Kat Graham has a motto: “the cooler it is, the farther back it goes” — specifically when it comes to music.
“The idea for the album was to create something sonically that felt ’70s, felt disco, felt fun and fabulous and fresh and still modern,” Graham, 27, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “Certain records have this magic to them and I knew that I wanted to bring that — we want to keep it funk, we want to keep it empowered, we want to keep it loud.”
Graham says the theme of love is present throughout the entirety of the album, and inspired her to write “Sometimes.”
“We wanted to make a love song talking about the realities of what happens when you fight and you sometimes feel like you just can’t get it right,” Graham says about the single. “My idea of love is a bit more gritty and includes love of self and finding yourself within love. Love means something different for everyone, so does music and so does magic.”
Graham was influenced by the magic of late icon Prince, who co-wrote a song on the album and influenced her sound.
“When I first met Prince it was all about a ’90s style sound and throughout time he wanted me to do this funk-inspired vibe,” she explains. “I sent ‘All Your Love‘ to Prince and he said, ‘This is the direction you should have been going.'”
After Prince died in April 2016, Graham had to finish the rest of the album without her mentor’s guidance— which “was hard” but she tried to grasp what he wanted.
As to her favorite memory of working with the music legend, Graham says “listening.”
“We spent a lot of time studying, not just music but we spent a lot of time studying the world and spirituality and the best way to follow it as an artist that is going to get attention and what that means to bring consciousness to music and being black in America and how to navigate that,” she says. “I think I learned a lot of that through him. I learned to have less of a filter, that’s for sure.”
FROM COINAGE: Here Are the 7 Most Expensive Music Videos of All Time
Since Vampire Diaries ended, Graham has been keeping busy with other projects aside from working on her music including promoting the upcoming Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez On Me, in theaters June 16, in which she stars as a young Jada Pinkett Smith.
Though she didn’t meet Smith before filming to prepare for the role, she says: “To embody somebody that’s a firecracker like Jada Pinkett I have to say is not hard for me.”
She adds: “Jada has consistently been a strong, fierce, force in the industry and for me, as a black woman, I look up to her. I wanted to do her justice and really portray her right. It’s a little intimidating playing someone who’s still alive, but I gave her my best shot.”
Growing up in Los Angeles, Graham was always a fan on Shakur and would listen to him in dance class.
“It’s important to showcase figures like Tupac and people that aren’t afraid to stand up for what’s wrong in the world and be themselves and show that African-Americans are more than one dimensional beings,” she says. “Especially with what’s going on in the world right now.”
For Graham, the rest of this year will be all about “finding balance” and focusing on her philanthropy work. She just returned from a trip to Somalia and is hoping to spend time in Africa.
“I’m happy that I have more space to do my philanthropy because that has been something that I felt had to take a bit of a back seat because of my schedule,” she says. “You can have the best songs or be on the coolest shows or coolest movies and wear the coolest clothes but if you’re not about anything—you’re not about anything.”