By Michael Tillery
During a trip to Vegas to cover Chris Webber’s Bada Bling Charity event, I happened upon one of the baddest DJ’s on the planet by chance. I was exhausted from having such a good time mingling and getting to know the numerous celebrities at Hard Rock Café’s Body English—from Nas and Kelis (Bossy was currently number one on the charts) to Emeka Okafor, playground legend Lloyd “Sweet Pea” Daniels, NBA champion Gary Payton and defensive stalwart Doug Christie (who was there with his lovely wife Jackie). Just so you know, Jackie is not the otherworldly jealous caricature media associated, so gently squash those ridiculous rumors. Common and Talib Kweli performed a classic set that I’ll not soon forget. My fiancé and I saw Common—my favorite alternative to what’s popular presently—perform a couple months earlier at the University of Delaware, so I knew the night would somehow develop its proper perspective. The night was laid back and especially memorable because I was able to reminisce and laugh with Webb, Juwan Howard, and Jimmy King of the Fab Five about their glory days—literally a dream come true.
It was one of those nights where there are lots of camera flashes to document the night I personally labeled Native Tongue Jazzy because of all the folk of conscious ilk present. Honestly, this poetic moment didn’t seem like Vegas. I will never forget nodding my head to the piano fused baseline of Talib’s “Get By.” That track is so inspirational.
After waiting in a ridiculous cab line, I finally returned to the hotel—Caesar’s—and ordered some hungry man grub. Like my daughter used to say when she was a hungry toddler, my stomach was rugglin’! I heard this laugh and because of the belly chuckling thoughts of my gorgeous little girl, I couldn’t help but smile.
I couldn’t blame the brotha; I’d ordered a lot of food and was ready to get down. Neither of us said much when eating, but afterwards we yucked it up like two drunk chumps mad ‘cause they are sober.
We were laughing hysterically about something Vegas when the conversation switched to business. Irie was not unlike anyone off the street—very chill. When he let me know he was the official DJ for the Miami Heat, my wheels began to spin. I was writing strictly sports—sometimes with a little spoken word poetry mixed in—but wanted to branch out and write something in the entertainment genre. I supposed it would be something Hip Hop relative just to see if I could pull it off for future reference. Part of achieving success in life is wittingly capitalizing on precise moments in the clutch—even after tossing down a couple. Business is business. It’s like the person sitting next to you on a flight. You just never know what could come from such a meeting. Crazy how life puts you in the situation precarious just to see if the results intrigue, but like my Dad used to say “The squeaky wheel gets the oil son!” After exchanging contact information with Irie after a couple more laughs, I retired to my room with a career focusing memory and woke up a little more inspired.
DJ Irie is definitely doing his thing. Here’s a recent interview conducted shortly after Dwyane Wade went down with a separated shoulder.
MT: You have built a very much respected reputation working seemingly nonstop–back and forth from Miami to Puerto Rico spinning at the hottest clubs while also being the American Airline Arena DJ for the Miami Heat. What drives you to do what you do so well?
DJ Irie: I’m just that type of guy where I don’t settle. I made a very big decision early on. My family was one that always harped on me being a doctor or a lawyer. They drove that in. I had to be something to take care of my family when I had one. When I did go to the university, I studied medicine and I was doing well. Then I started doing music all the time. I was getting calls to do all kinds of campus and club parties and my grades suffered. I was on scholarship that I ended up losing. I had to rely on becoming a DJ. Losing my scholarship was actually a blessing. There was no way in hell I was telling my parents that I lost my scholarship. I was making decent money so instead of buying all this unnecessary stuff, and putting money in my car, I had to pay tuition. I loved being a DJ, so when I started focusing on just that, things started to happen quickly for me. I told my parents about my dreams and they looked at me like I was crazy! They said they should have seen this coming because of all the time I was spending being a DJ and all the records I had collected. When they began to support me, I said to myself that I was going to give 110%.
MT: What did you and recording artist Sean Paul learn from your time as roommates? What inspired you–coming out of St. Croix to become a DJ?
