DJ Irie: Heatmaker

T he American Airlines Arena is usually jumping when the Miami Heat are playing, but it’s not always Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade causing the excitement. The person electrifying fans is often DJ Irie, the official DJ of the Miami Heat. During the pre-game warm-up, timeouts, and intermissions, Irie transforms the AAA into “one big […]


he American Airlines Arena is usually jumping when the Miami Heat are playing, but it’s not always Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade causing the excitement. The person electrifying fans is often DJ Irie, the official DJ of the Miami Heat. During the pre-game warm-up, timeouts, and intermissions, Irie transforms the AAA into “one big party” by playing mostly Hip-Hop music. The St. Croix-born, Miami-raised entertainer became the first official DJ of an NBA franchise in 2000, and he’s become a crucial part of the game’s atmosphere. The unique position has allowed him to be one of the few men capable of making 70-year-old women sing-along to Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down.”

After being inspired to pursue music by his boarding school roommate, Reggae artist Sean Paul, Irie went on to become a respected presence in clubs and on radio. He also ventured into the mixtape game alongside DJ Diesel, better known as Shaq, with the “Kingz of Miami” series. But it’s his job as the Heat’s musical pacesetter that has made Irie a household name. The world-traveled DJ took a 20-second timeout to speak about DJing for the Heat, Jamie Foxx’s world-tour, four different Miami nightclubs, his radio show, and numerous events. He also spoke candidly about the NBA Finals. Despite the Heat being reduced to a light burn early in the series, Irie still believes the team will rebound and bring an NBA Championship to Miami. Did you and Sean Paul both have musical aspirations when you were in boarding school?

DJ Irie: Sean actually had a lot to do with me going in the direction of music. He had a little Casio keyboard, and we would listen to all the new Reggae songs on the radio in our dorm. He would hear a song once and before it was even over, he would be playing the beat on the keyboard. He didn’t have any musical training; it was just a gift. I wanted to be able to do the same thing he did, so I started hearing music differently. I wanted to be able to blend sounds, mix sounds, and that’s what led me to the turntables. That was my first real inspiration of not just hearing music on the radio, but wanting to be involved. Who else influenced you?

DJ Irie: The guy that made we want to get my turntable skills tight was DJ Craze. When I first heard Craze play, I wanted to get to that level. On the showmanship side of rocking the mic and touching the crowd was Kid Capri. He influenced me to just attack a party. On the business side is Funkmaster Flex. When I saw him in the Franchize office, and saw that it wasn’t just about getting up in the morning and playing records, it really opened my eyes. This is music and DJing, but it’s still a business. So how did the “Kingz of Miami” mixtape come about?

DJ Irie: I was never really big on mixtapes until Shaquille [O’Neal] came to Miami. I was DJing Dwyane Wade’s birthday party when Shaq first joined the Heat, and he invited me to his house. The next day, we sat down and he told about his idea for a mixtape. When the big fella is telling you to do something, you’re going to do it. I taught him how to get down on the turntables, we listened to songs together, and we made it happen. We’ve done three so far and the last one was for the NBA All-Star weekend in Houston called “Candy Paint.” We have another one for after the NBA Finals. You know how teams print up the “Champion” t-shirts just incase they win? Well, we have a mixtape jump off ready just in case. How do you rate the Heat’s chances of winning?

DJ Irie: There’s no such thing as chances; it’s about how many games it will take. These guys have worked way too hard and put in too much time to get to this point. There’s no question that Dirk [Nowitzki] is phenomenal. He has an inside shot, outside shot, and he’s going to play at a high level, but is his level of intensity enough for the Miami Heat? We have to worry about Dirk, but the Mavericks have to have an answer for Shaq and Wade, and they’ll get it together. What is the DJ Irie experience at a basketball game like?

DJ Irie: I fuse an all-out party with basketball. You’ll see an incredible basketball game if you come to watch the Miami Heat, but the second they call a timeout, halftime, or if you get to the game early, I set a party atmosphere. The Heat may be below in the points or stomping the competition by ten points, but no matter what the situation, my job is to get the fans’ spirits up. How does that differ from DJing a club or a mix show?

DJ Irie: On my radio show, people tune in to hear me play Hip-Hop, R&B, and Reggae. The people at the arena are there to see a good basketball game and are from all walks of life: young, old, Latin, Asian. When I play at the arena, that’s what I think about and I try to have everyone included. I’ll [play] everything from Bob Seger to Missy Elliot or Daddy Yankee. Isn’t the challenging because most people at games don’t fit the typical Hip-Hop demographic?

