Chopping It Up is a series where we talk about issues and subject matter that would naturally come up just as if you were in a chair at the shop with your barber – or in the comfort of your own home getting a house call. We hope you enjoy the playful and chill but also serious things we touch upon.
DJ Irie’s resume and reputation speaks for itself. As someone who’s been in the game for well over two decades, his name is synonymous with opening doors and opportunities for others in the industry. After all, he’s a pioneer who became the first-ever DJ for an NBA team, the Miami Heat, back in the ‘90s. As someone who’s constantly working the same hours as the players themselves, Irie has seen, heard and experienced a lot of things. Just as much as COVID-19 has affected the NBA and the 305, it’s also affected Irie and the way he has to conduct business.
The second we said “what up,” to each other on the phone, I felt comfortable with Irie, like I’ve known him for a minute. Picturing him with his signature goatee, we jumped straight into how he has to deal with traveling for work and how his grooming routine has changed due to quarantine. Immediately, he hit me with an unexpected “first of all, with COVID and quarantine, this is the first time in my entire life that I’ve had a full beard.” We both laughed about it, because I’ve finally been able to grow my beard to a decent length too thanks to quarantine. He continued, “I kind of always wanted to know what it’d be like, but I have my goatee comfort zone and usually stay there. It’s interesting to get out of that comfort zone and end up with a full beard, which I kind of like. I’m not saying it’s going to be here forever, but for now, it’s definitely the move. It makes it way more convenient for the level of upkeep.”
Like many men during quarantine who’ve had to find creative ways to either keep their hair and facial hair from looking too crazy with self-cuts or just letting it run wild, Irie is somewhere in the middle. “In terms of grooming, this is the most hair I’ve ever had in my life, including on my head,” he said. We chuckle about that too. “I’ve just let everything grow out but I keep a Peanut with me when I travel. That thing’s awesome, it’s my little travel buddy and best friend. I use that to keep my lines clean but it’s a far deviation from what I would normally do pre-COVID. I’d usually have my barber come every week and just do my lines, goatee and keep everything else clean. This is more of an experiment for me, seeing how I would like it with more hair.” As someone who hasn’t been able to get their hands on a set of clippers I approve of, I let my hair rock out without any shaping up for a good four or five months before finally seeing my barber again. So in that sense, Irie definitely has been doing more than me.
It was only natural to talk about some of the products he’s been using in his grooming routine as well. Irie quickly put me onto Hair Food. “I use a new shampoo and conditioner from Hair Food. I love it. That’s what I’m going with for my hair. For my beard, after I do the touch up, I’ve been using this product called Bio Oil. It’s actually supposed to be for skin, but it works really well on my beard. It gives it a little sheen to it and it doesn’t leave any marks on clothes or anything,” he says through the phone and I can picture a big smile from him on the other end. Products that leave marks are our worst nightmare. On that tip, we shifted gears and moved our conversation to the NBA and the various hair styles and trends he’s seen through the years.
“It’s funny because I’ve actually followed some of the trends. Dwyane Wade for example, I see him night in and night out and we hang outside of game settings. But man, he was changing his stuff up all the time – from a number 1 to braids to all of it. I remember he did kind of like a blow out and a couple of guys did that and I said I want to try that out too. You name it and probably every two or three months guys would come out with a different look and hairstyles. And it’s almost like the outfits would change with the hairstyles. Things like the short suits, the ones with the Broadway stripes, I couldn’t get down with that one,” he reminisces while laughing at the final sentence. “Of course in Miami, a lot of guys rock a lot of colors that you can get away with here and not in other places. But the hairstyles, they ran the gamut. Clean shaven, full beards, goatees, take it as a canvas,” he eloquently put it.
“With COVID and quarantine, this is the first time in my entire life that I’ve had a full beard. I kind of always wanted to know what it’d be like.”
