Graffiti Black on his muses, inspiration and the four categories of Colorado hip-hop

Hailing from Montbello, Graffiti Black is a 23-year-old producer, writer and graphic designer known for creating sharp and distinct sounds that are both vibrant and accessible. He flips familiar elements and samples with flair and an experienced ear. Artists such as Innerstate Ike, Mr. Midas, and Mystic have found lyrical rhythm over Graffiti beats, which are fueled by expansion and flexibility, whether he's using an 808 combination or the perfect soul sample.

Uniting these variables in self-proclaimed "dopeness," Graffiti facilitates cohesive sound. The standout performance by Mystic on the sample laden "Ain't I Clean" finds the MC riding the heavy drum riffs and quick patterns at a frenetic pace. The texture of the track allows for clear verse interpretation and vocal separation between the features.

With precision, ease and a good amount of humor, Graffiti choped it up with us recently on his muses, inspiration and four categories of Colorado hip-hop.

Westword (Ru Johnson): Is there any particular artist that you create magic with every time?

Graffiti Black: I try not to stick to one type of sound, so I like to network and work with a variety of different artists, but I would have to say Mystic. We've been working together since back when FUBU was the new flyness. He usually rocks every track I kick at him.

WW: Where do you begin the creation process? Do you choose the sample first?

GB: My process is very simple actually ... I never force myself to make a track. I just let the inspiration come to me. I'll be posted back eating some noodles or something, then I'll start humming a cool melody, or beat boxing a funky little kick pattern, and think, "Yo, that's DOPE!" Then I'll hop on the pads and try to recreate what I hear in my head. I zone out for a bit then POW! Graffiti beat. A lot of my style is based around samples. I love to chop up popular yet unexpected soul samples, cartoons and movie quotes etc.

WW: I was pleasantly surprised that you list Alchemist as a major influence. Rapper's Best Friend is classic. Are you inspired by a more Mobb Deep/East coast sound?

GB: Yes! Kanye is my biggest influence, as far as overall production. I dig that whole grime time, dusty records, pissy project steps, crack cassette type sound that The Alchemist kicks. I think those type tracks are strictly for the lyrical. You have to be a true MC to rock a track like that.

WW: Remember when the Neptunes were creating every beat under the sun, and they maintained a signature sound? What are marked Graffiti elements?

GB: A Graffiti beat must always consist of these five elements: My tag, a hard hitting 808 or deep Kick drum pattern, random off-the-wall sound effect or catchy sample, a sprinkle of dopeness -- and if I told you the fifth I would have to kill you.

WW: Well moving on then. Your name implies that you're a graff artist. Is that so?

GB: I was given the name Graffiti based more on what the word represents: Random, self-expression, rebellion, urban-bomb-digiddy freshness! I am -- or shall I say was -- a graff artist. I'm super nice with the cans, but I've decided to chill and go the more modern "legit" route. I'm a certified graphic designer and DOPE Designz is my company.

WW: Not only are you musically inclined, you are run with a collective called B.L.A.C.K. What's the premise behind the movement, and what kind of art do you represent?

GB: I've always been intrigued by the civil rights movement and all leaders/activist throughout history. I've wondered why our generation never picked up where they left off. Despite the name, B.L.A.C.K is NOT based on racial ethnicity. B.L.A.C.K stands for Bold.Leaders.And.Creative.Kings It is a collection of young urban artist, poets, writers and just outspoken individuals that are not afraid to speak what they believe.

WW: There are huge differences in the music scenes between Denver and Aurora, yet the cities and many of the neighborhoods are so close. What do you think are the major themes that cause the separation?

GB: I'm a Denver dude, Montbello warrior, but I do work with a lot of Aurora-based artists. There is a big difference between the between the two music scenes, but I personally think there is a mondo split in Colorado hip-hop, in general. If I had to break it down into four different categories I would label them: "Turf Music" "Mind Music" "Confused Ass Nigga Music," and "Dopeness."

Turf Music is that hood type block repping music. Mind Music is extra lyrical, backpacker, food-for-thought type shit. Confused Ass Nigga Music is that sound like whatever is hot on the radio right now type jive. Dopeness is whatever Graffiti produced.

WW: Who are the favorite soul singers to use in your work?

GB: Stevie Wonder is my favorite soul singer period. I really love, Curtis Mayfield, Supremes, Sam Cooke, Stylistics -- I could go on forever! I love that old feel good, smooth-playa, super-fly, karate-kicking, Afro-picking type sound ya dig?

WW: What equipment do you use and swear by?

GB: I stick to the basics, aka that "Low budget lab." FLStudio9, MPD24 drum pad, Adobe Audition, M-Audio Axiom Pro, 49 MIDI keyboard and a USB Turntable. When people hear FL Studio, they think simple little kick-clap elementary sound Fruity Loops, but I honestly think FLstudio is one of the best production tools ever, if you use it right -- peep a 9th wonder track if you disagree.

WW: What are the latest Graffiti happenings?

GB: I'm currently producing an entire first project for an up-and-coming artist by the name of Troche, titled Intelligent Ignorance. I have also been working on a few tracks for Mr. Midas's new Son of the Crack Era project, which is definitely shaping up to be that MEGA Dopeness. I'm still just a pup trying crawl my way into the game.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ru Johnson
Contact: Ru Johnson