“Irie was ahead of this time,’’ says Capponi, pointing to Irie’s 2007 creation of the Adidas Remix collection featuring sneakers color-blocked in the Miami HEAT colors.
Irie’s transformation from a shy kid who loved to collect records to a well-connected, internationally known DJ and highly coveted marketing asset is an example of how impeccable timing and sharp business acumen can turn a merely successful career into a far-reaching web of opportunities.
A sliver of good luck didn’t hurt. Irie, whose Jamaican-born parents moved him to Miami when he was 2, didn’t even plan to become a DJ until he allowed a high-school crush to assume he was a turntablist, because of the massive stacks of vinyl that littered his bedroom (“My parents used to give me lunch money, and I’d just buy records and eat whatever leftovers my friends didn’t eat”). Then, she invited him to perform at her family’s annual New Year’s party, and although he had zero mixing skills or equipment, he had to say yes.
“I had to kind of go with it at that point,” he recalls with his easy, inviting chuckle. “I ended up borrowing a bunch of equipment from a bunch of buddies, and I showed up at her house on New Year’s with this Frankenstein of a system, with no two brands the same. And her dad was like, “What the hell is that, and where is it going?’ It was the ugliest thing ever.”
But Irie played “songs that I thought were cool songs,” and thanks partly to plenty of strong drinks, everyone had a great time. And it turned out that her father ended up being the general manager of the popular restaurant Planet Hollywood, and invited Irie to DJ there at night.
Irie quickly honed his skills and became a mainstay in South Florida’s exploding nightlife scene, where a less well-known DJ could expect to make between $500 and $1000 on a normal night, according to financial advisor Madison. Today Irie spins regularly at hotspots such as LIV, Mokai, SET and Wall, as well as anchoring the No. 1 mix show on WEDR 99 Jamz. That success led to an unprecedented offer for any DJ, anywhere – to become the official DJ for the Miami Heat.
And Irie nearly turned it down.
“I was ready to walk away,” he said. “And the reason for that was, on my radio show I was playing all the newest cutting-edge hip-hop beats, so I had a lot of street credibility. And I knew I would have to conform and do other things that I wasn’t doing at the time, and I thought that for me, that’s selling out. And I was like, I gotta keep it real. Like, I don’t want to play KC & The Sunshine Band – this is not what I’m doing!”
But when Irie asked the Heat what kind of music the other teams’ DJs were playing, he was told there were no other official DJs in the NBA. Ditto for MLB and the NFL.
“And that’s when it hit me,” he said. “I could be the first to fail – or this could be groundbreaking, an opportunity to trail-blaze a specific lane of opportunity for DJs. And I’ve never been one to walk away from a challenge.”
Eleven years and two Heat championship rings later (“I was right there in Dallas in 2006, with Alonzo Mourning and Jason Williams grabbing me and dousing me with champagne, like I had hit the winning shot or something, you know?” and again last week at AmericanAirlines Arena), Irie knows he made the right choice — and that decision was the beginning of his professional metamorphosis.