Talking about the game and sensing he missed the tables at AmericanAirlines Arena just as much as the fans and players, I remembered D-Wade talking about Irie’s importance in setting the tone of the night in an NBA interview with Ro Parrish a while back so I asked him whether he just goes off vibes or has a premix for the night. “I always feel the vibe. Two things that I do, knowing the guys the way I know them, I know who they’re into and I know who their favorite artists are. I’ll be honest with you, as much as these guys have to travel and be on the road, practicing, when they’re in season, it’s a rigorous schedule but they stay on top of their music,” he starts off. “So you know, if a new Jeezy record or something comes out, it means they’re going to be up on it, which means I got to be up on it. I can’t pull up – I’m talking about the day it comes out – and expect them not to have heard that new banger, even though it came out six hours ago. They expect to hear it and if they don’t, you’re not on your game. So as much as I expect them to be on their game, I have to be on my game,” he continued while I thought to myself about the amount of pressure and responsibility, but also fun, someone in his position must feel. “Outside of that, the second thing is really feeling the vibe. Sometimes we might be playing a team that we faced last night and came up short against, so it’s about payback. So I might go with an aggressive feel to it and make it feel like we have to make things right and even it up. It’s really about the vibe and energy on that particular night and going from there,” he says ecstatically, I could tell he really misses dropping the needle on game night.
Staying on the topic of music, as someone who used to DJ vinyl, I had to ask the man about his collection and pickups – collecting vinyl is even more hardcore than collecting sneakers, and it started way before the sneaker game too. “I got to say my collection is pretty badass,” Irie starts off with a big chuckle. “I’m always looking for stuff. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world performing. Every time I go somewhere, I always try to find a record store and pick up at least one or two joints that I’ve been looking for. Since quarantine, I’ve definitely been online searching for some stuff. I come across some cool gems but then I realize I already have them which is alright and kind of cool,” he humble brags while throwing in another chuckle – at this point we’re having a great time and laughing about all sorts of things, thinking about pre-COVID times. “But the one gem I did pick up was the original 45 test press Bob Marley ‘Stir It Up.’ That’s pretty dope. That’s probably my best find during quarantine so far.” The conversation then took a turn into numbers, because I know a guy like Irie has both quality and quantity, so I was curious. “Well here [in the house] – because I have a big storage unit – I probably have about 4,000. But probably another 25,000 in storage, I love my records,” he said with a boisterous laugh. And how does he sort them? “That part is simple – the ones in the house just haven’t made it to storage yet!” We both laugh out loud over the phone – been there, done that. “What I do though is, probably half of those [in the house] are records I like to use in my routines or samples and that’s stuff I want to have quick access to. While the other half is stuff that I haven’t taken over there yet.”
After having a good laugh about music and vinyl collecting, Irie and I talked about the state of Florida and especially Miami. With the worst flare ups from COVID happening in Florida, Texas and California lately, memories of March, April and May quickly flooded into my head when New York City, my hometown, was experiencing the same things. “Is Miami different from Orlando? Yes, absolutely. In fact, Miami is different from Palm Beach, which is one county over. Because Florida has been a hotbed in general, Miami is like the epicenter of that hotbed. Miami is a shell of what it usually is.” All too apparent to me, having seen the devastation COVID has left on Manhattan businesses and life in general, I wondered if the secret parties I’d heard about around Long Island and Connecticut in the affluent areas were also a thing down in the 305. “I’m not snitching on anybody but people are doing underground house parties. And since it’s Miami, people here are doing yacht and boat parties. I’m talking every weekend, you look out on the Bay and there are just boats as far as the eye can see and people partying on these boats. But that’s not me, I’m not doing that!”
“Of course in Miami, a lot of guys rock a lot of colors that you can get away with here and not in other places. But the hairstyles, they ran the gamut. Clean shaven, full beards, goatees, take it as a canvas.”
