Introducing to you, two of the hottest young talents in the Dancehall business; Laden, a finalist in Digicel's Rising Star (Jamaica's equivalent to American Idol/X-Factor) and Chino, son of reggae legend Freddie McGregor and brother to serial hitmaker Stephen 'Di Genius' McGregor. With both artists popularity rapidly rising both on radio and in the dances from uptown to he ghettos, you'd be hard pushed to find two artists with clean songs making as much noise.
Marvin Sparks caught up with the two Big Ship stars Laden and Chino whilst on a tour with Freddie McGregor to discuss the effect the radio ban in Jamaica has made on their careers, if it's harder to make it without controversy and Michael Jackson's passing. Chino speaks on working relationship with brother Stephen ‘Di Genius’ McGregor, the possible adverse affect of carrying the McGregor name and the beef with Munga. Laden explains why he took the reality show route, linking with the Big Ship camp and why now is his time to shine.
Marvin Sparks: What brings you both to England?
Laden: Right now we’re touring. We are on a UK tour. We are also heading to Europe, US, Japan… a lot of things - Big Ship sailing.
Chino: Yeah. Right now we are touring and exploring and the fans them saying we aren’t boring! We are doing UK, a lot of festivals in Europe, Africa, and then we go to the US tour. We have a couple gigs in Jamaica then we go back to the US tour and Japan after.
Marvin Sparks: What’s the reaction to both of your music being that most fans will be there for Freddie McGregor?
Chino: Great! Great so far; the venues that we’ve been to the fans are familiar with the songs, and we are also gaining new fans. The combination is like the best of both worlds because my father’s fan base is there as well as our youth fan base, so it’s a good combination.
Marvin Sparks: Is there still involvement from Freddie McGregor in Big Ship today or has he left it for the young ones?
Chino: Of course; he’s still recording, touring, the head advisor, promoting - just did a big concert the other day called Rocksteady meets Reggae and Dancehall in Jamaica. He’s the head captain steering the ship.
Marvin Sparks: Chino, what made you become an MC instead of a singer like your father?
Chino: Jus my genuine love for music. I’m somewhat of a laid back artist; I don’t know if shy is the word to say. I didn’t really see myself being an artist per sé, standing on a stage in front of people. But I guess the genuine love of music brought me towards that. We always had the studio in the house, so we were always there observing the elders and I just took on music. I guess it was inevitable.
Marvin Sparks: When did you start making music seriously?
Chino: We started making it professionally in ‘98. I got my first hit single in ‘99, a song called Leggo Di Bwoy with Kiprich.
Marvin Sparks: You are on that? I never knew you were on that; which part did you do?
Chino: The rapping part. Listen it back.
Marvin Sparks: What's it like working with younger brother, the hit maker Stephen ‘Di Genius’ McGregor?
Chino: Everybody asks me that but I don’t know how to answer it because it’s not really a typical work situation. It’s a family situation where we just bounce ideas off each other in the studio. It’s not a work relationship so to speak.
Marvin Sparks: Where did the name originate from?
Chino: From Leggo Di Bwoy with Kiprich, I was carrying the name Cappachino at the time. I eventually grew and just simplified it to Chino.
Marvin Sparks: On your song Protected you speak about people saying you only made it due to your last name. Does it still bother you when people say that?
Chino: No, it doesn’t actually. I rarely hear it. People on forums say it, hence that’s how it came about on Protected, but I don’t really hear it too much. Even when I do hear it, it doesn’t affect me because I am a person who just does me - I don’t really let critics get to me. I make critics motivate me to write more songs.
Marvin Sparks: Are you happy with your place in the industry?
Chino: Yeah, most definitely. If I were to complain I would be very ungrateful. I can say honestly, myself and our camp are getting played more than most artists in the game locally right now. We’re getting a whole lot of love from January until now. We made our mark in Sting last year - that was my first Sting and did well, so from January ‘til now we have been doing every big show, we’ve been touring the singles out there, the people are showing a whole lot of love. I can’t really complain, I just signed an endorsement deal with Coca Cola for Coke Zero out in Jamaica. Next time you go to Jamaica you will see the billboards all about the place, on the buses - all over.
Marvin Sparks: I have to ask you, what is the situation with Munga right now?
Chino: Who? Who name so? Which song does he have?
Marvin Sparks: ...
Chino: Well let me clarify the situation: Big Ship is not a label which came out the other day and is a careless thing. Big Ship is a legendary label that my dad started from way back when, so obviously you know a whole heap of respect surrounds that label. When you rise up as a little man and you go out of your way to disrespect the camp then people aren’t going to take that and you career is going to be in jeopardy as a result of that. We are done. Where they now and where are are we now?
Marvin Sparks: Laden, where did your name come from?
Laden: A good friend of mine called me Laden one time and it stayed from there. I love it. As an artist coming up in the industry you need a name that everyone can say “Bwoy, that name tuff eeh?” Bounty Killer, Busy Signal, Hollow Point... your name always counts in Dancehall. So from when my friend called me Laden for the first time I loved it.
Marvin Sparks: How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Laden: Just a nice easy-going youth with melodies and lyrics - lyrics! Just check the lyrics. A youth who can write and doesn’t stray from concepts.
Marvin Sparks: Would you say you are a singer or a singjay?
