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Interview: Kemar Flava McGregor

Interview: Kemar Flava McGregor

Interview: Kemar Flava McGregor

By on - 6 comments

"We need to start making records and making songs again"

Sampler

Kemar "Flava" McGregor was born in Montego Bay and went to school in Germany where he studied sound engineering. In the last decade he has risen to become one of the biggest producers coming out of the island, playing a vital part in the rise of artists like Gyptian, Etana and Ginjah. Early in his career it was assumed he was one of Freddie McGregor's sons yet he has carved his own niche specializing in sweet sounding slick roots reggae. And unlike most Jamaican producers he favours one drop over dancehall, only relicking 3 old rhythms - all from his idol Coxsone Dodd. In the last year, however, he has undergone an acrimonious split from VP records over publishing issues using his Twitter and his blog to make a series of statements on the subject. Now he is taking a different direction with his Cool & Deadly rhythm, embracing international artists with a focus on UK lovers rock. Angus Taylor spoke with Flava about his new project, what he sees as a crisis in Jamaican music and how illegal downloading actually helps sales...

Kemar Flava McGregor

You're releasing your Cool & Deadly rhythm at the end of the month - tell me about that.

The Cool & Deadly rhythm is something I've been working on for over a year now. Like most of my releases it took me quite some time to put together. This is a totally different release from all Flava McGregor releases. It doesn't just feature artists from outside of Kingston, Jamaica - it features artists from the UK, Germany, Canada and the US. So it's something different, interesting and more of a lovers rock vibe because as you can see there's not much lovers rock out there right now and lovers rock has contributed to reggae a lot. So I have really taken time out to work on an international project that can bring that taste because the reggae industry is kind of down right now. Nothing interesting has really come out lately and with what has come out I haven't really seen a buzz or anything exciting about it - for reasons I don't know. That's why I've taken time out to work on this project so it can bring some spice into reggae.

Why did you decide to work with some of the UK's lovers rock giants like Maxi Priest, Janet Kay, Carol Thompson, Peter Hunnigale, Lloyd Brown...

As you know Angus, most of what's coming out of Jamaica is not interesting. Most of it is violent. Even the lyrics of most roots artists isn't exciting. So I think it it's time for some lovers rock. As you know my name got out there through some of the young artists I developed like Gyptian. Everything that comes out of Jamaica, you can predict the artists that are going to be on the project. It's the same thing we do. So this time I wanted to reach out to some talented artists and some veterans that 90% of people in the reggae industry in Jamaica and the US have never heard of that are huge and very popular. So I made some contacts and reached to Janet Kay and Carol Thompson's manager and said, "Hey, I'd like to work on a project with these artists" and that's where it started. I sent them some stuff and they liked it so now we're developing a working relationship - because this is not going to be the only thing they're going to be on.

Cool and Deadly riddim mix

You've also linked up with some rising artists like Adele Harley and Lady Lex...

Adele, I was actually going through iTunes looking for stuff and I accidentally stumbled upon her record, preview listened and said, "Wow! This artist sound real good". So I did some research and reached out to her. It was the same thing with Lady Lex. Flava McGregor actually reaches out to these artists. That's what makes a good producer - reaching out to people who have talent. That is something I say as a young producer who has made a lot of impact on this industry. It's very important to go out there and find people with talent - not wait for them to come to me.

Most of what's coming out of Jamaica is not interesting. Most of it is violent. Even the lyrics of most roots artists aren't exciting. So I think it's time for some lovers rock

A lot of UK artists don't even like to be referred to as UK artists as they see it as secondary. Do you think this project can help change that?

It's definitely going to change that because Flava McGregor is a leader and not a follower in the industry. And for other producers in Jamaica and the US to see Flava McGregor reach out to a Peter Hunnigale or a Janet Kay, Peter Spence or a Roger Robin they're going to say "Wow - what has Flava come up with?" because I really think these artists are underrated and really talented. You know how the reggae thing in Jamaica operates - a lot of producers won't record an artist unless he has a buzz but as I said, I'm not that kind of producer. So the spotlight is going to be on the UK artists because they're talented - and I hope I don't offend anyone by this but - they're easier to market and co-operate and I like that.

You've cited Coxsone Dodd as an influence whose rhythms get relicked time and again yet you've only done it once or twice.

I understand the business and I know how it goes. I went to school for this. So why would I get up every day and lick a whole rhythm that another producer has created? It makes no sense. For me, Angus, if it wasn't for my talent, I don't think I'd even be doing this interview. So I really have to produce and create original stuff so the world can see Flava McGregor's talent. To go into the studio and relick Sir Coxsone's rhythms is not my thing. I respect Coxsone and all these producers and I will create a beat that has a vintage sound or Studio 1 vibe. If you listen to a lot of my stuff you will see a lot of Sir Coxsone's influence. I really am a fan. I did do some because if you're a fan eventually you're going to do something that they did but I've just covered three Studio 1 tracks. But because Coxsone is someone I look up to I don't do it to make money from it - I do it to honour him because I really love and respect his work.

If you listen to a lot of my stuff you will see a lot of Sir Coxsone's influence. I really am a fan

There has been some debate about the degree to which Coxsone was involved in the day to day production of the music. Today being a producer is more hands on. What is a typical day for you?

To some degree I think you're right about that. Producers now I think are more involved. Me, I'm involved in my production 100%. All my beats, ideas, artists and lyrics - the way a bass or a drum should play - it's all my ideas. I'm an engineer/producer/writer/arranger - I'm everything.

Is it technology that has given producers more control?

