mac”, we were on 21st Street, Bad Boy was on 19th. Meeting Biggie there, but also feeling the way people react to what my brother does, to what I’ve done, things I’ve created, there is so many moments.
It is such a integral part of my life, so many moments which I can connect to songs, and not necessarily hip hop songs. Music is so integral in my life, it is all a part of me. So naming hip hop moments, it is probably too many. I have so many beautiful memories in my head connected to hip hop.
When did your own career actually kick off; what were the major steps?
For me, how it all began, was the freestyle in 1991, the freestyle I did on the ‘Mecca And The Soul Brother‘ album. From that freestyle, my brother asked me if I wanted to be on ‘The Basement’ and I was like “Sure!”, so I ended up on the ‘The Basement‘. The first 4-6 bars Rob O and Pete kinda helped me write, the rest of it I wrote myself – I wasn’t really focused on being an emcee. I was more focused on being a producer, whereas I could freestyle fairly well.
But let me tell you something else about the freestyle on Yo! MTV Raps. I have been actually rhyming five minutes before he even recorded it. And it wasn’t a thing that he’d set up and gonna record. We were waiting to do handclaps, like background sounds to the song ‘On and On’ from the ‘Mecca and the Soul Brother’ album. So while we were waiting, Pete steps to the mic and starts beatboxing, so I stepped beside him and started freestylin’. And I was freestylin’, once I finished the engineer who shouted out in the record, Chris Champion, he played it back “I am the one they call the G, the R, the A, the P…”, the whole joint and everybody went crazy. Pete was like “I’m keeping it!”, I was like “You’re keeping it?!”, he was like “Yeah, I’m keeping it!” – and he kept it. In the end it was used as intro for ‘On and On’.
And how I knew that this freestyle was significant, was the the day I met Lil’ Fame of M.O.P. I introduced myself “I am Grap Luva, making music …”, and he stopped me and was like: “Hold up, you are Grap Luva? You spit that freestyle on Pete’s album, right? Yo, spit that shit right now!” I spit it and he was rhyming it with me, and that blew my mind. That’s how I knew the freestyle was really something.
Read part 2 of the interview here