Irie is not only providing the tunes at the AAA, he's hosting and spinning a few sets at the upcoming Black Friday Festival with rising hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar and the UR1 festival. This is his first time working with Lamar, though he says he's been following his carer for a while. "I'm extremely proud of this guy," he tells us. "Here's someone, he came from a very, very, very rough situation. The streets of Compton, it doesn't get realer than that. Straight up looking up to guys like the Dr. Dres and the Snoops and the Tupacs, that made it out of their own situations, but stayed true to who they were and he was able to fall into the same footsteps."
Though Irie says he doesn't know the rapper personally, he's impressed by his ability to rise above the pressures of the industry as well. "The music he's written today is the same music he was making when he first got started. He never tried to conform and become more mainstream or more pop. I really respect that. He's gained the notoriety he deserves. He's a really talented guy."
Unlike Lamar, who's new to the game, Irie's been around for a minute, and we didn't want to give up the opportunity to ask him about what he thinks about Miami's changing nightlife scene. "I'm definitely impressed by the level of entertainment that our nightclubs deliver on a nightly basis," he admits, saying that creatively, clubs and bars are doing a lot to stimulate those ready to party. "It's more than just walking into a dark room with strobe lights flashing, hearing music. So that's come a long way. But then there's also other things that have kind of eroded that experience of having fun."
He elaborates: "I think some of the table service stuff, bottle service, is a little out of control. And God bless people that have the means to do that stuff. But when they're making a spectacle of who can buy more bottles... That kind of thing has its place, but I come from an era where you just go to a concert to have a good time. You're with your friends, you have a couple of drinks, you're having a good time. It's not about well, 'ok, who's looking at me? Let me make sure I can buy the most bottles.' That just doesn't equate, to me, a good time." Though he's clear that he's happy to let people do their thing. In no way does Irie sound like a guy with misty-eyed memories of the past. Rather, he seems to just like the real things in life.
"If you ask me, I would definitely go back to that time, ten years ago, or whenever that was, when everybody was just going out, having a great time, enjoying their friends and enjoying their music, and can't wait to do it again next week."
And at the arena, while the Heat play and on plenty of other nights, Irie's the guy making fun happen. Some of his favorite tunes to spin these days are TJR's "Funky Vodka," which was recently sampled by Pitbull, and Lykke Li "I Follow Rivers." He's a big fan of Rick Ross' new stuff, and likes to play "Hold Me Back," which we joked is altered quite a bit in its clean version. When he plays it at the arena, he notes jokingly, "it doesn't have the same intensity."
Though we only spoke with him for a half an hour, he reflected a warmth and goodness not common in most. Irie is also a philanthropist and all-around do-gooder. He accredits Alonzo Mourning with fostering this side of his personhood. "I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with him in my early days with the Heat," he says. He used to head out with the basketball player to speak at schools. One time, Mourning had a tight schedule with tons of media stuff coming up that day. They were supposed to spend 20 minutes at the school.
"Twenty minutes came, it left," he remembers. They were there for an hour and 45 minutes. Irie pulled him aside and asked him why they stayed so long and Mourning told him, "'What do you mean? The kids had questions.'" It made Irie think. '"'Do you understand that the time that I spent there, the time spent speaking to those students as a group or one on one, answering their specific questions, has the capacity to change their lives,'" he recalls Mourning relating to him.
The idea was: "If we can change a life here today, there's nothing more important." And Irie realized, "you don't have to be Alonso Mourning to take an interest in your community." Though it's great to be famous, but he points out, "anyone who's paying attention, it's good enough for them."
After that, "If I could help," he says, "the answer was always yes."
He's since worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Special Olympics, and the Boys and Girls Club. And with members of the Heat like Shaquille O'Neal, Jason Taylor, Dwyane Wade, and others, he's contributed to plenty of other causes.
Recently, he was a teacher for a day with Teach for America at Edison and Northwestern high schools. He says the experience was amazing, "These are schools that have had their fair share of controversy, fair share of issues, from going to F schools to climbing their way out to B and C status."
Of the students, he notes, "Some of these kids were doing great in school, once they walked through those doors, and the bell rang, they were engaged. They were well-mannered, well-behaved. But then the other bell rings, and it's time to go home. They are no longer the optimal student, because they have to switch to survival mode." He says, "These kids are pretty much left to fend for themselves."
Despite all of these negative influences, he realizes, "I can do something to specifically cause change." This is why he started the Irie Foundation which partners with After-School All-Stars
offering students after-school programs. These are costly, but worth while to get students engaged, learning a trade, the arts, or help with school. Starting with middle schoolers, they're hoping to expand and include scholarship programs. "When you get to see the talent with these kids..." he says, "We want to make sure they have the opportunity to go to college." With Irie's help, it's an ace in the hole.
Black Friday Festival with DJ Irie, KC Chopz, Makayla Duvall, Ty Sade, Yung Pros, DJ Demetrius, DJ Irie, Emir Duru, Kid Ink, Pusha T, and Kendrick Lamar at 5 p.m. on Nov. 23 at Sunset Cove Amphitheater, 12551 Glades Road, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $30 to $55. Visit blackfridayfestival.net.