DJ Irie: Sean Paul is really a close friend of mine. Sean and I really helped to explore our love for music. We both had similar levels of respect for music in general. I can honestly say that there was no one else in our school that either of us could share that with. It worked out good because we were at a boarding school, so literally I was on the top bunk bed and he was on the bottom. Yeah it was crazy man! Back then Sean had never ever rapped or sang in his entire life up at that point–we were in high school.
He had a little Casio keyboard that his parents bought that we would practice with after school. Of the two of us, I was the technologist. We couldn’t have a big radio. I took the speakers out of another radio and taped them to my walkman and Sean’s keyboard. We had a makeshift studio. Playing music through the Walkman, Sean had the talent to play on the keyboard any beat he heard on the radio immediately. He was sick! It blew my mind. He would hear these beats and would teach me to play the beats back. We talked about this producing this record and producing that record. We were getting an education in the usual studies, but we also were getting a musical education on our own. That helped me out a lot. Growing up, we didn’t have a TV room, we had a music room. My dad had this system with huge speakers from the ceiling to the floor. He had all these Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Uroy records. I spent a lot of time in the music room just going through his music and playing records. I had a fascination with vinyl records. I wanted to collect as many records as possible. If there was a song I liked, I had to have the record. When I went back to school in Jamaica, I started buying 45’s. Then, when I came back to Miami after Hurricane Andrew, I started getting more and more into the R&B and Hip Hop scene. Whenever I heard a Hip Hop song that I liked, I went to this store called Peaches and I would buy that twelve inch. By this time I had thousands of records. I was a record collector. My room was filled with vinyl.
How I became a DJ was because of this girl I liked. One day she came over my house! Totally unexpected. So I invited her in and she asked if we could hang out in my room. I was like OK! She walks in my room and sees records everywhere. She probably thought I was the biggest dork collecting all these records. Who does that in high school? She was like, “I didn’t know you were a DJ?” I was like yeaaaah, I’m a DJ. She then outsmarted me. We talked for an hour and she asked me what I was doing for New Year’s. I told her I was hanging out with her. She said yeah that’s cool, but you are not going to be hanging out, you are going to be working. You are going to DJ my New Year’s party. I learned to DJ really quick by doing her party and this is the result.
MT: What’s going on with the Heat? What’s the pulse of the team and its fans with Flash out with a shoulder separation?
DJ Irie: I’ll be honest with you. Listen, I’ve been there since day one that the American Airline Arena opened. I have to take my hat off to Heat fans. The arena is still jam packed. The team is still keeping the faith. They are playing their best basketball right now. A big, big reason for their level of play is the fans. They’ve been rallying around the team so much. During the end of the Wizards game recently, no one left their seats. Even when the tide changed and Washington was up by ten, nobody moved. That translates to the players. I’ve seen it year in and year out when the fans don’t give proper support and how that affects the team. When the fans are into the game, the Heat play hard until the last second. That was the way the Wizards game went. The fact that Dwyane isn’t there is huge, but the other members of the team have stepped it up–especially Shaquille who has seemed to turn back the clock. The fans are supporting no matter who is out there and you can definitely see it in the way the team plays. They are giving 110%. The last couple of games they are playing the best basketball I’ve ever seen them play.
MT: Huge win against the Pistons recently.
DJ Irie: The Detroit and Chicago wins were huge. The Washington game was huge. The players are playing 4 quarter basketball–not caring who is in front of them. They are not giving up.
MT: What is the favorite track of the fans?
DJ Irie: The game has so many twists and turns. The music I play obviously is dictated by the pace of the game. A lot of time my music can also change the pace of the game. Let me give you an example. The first half of the game is all about creating a party atmosphere. During time outs, for those two minutes anyway I take their mind off basketball and pay tribute to the Heat fans for being the best fans in the world. After the timeout it’s back to basketball. The most pivotal time for me is the fourth quarter. During fourth quarter stretches, when the team is up, the second a team gets an upper hand and takes the lead; it really takes the spirit out of the fan. The rest of the game is irrelevant. My job is to keep the fans in the game. Keep the place live. Keep getting a reaction. Keep them in their seats. If a team goes up by say ten points late, the fan is preparing to leave. They are thinking about traffic and getting home to relax. They are asking themselves why they stuck around to see the team lose. That affects the players. The players are saying well if the fans are giving up, why shouldn’t I?
