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Blessed with awe inspiring rhyming skills and an arsenal of sharpened lyrics that could be classified as weapons of mass instruction when it comes to making hit songs, Jamaican sing-jay Daniel “Chino” McGregor also possesses a rich, robust singing voice perfectly suited to silky, romantic pleas. With his innate ability to create songs that incorporate a melodic fusion of varied influences while maximizing his versatile vocal technique, it’s little wonder that Chino is poised to be dancehall reggae’s next superstar. Chino’s impressive string of popular singles, including his cautionary “Pon Your Head” and the motivational “From Mawnin’ (Never Change),” have made him a preeminent artist in Jamaica but his talents are also heavily in demand all over the Caribbean and in Caribbean outposts throughout North America and Europe. Chino has also released two albums in Japan, Unstoppable and Never Change, the latter topped the Japan’s iTunes Reggae Chart and “From Mawnin’ (Never Change)” emerged as that country’s number one downloaded ringtone for 2010.
Having conquered a significant portion of the world with his seemingly limitless skills and abundant charisma, Chino has now set his sights on capturing the attention of the elusive mainstream U.S. market. His self-titled debut album for VP Records (May 24, 2011) features the aforementioned hits and an exceptional crop of broadly appealing new selections that bridge generational tastes, flaunt cosmopolitan flavors and are capable of reestablishing dancehall reggae as the consistent international hit-making genre it was throughout the ‘90s and the early 2000s. “I am a 90s baby, a fan of Buju, Cobra, Spragga Benz, Shabba, Super Cat, even the Shaggy vibe, KRS One and Mad Lion - to me the ‘90s was the greatest era of dancehall,” states Chino. “We don’t want that vibe to die or younger kids to grow up without that knowledge because that success is what paved the way for us so I am trying to strike that perfect balance with this album.”
Produced by Chino’s brother Stephen “Di Genius” McGregor, who at just 21 years-old is among the island’s most successful producers, Chino retains a uniquely Jamaican zest as it successfully ventures into crunching alternative rock (“My Soul”), smooth R&B (“Mus’ Come Back”), traditional African drumming patterns as featured on “Build A Vibe,” a hypnotic snippet of Chino’s rapid-fire deejaying and a refreshing jazz-reggae-rock fusion on the tough-edged, anti- gangster lifestyle anthem “Badness.” But Chino does not forsake the dancehall core, or the ladies, as he delivers “Yeah Yeah” for them over Stephen’s red hot Peppa Riddim.
Chino’s two recently released singles are further evidence of this album’s wide-reaching scope. “I Am” is a French-accented pop-dancehall ditty while the velvety lovers rock of “Seal The Link (Leaving)” is reminiscent of the beloved hits recorded by Chino’s father, venerated reggae singer Freddie McGregor. “These two singles are great contrasts,” Chino explains. “‘I Am’ is a perfect summer club banger, very radio friendly and ‘Seal The Link (Leaving)’ is a perfect one-drop reggae anthem. That is the beauty of this album, we have a lot of potential singles, too many to choose from so I am hoping this album will raise the bar and inspire other artists and producers to step outside of the box because that would be good for the industry.”
Born on February 12, 1983, Chino certainly knows a thing or two about the music industry. Growing up, he was surrounded by the music of his father and that of his contemporaries, including departed reggae icons Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs. Since 1995, when Freddie set up his Big Ship studio, named after his 1981 international hit, adjacent to the McGregor home, Chino, Stephen and their older sister Yeshemabeth (also a singer), saw firsthand the diligence required in creating high-quality music and the fulfillment derived from doing so. “I was there watching the whole production process, watching the artists and musicians,” Chino reflects. “I also had early touring experience with my father; a lot of times I skipped school for a few days or even weeks to tour places like Japan, Africa, Europe, or America, way before I decided to pursue music professionally. From that early exposure we got great insights into the music, the positives and the negatives of the business and we have learned from certain mistakes that we have seen.”
