The Wrap Up’s Marvin Sparks ventures down to the Big Ship studios in Kingston, Jamaica to speak with Stephen McGregor about kick-starting Mavado's international career whilst still in high school, working with Estelle, Ne-Yo and much more...
Dubbed "Di Genius" for his understanding and ability to produce music from a young age, McGregor has been creating music for over a decade despite only being 21 years old. Although he is better known for producing hits, he started out in the booth recording songs like ‘School Done Rule’ at the tender age of 9. As the son of the legendary Freddie McGregor, falling into music was no surprise – much of his youth was spent learning instruments around the studio.
Stephen began beat-making when he was 12 – for producers such as Outlaw – however, his defining moment came aged 16 in 2006, when he broke traditional dancehall formats with the distinctive grimey ‘Red Bull & Guinness’ riddim. The riddim boasted 'Weh Dem A Do', which was recorded by a relatively new artist at the time, Mavado. Stephen McGregor has become one of the scene’s most influential producers for over half-a-decade, winning countless awards along the way.
The Wrap Up: How did you go from just playing about on instruments to becoming one of dancehall’s leading producers?
Stephen McGregor: It wasn’t difficult. I never approached it to learn the instruments so that I could become a producer. I just learnt all the instruments by trying to play back songs I heard on the radio.
TWU: What programs or instruments do you use?
Stephen McGregor: Well, all of the earlier stuff was drum-machine MPC. Now I use all of the different MPCs, keyboards and software, like ProTools, Reason, Logic and stuff like Reaper. I mix up all of them. It depends on the feel I’m trying to get, then I select which software I‘m going to use.
TWU: How important is having a formula or signature sound?
Stephen McGregor: Right now, the business is saturated with different producers, and so much things sound alike. I think it’s good when people can identify you by hearing the beat alone, without having an artist calling out your name. From day one you can hear a Timbaland beat or a Neptunes beat, so I look at it like that.
TWU: When did you realise that you were onto something with your first big production, ‘Red Bull & Guinness’. But more to the point, ‘Weh Dem A Do’ by Mavado?
Stephen McGregor: Well, it is a mad song! From in the studio I was confident that it would work in Jamaica. I wasn’t looking at it on that international level and it went onto the Billboard chart. At that point, all of us were young, in terms of our careers. My career just started to buzz, Mavado likewise, so we weren’t picturing that, but it worked out well.
TWU: Having produced ‘Daville’, featuring Sean Paul, ‘Always On My Mind’ and also making the ‘Forever’ riddim, you haven’t made many one-drop reggae riddims. As Freddie McGregor’s son, I’m sure people would expect to hear more of that from you...
Stephen McGregor: Right now, I have 5 or 6 one-drop juggling riddims to release right now. But I guess people are more familiar with the dancehall songs. A lot of people don’t know I did those songs. It isn’t a preference thing, but I’m more popular and more prolific with the dancehall thing, but I have those lined up. Major, major things. I have Capleton, Jah Cure, Marcia Griffiths, Anthony B and a few others. Crazy artists!
TWU: You’re at a level where people anticipate your latest releases and, most of the time, they are successful. How do you stop from becoming complacent?
Stephen McGregor: I look at it as a responsibility. I still think of it as I’m working for reggae music more-so than just securing another hit riddim. It isn’t really a personal thing. I’m in the studio every day, I make beats every day, so I could put out anything, but I do have a lot of tracks that I put on hold or on the backburner. I always put myself in a position where I say you don’t know who may hear it, so I don’t want to put something out because I have a name. I always approach it like it’s the first time someone may hear a dancehall or reggae song.
TWU: Are there any UK artists that you're interested in working with?
Stephen McGregor: Wiley reached out to us, saying he wants to do a song with Chino. My publisher at EMI is trying to make something work between me and Tinie Tempah.
TWU: In addition to ‘Cyaa Friend Again’, you’ve recorded more solo songs such as ‘Bounce A Gal’, ‘Don’t Cry’, ‘Whine Up’, ‘Nah Forgive Them’ and ‘Money Around’. Will there be a solo album?
Stephen McGregor: (Laughs) Everyone asks that! I’m just working and feeling the vibes. It isn’t priority now. My priority is just with the artists that I’m working with.
TWU: You have the ‘Labworks’ series which is a compilation of songs you produce. Will there be a ‘Labworks Vol 3’?
Stephen McGregor: I’m working on that now. It has crazy exclusives on it. ‘Labworks 1’ AND ‘Labworks 2’ surprised me, because it was just an idea that I got out of the blue. I was going through the computer one day and realised that I’ve put out so many singles, so I decided to put out a compilation.
Stay up to date with Stephen McGregor on Twitter – www.twitter.com/DiGenius1
Words: Marvin Sparks (@MarvinSparks)
Online editing: Joseph 'JP' Patterson (@Jpizzledizzle)