Brighton blues singer Rory Graham aka Rag N Bone Man is taking off, and making massive impressions amongst underground hip-hop followers after his latest signing to one of the most prominent and exciting movements in UK hip-hop: the High Focus label. Joining ranks with the “free-thinking” and “ingenious” lyricist Fliptrix, the ceaselessly filthy Dirty Dike and Verb T the ‘Mic Veteran‘, Rag N Bone Man has made impressive moves in the past year and today anticipates the release of his latest collaborated album Dog ‘N’ Bone, alongside one of the most recognised talents of High Focus: Leaf Dog. Here in this exclusive interview, you’ll find out Rag N Bone Man‘s soulful origins, the response for his Bluestown E.P, the early days collaborating with Leaf Dog, the Dog ‘N’ Bone E.P, his exciting signing to High Focus, and most importantly: what he has in store for the future.
We spoke first early this morning and having settled with a coffee, he chatted to me about how he was influenced with the blues and soul music from an early age, and how ultimately it manipulated him into the rising artist that he is today.
“When I was young there was always music in my house, my mum used to play a lot of folk music and my old man was always banging John Lee Hooker out the record player so I couldn’t really get away from it.”
“I fell in love with blues and soul right there and then.”
“In my late teens I started going to jam sessions, I remember thinking straight away “I wanna do that”. I built up the confidence to get up on stage and sing a Robert Johnson song from The Blues Brothers film called sweet home Chicago.”
“That was where it started.”
From here Rag claims that things started getting real. Intrigued I questioned when he realised that as well as blues music, he found his passion for rap?
“I’ve always been into hip hop in a big way, since I was at school, since my boy Swanny played me Big Daddy Kane and Goodie Mob, stuff like that.”
But playing at a couple of open mics didn’t answer my burning question of how: through his blues performances, how he had gotten himself affiliated with the underground rap scene?
“I moved to Brighton about 4 years ago, and at the time I was just doing acoustic blues stuff. But I knew some dudes from Slip Jam through my pal Pete Bysh and got asked to write a hook by Gizmo who had already formed the crew with DJ Direct, Kong, Ceezlin, Bukeo, DJ Choice, KD and Bones: Rum Committee.”
By making early links within hip-hop culture, I’d assumed that it was through Rum Committee he’d found and collaborated with High Focus’s celebrated beat-maker Leaf Dog, but I was proved wrong…
“I didn’t meet Leaf till a couple of years later.”
“I met Leaf at a party round Bozaks about a year ago, we was just having a cypher and he was like ‘You got a sick voice’;
” We should make a couple tracks together.“
“Basically we just spent the next year making tracks together, that’s how the duo came about. I didn’t really know about R.L.D or High Focus before that, it was pretty new to me.”
I asked him what kind of reception he got from his Bluestown E.P, to which he answered it was “Better then I thought, I’m still getting love for it.”
“I got a lot of shows of the back off that E.P.”
From here on Rag performed festivals and shows either solo, with Rumcom or with Leaf, but:
“Boombap Festival was the best show I played so far. The response to mine and Leafs material was pretty amazing.”
“I played at Dike’s EP launch at the Brix Jam, that was a lot of fun. I got mad love that night. Also, supporting Pharoah Monch with Committee was incredible.”
Haven’t things changed. From being relatively unknown of High Focus to impressing Leaf Dog at cypher, I had to ask him what it felt like to be signed to one of the most prestigious hip-hop crews in the UK to date. What did he think of the music they were putting out, what did Rag think would be thought of him?
“When I started listening to the stuff that Flipper was putting out I saw straight away where he was coming from, but to be honest I wasn’t sure he would want to put an album out from a singer you know. (But) he was fully digging it.”
“I set out to bring something raw.”
And this year he’s going to bring the rawness harder then most, already looking to share the stage with Chester at his forthcoming EP launch in 3 weeks time, confirmed to play at Outlook Festival and is allegedly even in talks with perhaps performing at Glastonbury. Upon all this fulfillment however, what is he looking to achieve following the Dog ‘N’ Bone release? Does he have aims or goals?
“To be honest I just hope people dig it. And that I get a sh*t load of bookings ‘cos I love playing live!”
“I don’t really set myself goals, I’m not that guy. I just want to keep making music, doing shows, and if people keep listening and coming to the shows I’m happy.”
I was quite taken aback by his modesty that always seems so susceptible in blues musicians. Talking about the E.P I asked whether or not there would be any over artists featuring besides him and Leaf Dog to which he replied that; “The only feature on the E.P is Sonnyjim, because its only 6 tracks I didn’t want to have to many.”
This news won’t be a bother to hip-hop followers, who are more looking forward to hearing the first collaborated sounds from these two aspiring artists after hearing the Dog ‘N’ Bone mini-mix put up on the High Focus Youtube channel last week. What about the production of the E.P though, did it run smoothly?
“It was a bit trial and error – but the process was quite quick really.”
“It’s pretty easy working with Leaf. He knows what beats I want and he makes them.”
My final question was that with all things given, does he consider the music on the E.P some of the best that he’s ever recorded?
“I’ll let the punters determine that.”
A modest and genuine character with an undoubted excellence vocally and musically, if you don’t know Rag N Bone Man be sure to check out his Bluestown E.P on the bandcamp link below, available to listen to for free or it can be bought for only £4!
And also be sure to check out the Dog N Bone E.P mini-mix video and judge his singing for yourselves!