Chino performed for the very first time as a 9 year-old member of Kingston’s Vaz Preparatory School choir. During his high school years at Wolmer’s Boys’ School, he broadened his musical pursuits and became a selector with the Omega Disco sound system, which he formed with his brother and a few friends. Omega would often play at weekend parties, an activity Chino credits as teaching him “how to connect with a crowd by playing the music that they wanted to hear.” A good student who did extremely well in his English and Composition classes, Chino decided to direct his writing skills towards fashioning song lyrics. At age 15, when he was known as the rapper Cappuccino, he came up with his first hit “Leggo Di Bwoy,” a duet with Kip Rich. Chino continued to hone his rapping talents and following his high school graduation, he relocated to South Florida where he signed with Slip-N-Slide Records, at that time the home of Rick Ross, Trick Daddy and Trina. He did some recordings for the label but it wasn’t a long lasting relationship. “My thing is more lyrical and they were into a more dirty South kind of thing,” Chino explained. “So I drifted from that situation and started spending more time in Jamaica.”
Upon his return home, Chino’s vocal approach shifted from rapping to a dancehall sing-jay style. Meanwhile, his teenaged brother Stephen started making riddim tracks and focusing on production. At just 15 years old, while still attending high school, “Di Genius” was catapulted into the spotlight by the success of his Cartoon Riddim. He followed that with the massive Red Bull and Guinness Riddim, its title taken from Chino’s big hit voiced on it. Red Bull and Guinness also provided the backing for Mavado’s “Wa Dem A Do,” which reached number 27 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Chart.
Chino continued his red-hot hit making streak. He released “Protected,” featuring Stephen on vocals, a deftly rhymed dismissal of the “fakers and enemies” who maliciously attribute the young McGregors’ success to their last name, and the hardcore ladies favorite “Ruff It Up,” which samples Buju Banton’s 1993 boom shot “Make My Day.” “Protected” and “Ruff It Up” are included on Chino, as is another tribute to early ‘90s dancehall, the steamy duet “Driving Me Insane,” featuring Denyque and inspired by the Shabba Ranks/Chevelle Franklyn crossover hit “Mr. Loverman.”
Just as Chino pays homage to the dancehall icons that have been influential to his development, years from now, a subsequent generation of Jamaican stars will likewise cite Chino’s work as essential to their professional growth. Foremost among the songs they’ll reference is “God Nah Sleep (Rise and Fall Story),” a brilliantly told, chillingly detailed story about the perils of excess and the karmic repercussions in the lives of an entertainer and a drug king pin. The haunting narrative is built around a looped guitar sample over which Stephen played the drums then delicately embellished with an array of sound effects. As the song winds down, its dramatic storyline is reinforced by Chino’s stark a cappella delivery: “Warn dem already, one and all, careful, careful of the rise and fall/ smoke clear make sure yuh stand tall, can’t run before you can crawl.” “Stephen was browsing through some songs and I heard the guitar piece and I said, ‘Yow, go back to that!’” Chino related. “We kept playing it over and over again and instantly I heard a story being told over it. That song was one of the quickest for me to write yet the story came together so perfectly; it is one of those songs that I am really proud of.”
Chino concludes with two inspirational songs - the soulful “Before Dem Gone,” which urges expressions of love and appreciation towards family and friends while they are still alive, and “Work,” described by Chino as Beatles-like in its melody, instrumentation, and harmonies; its lyrics champion determination and continued effort for achieving what you want “because nothing inna life nah come easy.”
The uplifting sentiments characterizing Chino’s music have already earned him numerous awards including Best Male Singjay of the Year at Jamaica’s Excellence in Music and Entertainment Awards (EME) in 2010 and Entertainer of the Year from New York-based Linkage Radio Awards in 2011. Because of his positive image, Chino was chosen as a spokesman for Coke Zero and for Nestles’ Supligen energy drink and he is currently considering additional endorsement offers. “All of this is a result of the music I make, songs that everyone can relate to from the hardcore fans to the elders to the corporate world,” he affirms. “With this album we want to change the perception that dancehall music is limited; we want to show people that yes, we can do this on the best level possible.”
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