John Graham is the most remarkably unremarkable name that I have come across in over fifteen years of listening to hip-hop. Rappers are generally known for coming up with some of the most outlandish monikers in the music industry so when an MC records under his birth name, it is surprisingly effective at grabbing your attention. It is not a coincidence that this fits nicely with the name and ethos of the label, Ego Free Music. Although Ego Free is still in its infancy, the vision is very mature and clear; to release positive and thought provoking music that distances itself from the more regular posturing usually associated with hip-hop. I would say for the most part of this seven songs deep introduction to John Graham that they achieve their aim.

The EP begins with “The Ground Floor” produced by Kuddie Fresh which is a strong opening to proceedings. Kuddie’s production is chaotic yet focused adding a sense of urgency as Graham introduces his listeners to the EP:

“Welcome to the symphony, night out at the opera
You are now nodding to a chief executive officer
Lyrics being shot at ya as if they were a rocket cause
Music is Afghanistan and the game is like Iraq to us
This is not for profit so the government is watching us
That’s what happens when you turn positivity popular
This is not political, there’s nothing they can offer us
Non-participation is the only way to stop the bus
Wall Street occupation simply ain’t enough to stop the bucks
You protest while they’re popping corks, the wealthy class is mocking us
This is for the have-nots, the people in the middle too
The ones who dream in Technicolor, subject to the ridicule
The vision is the tactic so our unity is critical
That’s why I encourage you to join me in this digital
Riot in the marketplace on the day this album drops
Pick it up and lift it to the height of every mountain top…”

“The Ground Floor” serves as a great introduction to John Graham’s flow which, at times, sounds a little like a socially aware Freeway. The way that he uses the small nuances in his voice, which often sounds like it’s on the verge of breaking, to further add to the musical backdrop is certainly reminiscent of Philly’s favourite bearded MC. The production of the seven tracks is handled by five different beatmakers who all bring their own individual sound to the table and Graham manages to ride all of the beats with the polish and style of an artist who has been honing his craft for the last fifteen years. The label’s positive message runs throughout the course of this album, both through the feel of the music as well as Graham’s lyrics. Unless I completely missed it, I didn’t notice any curse words or use of the ‘n bomb’ during the thirty minutes of music. I also didn’t notice any reference to violence, degradation of women or even a casual reference to weed. In fact, on “The Top 1%” Graham actually spits “I’m so high off life that if I came down I’d touch the sky”. I guess it’s indicative of how hip-hop is that it’s surprising to hear an MC with ‘straight edge’ lyrics.

The final two tracks, “Dear Diary” and “What Dreams May Come” both feature female vocalist Esha J. and slow the pace down to round off the EP. Graham’s performance on the former compliments Shade Cobain’s laid-back beat perfectly as his thoughts reach the track via his own personal journal:

“I feel funny as I’m writing this
I guess I’m just aware of my environment
I think I treat the music like a diary
I’m talking to myself ’til I inspire me
I burn a little incense to set the ambience
The sheet of paper in this word document is something like a confident
Devoid of any entourage
No facades, glitz and glamour call me honest John…”

I have to say that this EP makes for a pretty solid listen, the beats are on point and Graham’s flow is polished enough that the occasional preachy lyric doesn’t get in the way of a good ol’ fashioned head nod. There are a few bars scattered through this release that allude to Mr Graham showing signs of the ego that the label’s name at least seems intent on distancing itself from but I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. I’d argue that an ego is only the manifestation of self-confidence which any rapper worth his/her salt has in abundance. This release may only be seven cuts deep but they are seven good reasons for John Graham to consider his musical retrograde a success.

John Graham :: Success in Retrograde EP
7Overall Score