Laden: You could say I’m a singjay because I sing the choruses and [MC] the verses, so you could class me as a singjay.
Marvin Sparks: You were on Jamaica’s equivalent to American Idol...
Laden: Yes, I was a finalist.
Marvin Sparks: What were you doing before Rising Star?
Laden: Just hanging out at studios, building songs and beats with Stunt Squad. You have some youths in Stunt Squad who have talent like me, you have engineers and you have [MCs] so I was just hanging out in Junction which is an area in St. Elizabeth. We used to hang out on a plaza called Tony Road plaza and build beats then Rising Star came about and I decided to give it a try.
Marvin Sparks: Many artists look down on shows like that.
Laden: At first I was looking down on it like “No, I’m too good for that,” and then I thought I’d give it a try. It helped me a lot. I’ve got to say big up to Digicel Rising Star.
Marvin Sparks: How and why did you link with Big Ship?
Laden: Big Ship is the hottest spot. As a youth coming up in the game I never wanted to link with artists because I know artists aren‘t going to help me - I wanted a producer who is making beats and making things happen. I linked with Big Ship and I’m shining right now.
Marvin Sparks: Why do you feel you never made it big before Rising Stars? Why did it take so long for your Time To Shine, pun intended?
Laden: It was just a learning process; you start off doing the thing and paying your dues. You see the first way to get through the gate then you just go. As I said before Digicel Rising Star helped me a lot with exposure and how to perform. Big up to them once more.
Marvin Sparks: Both of you are quite clean cut artists, but what are your thoughts on the radio ban?
Laden: I have no problem with the daggering, but when you go too deep with the lyrics and make it too explicit and too much edit, that’s where I have the problem, because it sounds annoying. You know if it’s too explicit it can’t be played on the radio and if it’s too raw and too much edit it’s annoying.
Marvin Sparks: Has it had any effect on your work Chino?
Chino: Nah, it hasn’t affected my work. As a real artist you have to be wise. Alright the ban is there and the pressure [from authorities] is there, so what are you going to do, throw your hands out and complain, and get depressed then stop doing music? Nah, you make your music, get your point across, but do it in a clever way whereas it’s clean but the message is still there. Jamaican music from before Bob Marley’s time has always been about freedom of speech; we sing about and express things that happen around us. We address those issues in our songs but we say it in a nice way that it doesn't have to be edited out. I don’t have a problem and it doesn’t affect us. As a matter of fact since the whole ban and the pressure we have been getting more love and even more radio play.
Laden: Disc jocks are classing us as the cleanest.
Chino: You’ll find that where disc jocks are skeptical of playing certain artists songs, they are playing us all day from morning ‘til morning again so I don’t have a problem. It just forces the industry to boil back down to real music, you understand. Real artists, real producers, real musicians... You have to know melodies, concepts, topics and lyrics which are clean and can be played on radio, but still have the effect in the [parties]. Producers you have to be a real musician and know music, so I’m happy. I’m interested to see how the game will between now and Christmas.
Marvin Sparks: Would you say it’s harder for artists who aren’t involved in beefs and controversy to be recognised and get to a prominent position in the industry?
Laden: Not really. From you have the talent and you work hard you will get there eventually. All the talented artists out there; from you are working towards your goal you will reach it. You don’t have to call any names or pick any vibes to get somewhere.
Chino: The game has gone past the war thing, throwing words and negativity. That music isn’t there anymore; people aren’t in that mind frame anymore. If you as an artist are trying to break from [controversy] you are wasting your time, hence the name you asked me about earlier [Munga], that’s how he tried to breakthrough - calling people’s name. You cannot have a sustained career from that; you can’t have a sustainable catalogue from doing that. If you make those kinds of songs it will only last two months, if that. If you’re in the game you should be thinking longevity. You need to make songs that will last for years - generations - and that’s the vibe we are on.
Marvin Sparks: What projects can we expect from you guys in the near future?
Chino: Last quarter of ‘09 you can expect a Chino album. Look out. Singles on top of singles, on top of singles, videos on top of videos, all day everyday. Keep posted to the Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.
Laden: September definitely will be the release from my album will be released in Japan.
Marvin Sparks: Is there going to be an in-house Big Ship album?
Chino: There will be individual albums as well as a Big Ship compilation album. Compilation meaning myself, Laden, the captain [Freddie McGregor], Shema, Singing Sweet, Bramma, etc. so look out for that.
Marvin Sparks: Michael Jackson passed recently. Everyone over here and USA are mourning him, but for those who don’t know, put it into perspective just how big he was to you guys in Jamaica?
Chino: He was huge! Michael Jackson is the biggest thing all over the world.
Laden: The biggest thing; Michael Jackson is the king!
Marvin Sparks: And how will you guys remember him?
Chino: Michael Jackson inspired most artists. I can’t think of one artist who he didn’t inspire because he is an all-round entertainer; singer, dancer, performer, composer, songwriter. Michael set some different trends and raised the bar. The bar that he rose, artists can’t touch it now. In terms of sales, concepts... Michael is the first artist I saw make extremely big budget video which looked like movies. He was the first person I watched do a concert and everybody was just fainting. He’s the King believe me.
Facebook: Daniel Chino McGregor
Facebook: Okeefe Laden Aarons
'Protected' Chino and 'Money Over War' by Laden both appear on VP Reggae Gold 2009 available in stores now