Photo by  Kuf Knotz

Photo by Kuf Knotz

The OUTSIDE INFLUENCE series is dedicated to spotlighting artists and organizers around the larger New England scene. For the latest episode, we’re headed to Portland, Maine, where emcee / producer / DJ Graphic Melee has been holding down Monday of the Minds: A Community Hip Hop Showcase as the house DJ. It’s a bi-monthly event that’s become known for strong lineups & a good time. In the process, it’s also become a hub for a growing NE underground circuit that helps touring talent string extra dates together.

All of that is very cool, but it’s important to emphasize that Graphic Melee is dope at what he does. And he does a great deal. Since he’s gearing up for a busy summer — and about to drop a new album, Deeper — it was the perfect time to pick his brain about the eternal hustle.

VTHH: In 2019, you're a triple threat and then some, as an emcee, producer, DJ, and engineer. Do you wear so many hats out of necessity, or were you drawn to all of these disciplines just as much?

Graphic Melee: Definitely a mix of both. I've always wanted to pursue each of these disciplines, and was getting my start or already pretty involved in everything by the time I was a teenager. I've been singing / rapping as long as I can remember. I've been playing different instruments and writing music since I could reach a piano. And started recording music, making beats, and getting into DJing when I was 15. I was really heavily influenced by artists that could play all the instruments in their recordings, artists that were emcees and producers or producers and DJs, and artists that recorded their own music.

I came from a very DIY music scene, and by the time I started focusing on making solo hip-hop as Graphic Melee I was in a place where I felt that I had to be self reliant with my ability to make music. So at that point being able to combine the abilities I had cultivated became a necessity.

VTHH: Where were you living when you first connected with hip hop? Did you know you were doomed to pursue this the minute you heard it?

Graphic Melee: I was 4 years old. My mom and I were staying with my aunt and my cousin in Pennsylvania for a bit. My cousin Jamie was always like a big brother to me. He was the definition of everything cool, a huge Hip-Hop fan, and a big influence in my life even years after his death. I remember our mom's would leave and he'd put a tape recorder against the tv to record the audio from music videos with us rapping along in the background. Rapping with these tapes and videos in that living room was probably my first experience performing and learning raps. I'd heard and loved Hip-Hop my whole life before that moment, but that was the first time I felt like I was taking part in it.

As far as knowing that's what I would pursue, It wasn't until around 2010, with a few albums worth of material I never released and after some motivation from long time collaborators Ant The Symbol and The Honorable Sleaze, that I realized I needed to focus on making Hip-Hop.

VTHH: Was it difficult at first making the transition from Virginia to Maine?

Graphic Melee: Not really. I was living in Boston for the second time for about 3 years before I moved up to Maine. So it wasn't too big of a change. I was already coming up to Maine one or two times a year before I moved here.

VTHH: Was Monday of the Minds always bi-weekly, or did that schedule evolve relative to turnout and headaches?

Graphic Melee: It's always been every 2nd and 4th Monday. I've worked on other events with Stay On Mars (co-creator of Monday of the Minds) and we've seen that that timing just works well with an event like MOTM.

VTHH: What is the most important ingredient for keeping a hip hop performance series running long-term?

Graphic Melee: Creating a format that keeps things fresh and keeps the audience engaged is always important. With MOTM, I have new beats I've produced ready for the freestyle cyphers most nights. I run a Hip-Hop history blog, and spin music related to the Hip-Hop history of the date in my MOTM DJ sets. And the open mic section before the main acts is like a testing ground for a lot of local artists with new material.

VTHH: You've got a strong discography, and it seems like your recent projects have all been very coherent, thematic albums. What can people expect from your next LP, Deeper?

Graphic Melee: Raw Hip-Hop. I created everything on Deeper to be performed live. It's a more personal album with a heavy, stripped down production style giving me more freedom vocally. I look at Deeper like an abstract road map for surviving life's struggles told through different stories and perspectives.

Justin Boland