DJ Irie: When I was first offered the job, I turned it down for that reason. I didn’t think that I would be able to entertain everyone. But when I sat down with people from the Heat, they asked me about my previous experience. That brought me back to my first DJing job at a skating rink. When I played at the skating rink; I had to play music for all different kinds of people because everybody loves to skate. I drew back on that experience and said, “Okay, let’s see if I can do this.” It wasn’t that I didn’t like the music; it’s just that I was thinking tunnel-minded. How did people respond to you that first night?

DJ Irie: Oh, man, the first game was a disaster. The most people I ever played for was maybe 3,000 people in a club. The first night I walked into the arena and saw 20,000 people, so there was a little bit of an intimidation factor. Between that and not getting fully out of the radio or club format, there was a clash. It’s kind of funny because I looked at tape just like NBA players do and I realized where I f**ked up. I thought it through and by the second game, I smashed it. What do you think of the cross-promotion between Hip-Hop and basketball?

DJ Irie: It’s great. During the shoot-a-round, I’m playing strictly what the players want to hear like Mobb Deep, Rick Ross, and Young Jeezy. A lot of times, older people from a non-urban demographic will come up to me and say, “Hey, what’s that song?” I remember the first time I played Yung Joc, they were like, “Hey, man, “It’s Goin’ Down,” I like that.” These are people who may not listen to urban radio and they definitely don’t come to my clubs, but here I am able to expose them to my culture, my background, the player’s music and culture, and they love it.

I [performed] at a 25th anniversary party for this married couple and when I saw the people there, I thought I was going to play some Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond all night. Man, they came up to me and said, “We want some ‘Lean Wit’ It, Rock Wit’ It,’ some ‘Gold Digger,’ and all the stuff you play at the games.” Hip-Hop is bridging the gap between them and their kids, and it’s doing a lot for basketball by bringing a whole new level of excitement and exposure for the music. You’re from Jamaica, a place where cricket and soccer are popular, so what drew you to basketball?

DJ Irie: I was born in the Virgin Islands and my parents are Jamaican. They sent me to boarding school there, so all I know is Miami and Jamaica, but I’ve been a basketball fan my whole life. Before I even stepped into the American Airlines Arena [as a DJ], I was a Heat fan. But let me tell you something: if you go to Jamaica now, you’ll see nothing but Heat jerseys. They all want to support the team and have their satellites locked in to the games. Soccer and basketball are out s**t. You DJ across the world, so how are things different outside of the U.S.?

DJ Irie: I played in Austria, and when I told them the songs that were popular here, they looked at me like I was crazy. They get their music from their local MTV channels and you see zero to none of Southern artists there. They don’t know about Three-6-Mafia, Paul Wall, Rick Ross, or any of that stuff. So when I go out there, I’m breaking new music in a new continent. In America, it’s about dropping songs people know from radio and TV that they can dance to, but in Europe, they expect you to play stuff that they have never heard before. You’re involved in so many things, so what happens when there’s a schedule conflict?

DJ Irie: I have a contract with the Heat that says I don’t miss games – period. My role is so huge that if I miss the game, it would take a huge overhaul for [organizers] to get through the event. My number one priority is the Heat game, but when I do have to miss my radio show, I put my man Knowledge in; if I miss a club, I’ll put I-Roc in; if I miss a show with Jamie Foxx, there’s a back-up mechanism. Being in the playoffs, if somebody calls me for a show the following week, I have to wait and see because there might be a certain amount of games and I don’t know when that will be. Right now, I’m going through hell. You’re also working on an official compilation for the Heat, right?

DJ Irie: Yeah, we’re working on that and it’s a huge challenge because the NBA is so conservative in terms of what they allow their brand to be put on. For me, I want this to be as raw as possible because I’m not trying to put out bubble-gum music. It’s been a challenge for them to put Trick Daddy on the joint because they’re like, “Wait a minute? Wasn’t he arrested?” I’m telling them, “It’s just music, man!” They have image concerns, but we’re making progress. This is the last chance to change your mind; who is going to win the NBA Finals?

DJ Irie: The M-I-A-M-I. This is Miami’s year. Not only for the city’s accomplishments in music, not only for coming up as a hot city, but now is Miami’s time to bring home an NBA championship. I know Dallas has never been there either, and Dallas and Texas as a whole, have been on the come up and they have a movement going on. But man, there is a train called Miami Express rolling and it’s powered by diesel fuel. That bad boy is not stopping for anything.