Walshy Fire on Dancehall Vibes and Major Lazer

Major Lazer is a global phenomenon. They’ve conquered both the EDM world and mainstream music, with their blend of world music and spine tingling drops. Together, Walshy Fire, Jillionaire and Diplo have enscapsulated all the borders they’ve travelled, in their songs, taking listeners through genres like moombahton, baile funk, soca and dancehall.

The latter may have been heavily influenced by the introduction of Jamaica native, Walshy Fire to the group in 2011. Walshy had already been playing dancehalls as part of the group Black Chiney for years, and his addition to Major Lazer solidified their sound, as they prepared to Free the Universe. For Walshy, the growth from playing basement dancehalls to crowds of up to 120,000 people at Pukkelpop was instantaneous. His meeting with Diplo couldn’t have come at a better time, as he’d given in his resume to be a substitute teacher, weeks before he joined Major Lazer.

If there was anything that could have prepared him for his new jetset life, it was his time in the Dancehall. It was there that Walshy picked up the mic, and in the tradition of the Dancehall, would speak to the crowd frequently and intelligently, something he still does at Major Lazer shows. It hasn’t been the norm for DJ’s in North America, they’re usually a quiet lot, save for the same “get your hands in the air” quips that fire up the crowd. When Walshy speaks, its endearing and funny and smart, and completely not something you would expect while half-convulsing to songs like Watch Out For This and this summer’s viral hit Lean On. Walshy really brings a balance to Major Lazer, he brings the good vibes of Dancehall to the group, and has been responsible for organizing a few of the trio’s collaborations with Jamaican artists.

The trio released Free The Universe in 2013 and their follow up Peace is The Mission is due in coming weeks. It’ll be interesting to see how their sound evolves, as a quick look at the track listing for this album is stock full of features with artists from different genres like Pusha T, Travi$ Scott and Wild Belle. Major Lazer are definitely the most genre blending EDM artists around right now, and if the viral reaction to Lean On is any indication, it’s sure to once again soundtrack our summer.

We sat down with Walshy after his solo set, and talked more about the successful pairing of Caribbean and Dancehall music, and how Major Lazer was able to bridge the gap between the two.

 

 

 

Beenie Man on the DNA of Dancehall

In 1997, backed by the playground riddim, Beenie Man blared through airwaves and into eardrums all over the world, asking the infamous question: “Who got the keys to my beemer?” And just like that, America absorbed dancehall. The song itself did well, peaking at #17 on Billboard’s R&B singles charts, igniting a fire for more fast paced, bumptious music, knighting Beenie Man as the ambassador for Dancehall.

He delivered, with quick successions of hits including Romie and Girls Dem Sugar with Mya. Choosing to collaborate with international artists was one of Beenie Man’s earliest innovations. By positioning himself as, well, the King of Dancehall, and having popular American artists feature on his songs, he pushed Dancehall’s influence much farther than just the island of Jamaica. His testing of the waters is what paved the way for artists like Sean Paul and Mavado and sadly, the Baha Men (they had that one song).

Working with artists from different genres is a practice that Beenie Man has adopted throughout his career. Since he arrived on an international platform he’s worked with Janet Jackson, Shawnna, Wyclef Jean, Akon and Nicki Minaj. What’s kept him lasting through the ebbs and flows of music is how easily his signature zagga can adapt to different styles.

He’s gearing up to release his 22nd album after a seven year hiatus and mainstream dancehall, as with many genres, has moved into the electronic realm. It’ll be interesting to chart how his album is received outside of Jamaica, but if his track record is any indication, it won’t be long before he’s back on the throne.

We sat down with him and asked him about the crossover success of dancehall, how he decides who he’d like to work with, and how he manages to constantly reinvent himself.

 

I am not the smartest one in the room. I am the one that’s here to learn.

Speaking Soca with The Jillionaire

Long before Major Lazer set off to Free The Universe, Ras Shorty was in Trinidad, experimenting with percussion and steel-drums. The result: Soca music – a fast, frenzied sound, backed by drums, sending listeners into high paced jubilation.

Since then, Soca has made it’s way around the world, catching the riddim that dancehall had imprinted on mainstream music in the 90’s. The sound has been triumphed by international dj’s like the Soca Twins, and Dr. Jay, but no one has evolved the sound quite like The Jillionaire.

Chris Leacock, aka Trini Chris, aka Jillionaire, is a born and bred Trinidadian, whose carribbean influences have helped shape the massive success that is Major Lazer. The electronic group has mashed in together with Moombahton, and Dancehall notes – and it works. The high BPM’s of both genres makes the pairing an easy fit, and one that is palatable for all listeners of EDM.

Major Lazer had a huge global presence last summer; they brought their own sort of Caribana to every corner of the planet. Their music has yielded exactly what they intended; it’s rambunctious and ridiculous (Bubble Butt?) and it’s given a new life to Soca music.

Jillionaire is an advocate of collaboration and has partnered with Ritchie Beretta on many tracks, including  a catchy remix of Drunk in LoveThe two have also launched Feel Up Records, where Jillionaire’s ear for what’s in the zeitgeist will come in handy. It’s not an easy foray to get into, but Jillionaire has been involved in entrepreneurship, since launching a bar in Trinidad as a teenager.

We spoke with him after his set, and asked him to share with us his thoughts on collaboration, the role of young innovators and whether or not it’s possible to live on the internet.