The seriousness of the pandemic shifted the nature of our conversation and we started discussing the future of the Irie Foundation – Irie’s non-profit that serves at-risk youth in the area through cultural experiences, education, mentorship, scholarships and more – as well as career goals for post-COVID. “The Irie Foundation has stepped up big time during COVID. What we would usually be doing right now is our music curriculum where we have kids come to our center and broadcast school, DJ school, and all that kind of stuff. We couldn’t do that in the COVID situation, so we shifted our focus to doing a food and meal delivery program to allow the kids to have that. Losing access to food was a big issue. Also getting PPE for the hospitals and mask for the kids, we’ve been working on that for the last few months,” Irie explained. He continued talking about how Irie Weekend, his annual fundraiser, would still happen this year, just slightly different. “Usually we do our big Irie Weekend in October, which benefits the Foundation. We want to make sure we can run our programs for 2021 so we’re looking into a virtual fundraiser. We’re bringing together a bunch of people that usually support like Jamie Foxx, The Weeknd and other celebrities. We’re putting together something cool and compelling for an hour or so and having our daughters come in and join to hopefully raise some money for our 2021 budget. We’re just trying to maintain.” Maintaining is something a lot of people are trying to do but we circled back to basketball because the NBA is taking it one step beyond maintaining, both on and off the court.
With the restart in the bubble in Orlando and with the playoffs giving us a ton to talk about after the first night, I asked Irie if he felt the league was doing enough in terms of its social justice initiatives. “I’ll be remiss if I didn’t say the NBA has really been at the forefront and early when it comes to these issues,” Irie immediately replied. “I feel they’ve done a great job getting behind the players and allowing the players to express themselves. I certainly have to salute the NBA on that,” he added. “I like that it’s an ongoing discussion and that they’re open to suggestions that the players want to do to express themselves,” he continued before his voice started showing signs of more emotion. “When the restart got going at the end of last month and I watched the first few games, I was really proud. Of course you’re always going to have people that are going to be like, this is great, but it’s not enough, it’s this and that. But I’m the type of person that looks at that and sees MAJOR, MAJOR progress. Of course we can always do more, strive for more, but it’s going in the right direction. I do hope that a lot of the other leagues look at what the NBA is doing and follow suit. The reach and the influence that the leagues and players have, that can move the needle. It can really move the needle,” Irie continues on, with the pride he felt and the conviction of a larger movement working at hand all fully comprehensible in his voice. “I’m really proud of the NBA and the players for utilizing their voice. I think it’s very positive and extremely needed.”
“The Irie Foundation has stepped up big time during COVID. We shifted our focus to doing a food and meal delivery program to allow the kids to have that. Also getting PPE for the hospitals and mask for the kids, we’ve been working on that for the last few months.”
Having followed the league and covered it from a professional standpoint myself in the past, I knew everything Irie said was true and I also felt proud. Bringing everything to a close on such a serious issue would’ve been okay with me but as a basketball fan who loves to trash talk, I had to ask what I wanted to from the beginning of the interview, the question that drives hours of debate – Who you got?! Irie perked up and instantly replied, “Listen, we [the Heat] are still in there. I got Miami winning the chip but I got the Clippers coming out of the West. Don’t count my Heat boys out, these guys are special.” We debated the powerhouse West teams for a bit – as a Lakers fan I had to jaw back about that Clippers pick. After some laughs, we talked about the imbalance between the East and West and I asked Irie about the future and what he’s working on.
“The only thing I haven’t done, that I feel like I would really want to do, to feel complete, would be the Olympics. I love the Olympics, I would love to perform in that setting for sure,” he says in regards to post-COVID goals. To bring everything full circle, he tells me that he’s been working on a new brand, perfect for the times, Work From Home. “The first thing we’re doing is apparel. This is apparel engineered for comfort and for you to be in your best and most comfortable environment working from home. We’ll add different types of accessories and wellness tips later but we want to be your one stop hub and ecosystem for your work from home lifestyle.” Honestly, I wish I thought of that and we can’t wait to see it. And the Heat won their first playoff game too. DJ Irie in Tokyo for 2021? It wouldn’t be a stretch.
Photos courtesy of DJ Irie/Dylan Rives/Jordan Braun