On the other hand, if we reinforce the party atmosphere and show the fans that they are the best and we love them, they are more likely to stay. Sometime just that makes a difference in winning and losing a game. I’m a fan also. I’m not talking with them, I’m talking to them. I have to play something extremely upbeat to keep them involved. So I’ll throw in some old school–something like the Sugar Hill Gang’s Apache. The fans love that song! I play everything from Latin music to Rock and Roll. Songs that reference fire or have the lyrics red hot are also fan favorites because out team is named the Heat obviously. We can actually control the game by the type of music we play.
MT: What’s the latest trend in music?
DJ Irie: It’s getting back to dance. From Unk’s Walk It Out, to Webstar and Young B’s Chicken Noodle Soup, to the Motorcycle dance, music is changing. That trend translates to the music we play in the arena. Fans are in tune with music trends so they want to hear what’s hot. It’s an amazing feeling for me personally, when I play Jim Jone’s We Fly High, the instrumental version and the fans still scream on cue, “Ballin’!” To see a sixty or seventy year old White man saying Ballin at the right time is good to see. The demographic in the arena is never the same. The fans are young, old, short, tall, Black, White, Latino, and Asian–amongst other races of course. Like I said before timeouts are the time to party. I might play something Latin, or old school. Throwing in Walk It Out, something by Young Joc for the young fans. We then put the fans who know the dances on the big screen and after a while the whole arena is Walking It Out or doing the Motorcycle dance. It helps to keep everyone involved in the game and gives them a good feeling when they can be part of all that. To see them all party because of the music I play is a great thing.
MT: Hip Hop is catching a lot of flack. What’s your impression of the genre?
DJ Irie: Hip Hop has so many different meanings. My meaning of Hip Hop is definitely going to be different than Chuck D’s, KRS1 or even DJ Unk. What I see going on from my standpoint as a DJ–especially someone being from the Old School that grew up on Public Enemy, KRS1, EPMD, Eric B and Rakim. Obviously all incredibly groundbreaking acts–all had substance. Now, the kids like their music with less substance (record sales). The way I think of it, there is a place for all of it. Walk It Out would be a track that doesn’t have substance, The Game’s Wouldn’t Get Far, has substance. Tracks that had substance used to dominate the charts, but that trend has changed. A lot more people felt good about what was being played on the radio back in the day. Tracks now have less substance and more entertainment value. Hip Hop has always been a means of free expression–be it sex, drugs, or violence that is prevalent in the areas where a lot of artists are from. I can’t really criticize lyrical content per say, as long as the artists are going for what they know. Many artists aren’t going for what they know and are saying and doing things just to fit the current trend and that simply is not cool. Especially the heads that have grown up in music, they can spot what is not real a mile away. The people that are currently supporting Hip Hop–buying up all the records–can’t spot what that fake aspect a mile away. Music that is dominating the airwaves–part of our heritage–is really a bunch of bull(expletive)! That’s a problem. Dance tracks have always been a big part of Hip Hop–an important part of Hip Hop. We can never ever, ever forget about having fun. Music may help some make decisions, music can also be a release. That release can help enhance an individual’s life that is going through hard times. You just never know. We all live to be entertained, but there has to be objectivity for the genre to survive.
I’ll give you an example. One week I was playing in this club and a regular stayed until 5 am because she wanted to speak to me. She really thanked me for playing the music I did that night. She also told me that I had a positive impact on her life because of some problems she was having. She expressed that home was not a very good place for her and being out at the club was a well needed release. She said I helped her prepare for getting through the week. She looked me dead in the eye with this seriousness that affected me. I didn’t delve into what was going on with her, but it made me feel good and makes my job worthwhile.
I can never judge what my job means to a person
MT: What’s your favorite all time track and what are you banging the most when you ride?