No because I think there are still at least 90% of Jamaican reggae producers who are still not familiar with these technologies and still sit down in a chair and let the engineer produce the record for them. You can hear it and when you listen to a Flava McGregor or a few other producers productions you can hear that we definitely get involved. Like when I put out a one drop rhythm like the Rub-A-Dub you can hear "Rubadub, rubadub" so here is a producer that is into his thing. I contribute to a lot of my songs 100% - even down to writing the lyrics.

Kemar Flava McGregor

Tell me about your experiences as a student in Germany studying engineering and how that helped your career? What do you think of German reggae right now?

I was a radio DJ and used to do a lot of remixes and had an ear for music so becoming an engineer was pretty easy for me. I think I was actually born to do music and if you are put on this earth for a mission I guess it's going to be easy. So it wasn't too complicated for me because I had the ears and understood the whole technical thing about it. I really have to give it up for German reggae. I don't want to offend anyone but in the last few years I think the best reggae producers produce out of  Germany. I think the producers there have the real authentic vibe that we the producers in Jamaica have lost. That's why when you look at these big reggae festivals like Summerjam you find there aren't so many artists from Jamaica. They go in the studio, they develop new talent and it's working for them. Reggae right now is in Europe. It's going backwards for us because we are the ones that are trying to do reggae now. We're doing a lot of R&B and calling it one-drop, and we're doing a lot of hip-hop and calling it dancehall.

Reggae right now is in Europe. We're doing a lot of R&B and calling it one-drop, and we're doing a lot of hip-hop and calling it dancehall

What's the solution?

We need more producers because a lot of guys out there aren't producers. They have a little laptop and have a program, they play a beat and say they're a producer. And a lot of artists have to live up to their own standards and realize that by going around recording for these so-called producers - I'm not saying it's going to damage their career - it's already damaged their career. It's damaged at least 90% of their careers - these beats they put out. It's not been properly produced and it's not reggae.

Have you tried to educate and guide other producers?

It's not an education issue because I know a lot of these guys and they're from an uptown background and went to school. It's just a hype. As you know a lot of stuff that happens in the reggae scene in Jamaica is hype. I don't know how to explain it but they really need to find themselves I think. The producers who can do the job and the artists that have disappointed their fans rights now need to look into themselves and go back in the studio. We need to start making records now. The hype is not working. Reggae out of Jamaica is not doing well at all. When I look at the charts - not the local chart but the international sales chart - there is hardly anybody from Jamaica there. The ones are still there are Bob Marley and the ones that are controlled by major companies.

Is this to do with illegal downloading?

Kemar Flava McGregorIllegal downloading actually helps but record companies use it as an excuse not to pay artists. If an artist like Beres gets 10 million downloads that equals 5 million sales.

Speaking of record companies you have spoken on your blog about VP Records a lot this year. Have you resolved your issues with VP?

No and that is something that is not going to be resolved for now. I think I'm going to be the only producer who is ever going to stand up and fight for my rights. I'm not going to wait until I pass away and my kids have to take this up and battle with these people and lose. While I'm here with life I'm going to defend and go for what's mine.

You talked about the need to make records. Is there a danger that these types of disputes can cut into time spent making music?

Kemar "Flava" McGregor is music so I don't really think it will take away much of my time. But sometimes I really do need breaks because I can't get up every day and do it. Sometimes you really have to take time out, look back and see what other producers are doing and what artists are doing wrong so that when you come back you really know what to do. So it's not doing that, all I'm doing is making sure I secure my rights. In terms of focussing on my music I'm on it. I just took a break and I'm sure even you Angus have to take a break! (laughs) But this is where I have a problem. For the last 13-14 years now I've been in the studios producing, producing, producing and not taking enough time. But at the same time every time I go in the studio and make a record it's like I'm adding more problems to it because the ones before I didn't solve them. So it's just issue, issue, issue coming up. So I think I have to focus on producing music and taking care of my intellectual property. But apart from that everything is good. I have to focus on producing new artists that have talent, who love this and want to take it to another level. Not an artist where you put the time and then tomorrow they're going to sign with another company or disrespect you. Most of the artists we work with have a history of doing that us as producers. So I'm reaching out to new people now. Not Jamaican artists anymore. I'm going to take it global.

I'm reaching out to new people now. Not Jamaican artists anymore. I'm going to take it global

After the Cool & Deadly what have you got in the pipeline?

I'm working on a lot of stuff. A new rhythm called the 80s Rock which is going to be the next big release. When I talk about the 80s Rock you know what I'm talking about - it will be an 80s sound but more modern because I think we need that. We need to bring back that authentic vibe that people go to buy. We need to start making records and making songs again.

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Read comments (6)


Posted by Laura on 06.26.2011
Amazing interview!

Posted by Strongtree on 06.27.2011
Nuff respect to Kemar "Flava" Mcgregor for standing up against
vprecords who are nothing but vampires!!!

Posted by MrQuick on 06.27.2011
When I see people speaking about themselves using the third person, it raises a flag...
He's right about Jamaica' Reggae, though.

Posted by speakthatruth on 06.27.2011
Mr McGregor publicity stunts for your new riddim aint gonna work when the whole of the reggae music biz knows how you stay. VP Records have done to you what you do to artists, so whats the problem, what goes around, comes around. You have to go global because the artists in Jamaica kno's how u stay, post one receipt to your facebook, that you have sent to a artist for digital sales from your website.

Posted by SpeakThaTruthIsLying on 06.28.2011
These internet thugs are really pathetic!

Posted by Jamdown on 06.28.2011
Bun laptop and electricity!!!! Cho

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