Loyalist. Father. Frat brother. This is how I’ve gotten to know (but never met face to face) the man known as John Graham. Instead of giving in to the whims of commercialized music, he chooses to go a different route. John wants to make more positive music that lacks a lot of gratuity and foolishness. You will be hard pressed to hear curse words, misogyny, or hood tales glorified. What you WILL hear is a “teacher teaching the masses”. Think KRS One without being as preachy. In fact, Success Is Retrograde is actually a lyrical lashing over infectious production.
John’s lyrics tend to have intentional meaning and concepts that flow like the Tigris/Euphrates. On “Modus Operandi”, he reflects on “what’s the point of having listeners if all I sell is fantasy” and “dreams that keep up division”. With the “Top 1%”, he gives scenery of how it would be to be young, rich, and fabulous through lyrics of opulence and wealth accumulation. In addition, “The Honeymoon’s Over” even takes the time to go in on the reality of the relationship between art and corporate, equipped with David Chappelle vocal samples for the hook. Thus, if you want dumb rap with no meaning, don’t upload this EP in your Itunes player.
The production on this EP stays high grade, sample heavy, suave, and dope. “Dear Diary” comes in with a piano loop, some bass, and a hand clap until it evolves to just the piano sample and a drum pattern mainly. “What Dreams May Come” make one think it will be a “crunk” track until Esha J’s singing and the true beat drops in and evolves into something much more synth heavy and heavenly. “Second Guess” makes use of a familiar Pete Rock and CL Smooth sample to move stone cold horn and jazz grooves to help move John’s aquatic lyrics through auditory canals. Even with its series of producers (Shade Cobain, Amir Swain, Kuddie Fresh, Mark Henry, Sizemen, Brandon Lee, and others), the production stays both diverse yet intertwined with the concept of the album.
With Success Is Retrograde, John Graham keeps it positive and realistic to maintain of the most impressive EPs to start the year off with. While it may/may not garner a lot of attention, that should be irrelevant. John Graham has offered hip hop a quite enthralling alternative to the entire “Fantasy Land” rap that usually contorts the airwaves. My suggestion: give the man a listen. There is nothing better than positive music coming from a well-adjusted, optimistic person.