DJ Irie: Damn! Wow! That’s big! I can break it down to a favorite artist for you. Definitely Bob Marley. If there was ever a musical prophet to walk the earth, it was Bob Marley. He’s still one of the only artists ever to move me mentally, spiritually and make me want to party! He did it all.
When it comes to music, I’m a free spirit. I’m banging everything from Nas (Hip Hop Is Dead), The Killers, Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Also I have to keep some Eric B and Rakim bangin’ as well. I’m all over the place.
MT: Were you at the NBA All Star game in Vegas this in February? Was it as bad in the streets as some sports journalists are claiming?
DJ Irie: I was out there for a week and a half. I did the Magic Fashion show first. Honestly it was not half as bad as people are saying. I’ve been doing All Star Games for the past 6 years and this year in Vegas really wasn’t much of a difference than any other year. LA was crazy, Atlanta was really, really crazy. There was absolutely no difference between Atlanta and Vegas–besides the number of people. It was just the nature of the event that had people up and arms. The parties and everything else that is Vegas. Vegas does it big. I did a ton of parties–corporate, private whatever and it was all good. Of course there were a couple of situations here and there, but nothing to the extent that is being reported.
MT: What was the highlight of the weekend?
DJ Irie: There were a couple. My favorite was at Dwyane Wade’s Converse party. At the end of the fashion show–Dwyane’s mom was modeling–Carmelo Anthony was hanging out in the back, rushed the stage and gave Dwyane a big ole’ hug in front of everybody. He was telling Dwyane how proud he was of him. It was just a special moment. Not only because it was Carmelo, but because he’s on the Jordan brand side of things. I thought it was so cool that he supported Dwyane’s Converse shoe and clothing deal.
MT: What’s the hottest club in Miami and what makes it the best?
DJ Irie: A club that’s been open about a month called Cameo. What makes it so hot is that a guy here, who makes (markets) a lot of clubs hot, left another project to create Cameo. He’s really cool with a lot of celebrities–Paris Hilton, Scott Storch, Nicky Hilton and Shaq. He’s made his mark. The club jumps all night. His wisdom of cultivating celebrity relationships is paramount to Cameo’s success. It really adds to Miami’s nightlife.
MT: A DJ with a shoe deal? (The DJ Irie Shoe–Adidas) Wow! How did that come about?
DJ Irie: The shoe deal was something amazing! I’m the type of person that takes relationships very seriously. Relationships are everything. You never know who you are going to eventually work with. Who is going to be what, when and where—you just never know. No matter whom you are or what you do. That played a big role in the shoe deal because I have working with Adidas for a good couple of years now. Whether it is MTV’s Video Music Awards or other events. I’ve always tried to keep them in the loop of what’s going on. Being the DJ for the Heat was a big deal to them. A representative of Adidas was at a lot of my events. He witnessed how I conducted business and marketed myself. He also saw my relationships with the Heat players. He’s really the one who hooked me up. He stated that they do stuff with athletes and entertainers, but he wanted to open up a whole new market working with me. The higher-ups just didn’t get it. They had athletes to market their product so why me? When Adidas purchased Reebok things changed. Adidas came down and saw me do my thing at the arena—seeing how big my role was with the Heat as well as the community. They noticed that I have the same if not more of a reach into the community than some of the players. They gave me a number of shoes as promotions and eventually put them in stores. They sold out in the first day. The media there was ridiculous. They called me back to do a new deal because of the shoe’s popularity. Adidas stores from all over the country were calling Miami about availability. It’s a fully fledged sneaker deal—multi year. I have a deal with SanDisk, Verizon and there’s a deal presently on the table with Monster Cable—dj cables and audio equipment cables. All of this from Adidas. I put my name on the line and fortunately it has turned out for the better.
This was one of my more interesting interviews because DJ Irie is vividly focused. The cat has some all around superstar talent. He knows his path and trust that he will accomplish his many ambitious goals. To many of you outside of Florida, DJ Irie might be relatively unknown, but his work in the South Beach community is duly noted. His work ethic is something to behold and obviously has a direct affect on his rise to superstardom. To find out more about this up and coming difference maker, check out http://djirie.com/ and http://www.myspace.com/djirie .