Dennis Graham, soul musician and father of Drake, can not be mistaken for anyone else. He’s the man with the signature mustache and pristine suit, sometimes seen wearing a knitted kufi or another dapper hat. If his son is a self-crafted meme to be enjoyed by the entire internet, well, Dennis Graham is too.
When Drake appeared on the cover of The FADER for the first time, in 2009, he described his dad as "more like a little brother" and said he’d drawn from his dad’s "overcool, Shaft-like personality." Today, the two remain close. Graham recently spent 41 nights on tour with Drake. The after parties and backstage hangs are all documented on Graham’s Instagram, along with news clippings of Drake’s unremitting accomplishments.
“Seeing him perform means the world to me,” Graham told The FADER in August. “He's so busy, that's the only time I get to hang out with him on a regular basis is when we're on tour.” He was calling from L.A. where he mostly lives nowadays, and had returned after tour, where he described his role as “merely a guest.”
After moving there in the 1980s, Graham worked as a musician in Toronto for 20 years, playing drums in his own band, and with Jerry Lee Lewis. He’s now looking to reboot his music career, this time as a singer. For this he’s enlisted the help of Jamie Iovine; yes, that’s the son of Jimmy Iovine, the music business mogul who Drake deals with with at Apple.
In August, Graham began promoting “Kinda Crazy,” an R&B single he’s been working on for years. In a preview of a music video for that song shared by TMZ, Graham serenades a young actress. He’s wearing a ridiculously white suit and a sparkling owl chain. “Kinda Crazy” will be released sometime before his birthday on September 20, Graham said. Below, more from our conversation, about Graham’s best memories of car trips with a young Drake, where he gets his suits from, and what he’s working on with Snoop Dogg.
I know that you’ve played music your entire life, but when did the idea for this return to music start?
I played in Canada for over 20-something years. I had a band called Dennis Graham And The North Memphis Band. We played a lot in Toronto over the years and that's when I started playing drums, when I arrived in Toronto in 1983. I started singing after that. I met a little producer in Memphis and we worked night after night producing songs and we landed on this one, “Kinda Crazy.” So we recorded it at my condo in Memphis and the producer that did it, I don't want to mention her name because we're not on good terms right now. She wanted a larger percentage of the track. She was selling tracks for $50, $100, $500. She wanted some ridiculous figure and I thought we were going to split the thing. That's what ruined our relationship. I got in touch with another guy. Several producers tried to send tracks to replace the first one. I wasn't happy until I met a young man out of Kentucky whose name is Dustin Que. He came up with the track. I met him in a club in Los Angeles and we became friends. He came to my house, I have a little studio set up here and we recorded it. We redid the vocals and took it from there.
I read that you took five trips to Sweden to shoot a music video. Were those for this “Kinda Crazy” video?
This is the video. I did it in Sweden with Nikeisha Andersson. I met her at a party at my son Drake's house. She showed me some of her work, I was really amazed because she was so young. She's one of the top videographers in Stockholm. We finally talked and I flew back and forth we started shooting the video and we got it done.
On Instagram, you mentioned were working with a Memphis rapper named Ze Monroe. Are you still working with her?
She was on the track. She even went to Sweden with me one time to record the video. All my inside sources were telling me that because it was the first single that I was going to be releasing that I should do it by myself. Unfortunately I had to do it alone. My co-writer on the song was someone I consider my godson, Marcus Bedrick, he also mentioned that I should take her off the song because of some of the wording she was using, we couldn't have that on the song. I wanted it to be kid friendly. That was that.
In the video you’re wearing an owl chain. Would you ever want to be signed to your son’s label?
I'm not looking to be signed because I'm not trying to get back into this life again. I've done it. I merely wanted to put the single out, but it looks like I'm going to have to do more because my good friend Jamie Iovine is encouraging me to do an album. I'm going to limit that to six or seven songs but I'm not looking forward to touring and all that. But I know I'm going to have to do something along those lines because once I drop the music it's going to be crazy. I dropped one minute of the song and it has half a million views already. I just did an interview with ABC in Memphis, it's playing on the radio already. Billboard magazine, Rolling Stone, GQ — every major magazine is talking about it and [the clip is] less than one minute long. I'm hoping that when we do release it, with the hype and promo that I've gotten, that it's going to be very successful.
From what I understand, Jamie Iovine is managing you now. How did that happen?
