Stephen McGregor making the right connections
Stephen ‘Di Genius’ McGregor has established himself as one of Jamaica’s finest producers. Having worked with a slew of international acts such as Drake, Shakira, Estelle, Ne-Yo and French Montana, McGregor has become one of the most sought-after professionals in his field. Most recently, his work put him on the radar of Grammy-winning R&B crooner, John Legend. A member of Legend’s team reached out to McGregor late last year, which resulted in the Jamaican producing two tracks for Legend’s latest album Bigger Love. McGregor, a Grammy winner himself, told The Sunday Gleaner that networking has played a huge role in his career. For him, success in the music business comes from striking a balance between the quality of work one puts out and the connections one establishes.
“How I even got onto the John Legend album was testament of how your work coupled with your connections can work wonders. I met with one of John Legend’s A & R called Shawn Holiday, and it was his idea to put me and John together. Of course he recognised my work and, at the time, John had just started working on the album and he (Holiday) wanted to see if we (Legend and McGregor) would vibe together. We did a session and the track with Koffee, Don’t Walk Away, came out of that session,” McGregor said. “After that, John reached out to me again to work on the title track, Bigger Love. He wanted it to have more of a Caribbean flavour, and so I did my thing and sent it back to him. They ended up liking my version and used it as the final draft. Obviously, now we have a relationship and so we can continue working if he has a next project he wants me on. That’s how I have built my career over the years. I have established networks that keep working for me.”
“This business, for me, is all about a having a track record and then putting yourself in a space where you become accessible to these artistes on these big labels. You have to build the all-important relationships. Make sure that you make yourself a part of the conversation,” he continued. “Take your work as far as you can, and don’t get comfortable. That’s what drove me to where I am now.”
Speaking of where he is now, McGregor said, contrary to popular belief, landing these big projects was the result of hard work and not his last name. The producer, who is the son of renowned reggae artiste, Freddie McGregor, says he is aware of the notion that his success is tied in with his father’s legacy, but maintains that he has worked hard to create his own lane. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime to be born into the situation that I was born in, and I think it would be a disservice to my father if I tried to downplay it, because he put in a lot of work to be in the position he was in, so that I could start out the way I did. But I can’t go into a room with an international artiste and say who my father is and expect that is going to make me get on the project,” he said. “The work still have to be put in and I still have to perform. In fact, having that kind of name and representing for someone like my father, it comes with great pressure. If you are the offspring of somebody great, then you are expected to perform on the same level or higher.” He expressed that the latter is why he has pushed himself so hard. “I was once in a place where I felt like I was in a loop. I wanted to go further, so I pushed myself until I got to where I wanted to be. I am proud of my background, I don’t shy away from it, but I have built a name for myself by producing quality work,” he said.
McGregror advised young producers to keep pushing themselves even when the road ahead seems uncertain. “Taking the next step is always a scary thing. I knew I wanted to push the culture forward, like the greats such as Sly and Robbie and Steelie and Cleevie did. I didn’t know when I took that first step how it would turn out, but it was a risk I was willing to take. If you want more, more for yourself, more for your culture, more for the music, you have to take risks. The only way to grow is by taking chances. Don’t box yourself in. Be flexible and open.”