Bearcat Creatives: Key take-aways from Baruch hip-hop artist Grafic’s musical journey

Lauren Lee

Raf Hossain is a full-time corporate communications student at Baruch College. When he is not studying, he is Grafic, the up-and-coming hip-hop artist who reaches nearly 20,000 listeners per month and whose top track has earned over 1.5 million plays.

Hossain has been making music professionally for six years. His work as Grafic is his main focus, but his musical background ranges from learning to sing with traditional Bengali music to performing a capella in Baruch’s Blue Notes group.

As the hip-hop genre gained popularity in recent decades, Hossain has carved a space for himself as an experimental artist with a variety of appeals.

“You’re going to hear things that make you want to cry and hear things that make you want to punch something,” Hossain said of his music to The Ticker. “You’re going to hear crazy samples of machines grinding in the background and then … very sweet major chord changes and … guitars, and you’re gonna hear piano.”

In addition to his creative blend of sounds, Hossain draws from a mix of unexpected inspirations.

“I feel like if I listen to hip-hop now, it’s going to impede anything that I’m doing with my own project,” Hossain said. He prefers listening to music outside of his genre.

“I’ll just pull from James Blake and from other folk music. I’ll listen [to] even Taylor Swift.”

Hossain’s messages and relationship with hip-hop have been greatly influenced by his Bengali American background. “Hip-hop isn’t the most Brown thing,” he said. “A lot of my background and a lot of my culture … clashed with the ideas that hip-hop represented.”

He struggled specifically with the clash between his cultural background and his desire to express his emotions. Hossain recognized that men from his culture are typically expected to conceal their emotions.

When considering sharing vulnerable messages, he asked himself, how can he be “an emotional man while also being a man that fits a Bengali man’s standards?”

Beyond his music’s complex creation process, Hossain has learned the complications of organizing performances. He attributes his biggest bookings to his networking abilities and considers venue owners and other entertainment professionals as “allies that you need to move forward within the industry”.

Beyond securing a booking, organizing shows requires calculating ticket prices, stocking merchandise, creating marketing assets, budgeting for advertising and curating his setlist to suit the venue and audience.

“You can do everything right and you can still fall flat in some ways,” Hossain said. “I’m nowhere near the place where I know everything that I need to do. I just know that I need to go forward and I need to take those risks. Now I’m taking more calculated risks and I’m understanding more and more as time goes on.”

As he experiences the continual obstacles of the music industry, he attributes his survival to his tenacity. “The hardest… and most essential part about the game is that it’s going to test who has the most patience,” he said. “You have to be willing to stick through the toughest parts. You have to be willing to lose everything just to gain a little smidgen of it.”

Despite its unpredictable challenges, pursuing music has also brought him unexpected rewards. Hossain has bonded with other students, even while studying business at Baruch, over an interest in music.

“The most surprised I’ve ever been is sitting down in a marketing class or a finance class, getting into a group with somebody … then just talking to them a little bit [and] finding out they’re a producer, finding out they did this [or that],” Hossain said. “The thing with [Baruch students] … is that everybody is a hustler. Everybody [has] something else going on on top of school.”

Hossain believes that music’s bonding force reaches far beyond his experience at Baruch.

“There are very few forces in the world that I think can unify people, regardless of anything that differentiates them,” he said.

“Music connects and transpires across the world … As a communications major and as someone who’s so … based in being able to have your words heard and have other people listen to, I think that [music is] the ultimate vehicle.”

Grafic is on Instagram @GraficNY and Spotify, where his newest song “Our Second July” is out now.