Jamie and I were friends before this ever happened. I gave him a call and told him that I needed his help. I sent him a snippet and he really wanted to be a part of it. I sent him the whole video and he took it from there. He's the reason that I'm getting the promo and interest. I'm so thankful, we're going to do a lot more together. He's like a brother, I love him. We've always been cool and if it hadn't been for Jamie, it wouldn't have generated the interest right now.
During Drake’s childhood, you and he would take trips to Memphis in the summer. Is there a memory that sticks out in your mind that represents the best part of those trips?
I mean we started driving to Memphis when he was five years old. How many years we came to Memphis? From the age of five to when he was 17. The most memorable thing is that the last time he actually helped me drive, from Toronto to Memphis. At the age of 17, he helped me drive the car and that was history.
Was he a good driver?
Yeah, by then! The only issue that Drake and I used to have is when we were driving down, when he got old enough, was whose turn it was with the radio. I would listen to soul music, R&B, and he wanted to listen to Kanye and rap music. We had an issue about that and we split times on the radio: You listen to rap for an hour, I listen to R&B for an hour. We still talk about that today actually. Another memorable moment was when he was eight years old, he said, "I'm going to do more music, more movies than you ever did. More commercials and more music." I said, “Okay we're going to see. Let's make a five dollar bet.” He was excited about that. At a tour he did in Memphis at the Cannon Center, I had to pay him his five dollars. We laugh about that. Those were good memories.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from him?
Drake is such an entrepreneur. He knows every in and out of the music business. I thought I was going to have to help him when he first started. I thought I should be there to help him and make sure that he's not being taken advantage of or anything like that. But I found out that my services weren't needed. He had his entire corporation together, so to speak. He was extremely smart about what he was doing and knew every step that he was taking. So I never had to worry about him again ever. I'm so happy about that. That makes me feel good, that I don't have to worry. He was smart enough to handle his own business in his own way.
And what do you think he’s learned from you?
I think he learned how to be humble, down to earth, to be real, or 100%. To just stay focused and do his music. To not let all the hype and the media get to him or to make him react to some of the stupidity of what goes on in the music business.
Did you get to spend time with Future while y’all were on tour?
We're all backstage together, conversing when we see each other. He's a brother. He's definitely a brother...or a son [laughs]. I treat them all like adults and I don't go to them like a father. I treat them like Drake's crew, like one of the guys. Same with Kanye. When we see each other, we laugh and we joke. Same with LeBron James, or French Montana, or Lil Wayne. It's just like one big family. There's no ego, they keep it real with me because they know I'm real. I'm sure I'll have all their support behind what I'm doing. Whatever I choose to do.
Speaking of support, are you working on any collaborations for your music?
Only person I've talked to so far is Snoop Dogg. I'm sure many others will come forward once I drop the single. The only person that I've actually discussed collaboration with is Snoop Dogg.
What would that sound like?
Oh man. That would be an OG sound. That would definitely be an OG sound. We would kill it together I'm sure.
On Power 106 in L.A., you said you and Drake had been going back and forth about a song for about a year.
Nothing in particular. He's put me talking in some of the songs. But the only thing that Drake and I discussed was my song “Kinda Crazy.” I waited for him to get on it and he urged me and said, “Dad, this is your first single. You should be the only one on it." I took his advice. He said “We'll do something later, but this is your first single. Do it by yourself.” I took his advice.
Your style which plays such an important part of your image. Who gives you style inspiration?
So many people. Y&R [Young & Reckless]. They send me an exorbitant amount of clothes. I'm so thankful. Everytime something new comes out, they're there to dress me. I've also had meetings with Nick — you can look him up — from Guess Jeans. I have some of their stuff. Just people. The Five Four Club, they send me stuff to keep me looking fresh. I can dress like the hipsters of young. My friend Max Manwear out of Detroit, he sends me the suits that keep me old school.
Your suits are definitely a signature. Have you always worn them or is it a newer thing?
I like to dress. There's people I meet that keep me looking the way I like to dress. I don't like to say I dress hip-hop, but I do wear the younger dress, like OVO. I wear a lot of OVO clothes. I have access to everything they have out. Between those three and a lot of other people, I’m good. I have a young guy that is named Oshar Williams, he's making some clothes for me now.
We've been asking everyone we've been talking to who they're voting for. Who are you voting for in the upcoming election?
Oh definitely Clinton. There's no way that I'd vote for Donald Trump. I thank Donald Trump for what he's doing and that's losing the election to Hillary Clinton by keeping the other Republicans out. He ran for that reason and I'm pretty sure that's what he did. He doesn't want to win, he doesn't want the Republican party to win.