Q+A: DJ Irie

by February 26, 2013

by Maurice Bobb / @ReeseReport

If you don’t know DJ Irie, get familiar. He’s the official DJ for the Miami Heat. The originator. The first to ever do it. In any professional sport. Those break beats in between those eye-popping alleys from DWade to LeBron? Irie. Those arena-rocking grooves when Coach Spo calls a timeout or after the Heat start to mollywhop an opponent? Irie. Matter of fact, any time you tune into an official NBA event, whether it be the Celebrity Game or the East/West All-Star teams’ practice or TNT’s official part at the House of Blues, that’s Irie on the 1s and 2s, keeping the party on turn up status.

Not one to just spin tunes that rock your body, Irie is also an in-demand product pitchman. From Hennessy (he was at all the primo Henny All-Star events) to Heineken to New Era, the turntablist born Ian Grocher is a burgeoning brand and he knows how to market it. SLAMonline caught up with the St. Croix, Virgin Islands-bred DJ in between gigs to talk about what it’s like to mix dance, house and hip-hop jams for the teeming masses with real vinyl, NBA All-Star Weekend and, of course, the Miami Heat.

SLAM: So how was your All-Star experience this year?

DJ Irie: Houston is a fun town for All-Star Weekend and was very practical as well.

SLAM: What’s your best story from ASW?

DJ Irie: I guess probably Charles Barkley last night. Charles was celebrating his birthday, so he was onstage trying to dance and DJ last night at the House of Blues. That was probably the most interesting thing I saw all weekend. I’ve been doing most of the NBA stuff on the corporate side so when I finished and Flo Rida went on, the DJ closed down, and that’s when Charles came down and got onstage. He was turnt up. It was Charles, Ron Harper and Kenny Smith. Kenny started clowning on both of them. Charles was dancing it up; it was a trip. Charles was trying to get the DJ to play certain songs and Charles was singing along to “Ni–as in Paris.” I was like, “Charles gets funky for a 50-year-old.” He gets it in. He knew it word for word.

SLAM: You were the DJ for all of the official NBA events. How did you get started doing that?

DJ Irie: That was kind of organic because, first of all, I was the first official team DJ in the entire League, not just basketball but all professional sports. After the Heat came up with the concept of having a DJ, we had folks from the NBA coming down to our games and hearing about what we were doing. Felisa Israel, she handled NBA Entertainment at the time, she actually came to one of our games and saw me doing my thing and I remember she came up to me and she was like, “Make sure you’re available because you’re coming out to All-Star, we’re going to have you do all of our All-Star stuff.” I was like, OK, that sounds cool. My first one was Atlanta. That was like ’01 or ‘02 something like that. And every year since, I’ve done all the official NBA events. So it was kinda organic from there.

SLAM: For a DJ, you have a lot of corporate endorsements. How did that come about?

DJ Irie: That part of the business was something that was grown strategically. Number one, what I wanted to do was expand the relationship from just doing the one off event. So for all the brands that we’re in partnership with, when they would do an event like the Super Bowl, they would call on us to come and perform. But what we wanted to do was first and foremost build that relationship where it’s not just a one off, where we come in and do a party and never speak again. I wanted to cultivate the relationship and show them the value that we can provide on a yearly basis.

What I got them (corporate sponsors) to understand is that the audience that we have access to night in and night out, these are folks that are coming to the nightclub and events with lots of discretionary income and putting down $2,000, $3,000 and $4,000 for a bottle of liquor. If they can do that, they can do a lot of other things as well. So we started to paint the picture of our access and our particular demographic and audience and I got them to understand that. And I started to understand what the initiatives for the brands were and what kind of market share they were looking to increase and those conversations started to open up and they started to realize, “Hey wait a minute, this guy’s a great DJ, we can use him for parties and stuff but he’s also a great messenger, he can deliver our message on a clear and consistent basis. He reaches thousands and thousands of people on a weekly basis, carrying our message.”

And that’s how it came to fruition. Our first partner came on board and other companies started seeing what we were doing and started to relate to it. It was a no brainer, so today our partnerships include Heineken, Barcardi, Red Bull, Verizon, Carnival Cruise line, New Era, the list goes on. These are brands that go hand in hand with what we do in our lifestyles. It’s very organic because we use these products everyday. It was a natural fit.

SLAM: So how did you start DJ-ing? What was your first gig?

DJ Irie: My very first time DJ-ing was at a New Year’s Eve party. And the funny thing about it is the way that it came about. I used to collect records. I started out by being a record collector, a record connoisseur [laughs]. When I heard a song, I wouldn’t want a cassette, I wouldn’t want a CD, I had to have the record, I liked the way the vinyl felt. So this girl came to my house that I had a big crush on and I showed her around the house, showed her my room and I had about 5,000 records. I had them all over the place. So she comes in my room and sees the records everywhere. I’d never DJ-ed a day in my life, right?

So she came in my room, saw all the records all over the place and she was like, “Oh my god, look at all these records! I didn’t know you were a DJ!” And I’m like, Obviously, why else would I have all these records? [Laughs] She’s like, “Oh my god, I love DJs, that’s so cool!” So long story short, this was around December and she’s like, “Hey, what are you doing for New Year’s?” Whatever you’re doing, let’s hang out, let’s bring in the new year together. She said that’s great, not only that but I wanna call my dad and tell him to hire you to DJ our New Year’s Party and I’m like, Whoa, wait, what? She was like, “Yeah.” She thought I was a DJ so I had friends that were DJs, so I asked them for pointers, I pulled it together and showed up at her house party.

I had never mixed two records in my entire life, didn’t know how to scratch, didn’t know how to do nothing, but I did know how to press play though. So I literally just put together a bunch of songs that I thought were cool songs. I would play a song, I’d play the whole song, the song would finish and I’d get on the mic and I’d be like, Whoa, that was an awesome jam! You guys like that? They’d be like, “Yeah!” Well, here’s another one! I lucked out because apparently her dad was a general manager of Planet Hollywood and he had a full top shelf bar, so I look at that night and say I had co-DJs: Jose Cuervo was there, Johnnie Walker was there. Everybody was so twisted, they didn’t realize that I winged it. And that’s how things started because her dad hired me to play at the restaurant every week.

SLAM: You have two Championship rings from being the official Miami Heat DJ. What’s it like spinning for them?

DJ Irie: The Miami Heat isn’t just an NBA franchise or an organization, it’s a family. It truly, truly is a family. And it goes beyond the word, it goes beyond how we conduct ourselves and how we deal with each other because guys like Dwyane, LeBron and Chris, we have a rapport that goes beyond the court or the arena. Whenever Dwyane’s having a birthday party, they always get us involved. Whenever I’m having my Irie Weekend or anything to benefit the foundation, Chris is there to support, LeBron is there to support. It really is family. They’ll be like, “What you doing tonight? Let’s go grab a bite to eat. We haven’t been able to catch up in a while.” Chris came to Miami, got settled in and said it wouldn’t be official if you didn’t perform for our wedding. It really is family. It’s nothing that I’ve asked of them that they haven’t been 100 percent happy to come out and do. They’re really great guys.