Trading Bars: Iron Sharpening Iron

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” — Proverbs 27v17

The proverb of iron sharpening iron has been slung around for centuries, and for centuries the crux of the statement has remained true. Over the last 2 years the proverb has rung true for me as I have witnessed exponential growth in my musical journey. Why the proverb resonates so much is because I have been working closely a few collaborators, Hlats (Shottaz), Blacq Alex, Triplelan, Jafa Mafia (Kwinton and Tobi), and of course DJ Skarob, and as we have put in work I have witnessed growth on all fronts. –Sidenote: I write this piece as I’m banging a tune I have just recorded on a Skarob riddim, mark my words this tune is a hit.

The main thing that has allowed myself to grow so much, on a personal level, is a corner I turned sometime last year during one of many late night sessions with Hlats. We were working on one of the songs from Focus, which is literally around the corner by the way, and Hlats was not happy with certain lyrics in my verse. The brother pointed out his concerns in typical Hlats style, which is pointing out the flaws without pulling any punches, and instead of responding in typical Max style (i.e. being stubborn) I actually listened and took his feedback into account. For the record, I didn’t just concede, instead I listened carefully to his feedback, processed the information he had provided, and we proceeded to have a constructive discussion regarding his suggestions. Needless to say, I took on the feedback and the result was a verse which was significantly better.

I have developed trust in my collaborators, which is essential  when looking to produce a well polished product. As good as my ideas and concepts may be, they will always undoubtedly require refinement and I have reached a point where I am open to constructive criticism from trusted sources. Recently I have been recording a lot with Kwinton Jafa, and during one of our sessions he pulled me aside after I had finished recording a tune to make a few suggestions regarding lyrics and verse structure. I’m pretty sure at the time Kwinton felt I was being apprehensive, I was actually just having a bad day, but I trusted him enough to send him my lyrics so he could make the suggestions and you can bet the outcome will be a much better song. From that point, I am glad to take input from the brother given that he has to listen to my million takes giving him a greater connection to the music I’m working on.

The same is true on the live performance side of things. I’ve had one rehearsal with DJ Skarob to date, and in that one session he gave me a few tips to make my vocal delivery better when performing live. Again, I could have rejected his advice outright given that I have done various live performances for over 10 years, but I listened to what he had to say, we had a constructive discussion, and I took on board what he had to say given that the brother had provided me with quality input. I can confidently say that the next gig I play alongside Skarob will be the best one yet, and the next one will be even better…Naturally!!!!

Another way I have learnt from my peers is through observation. Being surrounded by superbly talented musicians is a blessing, and I am lucky to have some great artists in my immediate circle. Blacq Alex is a lyrical beast, if you didn’t already know, and just listening to his new material has really spurred me on to raise my bar when writing lyrics. What I really like about Alex’s approach is that he has punchlines for days, but you can actually see that he doesn’t chase punchlines when he writes his verses. The verses have a clear story and punchlines are only used to compliment the greater notion of each verse, not just awesome bars that lack cohesion. On the other hand, Triplelan is a perfectionist in every sense of the word. He takes great care when delivering his verses and hooks, and if he’s not happy with any content, it will be rerecorded until it sounds good to the bro. We have a tune in the pipeline, with Triplelan and Blacq Alex, and only now are we ready to release it after Triplelan redid his verse and hook twice, and you can bet the song is much better for it.

If I was to give advice to anyone out there putting in work it would be this; Surround yourself with people that push you to be better. It always pays to have people around you that don’t stroke your ego, and that you can trust to have your best interests at heart when they offer criticism. I have a solid group of music people in life right now, and I swear it’s paying dividends. You will be seeing some tangible results in the very near future so you don’t have to take my word for it.

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