Having a major musical influence from family at such an early age, you were exposed to music and the arts relatively early. What was that one moment you realized you would be called to be in the music industry at some capacity? What was your journey to even knowing you wanted to become a Dj?
The journey was incremental. I feel like I just grew up into my destiny… When we speak of exposure to music, I would credit that to my Uncle Lester. I grew up on the Caribbean island of Antigua. It’s changed a bit now, but growing up it was mainly the genres of soca & dancehall reggae that most people listened to year-round. However, my uncle Lester would listen to everything! This guy has me listening to Guns N’ Roses, Prince, Tracy Chapman, & all types of other non-local music. When we immigrated to The Bronx, he would listen to everything from Z100, to Hot97, to LightFM, to WBLS, to La Mega. That’s what led to my broad musical palette… He was also the only person in the family that I saw play an instrument & write a song. So definitely much props to my uncle Lester… For me entering into music was not kinda a do-or-die type of thing. I went to High School to study technical art & that was around the time I started to DJ, but when I graduated I could not go to college for my art, cause I was what Americans called an “illegal alien.” So, that super pushed me into music, cause I did not know how to navigate the art world without my “documents.” No one cared about that in music though. If you were good, you were accepted & calibrated. After High School, I got a job at a HiFi sound system store in Chinatown for $240 a week. lol. It doesn’t sound like much now, but back then, it meant the world to me, cause it kept me out of trouble. I used that $$$ I made from work to buy CDs in Chinatown & come back to the Bronx & sell them. I was making a $3-$4 profit on each sale. So 10 CDs a day & I was good for an illegal alien kid… Eventually, I used the $$$ from the CDs & the connections I made at the HiFi spot to start throwing house parties with my bros Kuma, Zima, Robert, Robin, & Kemba. We had a DJ crew called “Dem Likkle Bwoyz” at the time. My dad supported what we were doing & invested in us big time – dad, my uncle Lester, (a few family friends), Brinks, Tiger Bone, & Emo started buying dubplates & we started sound clashing & “killing” other DJs in the area. I loved the sound clashing! The thrill of victory, quick thinking, counteracting, writing lyrics for your custom dubplates, figuring out what riddim to switch what vocals too. I think that’s where my music production side got ignited. Sound clashing was very expensive though & more girls were coming to our events than guys. So we transitioned over to more of the “DJ for the gal dem” style. DJing for the ladies eventually led to the daggering stuff that got me popular on youtube, which led to commercial attention like CNN, which led to major Lazer finding me, which eventually led to Jesus finding me, which lands me here today as a music producer, recording artist, & Dj of Electronic Gospel Music. lol. It’s been a long long long road, with a bunch of evolutions, twists, turns, & madness over the years (I can go on & on with the details. So let me know if you need anything elaborated on).
You toured internationally as a member of a world-renowned group with Major Lazor (we spell it Lazer), additionally as a DJ, producer, etc. Chat with us about your journey to success within the group.
Success with the group was pretty instant. I have heard it said, “There is no such thing as an overnight success.” Nah, that’s a lie. When I joined Major Lazer, we became successful overnight & we never even had a rehearsal. I didn’t even know the majority of songs that Diplo played, cause I wasn’t into EDM as yet… The first show Diplo booked me for was SXSW in Austin, Texas. However, he wanted to try out the set before we got there. So we did a show in Houston the night before. We destroyed the place. People never saw anything like it & we got a ton of press, pictures, & videos which floated around very quickly. At the time, there was nothing even remotely close to what we did on the EDM scene. Most EDM folks didn’t even talk on the Mic when I came on the screen. By the next day, we got to SXSW & the audience was waiting for the madness. We delivered!!! After that Pitchfork in Chicago booked us & the bookings were non-stop thereafter. I did not DJ for Major Lazer though, that was Diolo’s job. At times, we may organize a loose setlist, but that was 100% Diplo’s execution & he did it very well, so I was never worried. I was responsible for the stage-show side, so I had to make sure every event was press worthy. I’ve been rocking stage shows for years in the dancehall reggae world before joining Major Lazer. So it was super easy to rock EDM stages. In dancehall, you gotta prove you’re worthy of being on the stage before we cheer for you & if you’re not, you may get a bottle upside your head to “encourage“ you to try again another time. lol. In EDM, the audience is super open to experimentation though. So, when we showed up with our wildness, the audience would lose it! I would bring out ballerinas, Chinese lion dancers, ladders, mattresses, & a bunch of other wildness to make the stage lit… I didn’t officially produce anything with Major Lazer either. I was more of the, “Nah, we gotta change that drop” and “Yeah. That’s gonna leave the festival flat on their backs” guy in the studio. If I knew then what I know now about the music industry, I may have asked for a few points. lol. God knew what he was doing though. I really wouldn’t want that music to follow me around & fund what I’m doing now though. Sometimes I still feel kinda bad for all the wild stuff I exposed people to back then – It was pretty normal to find me walking around the stage in my boxers & there were times I may have taken things a little “too close too far.” So, my apologies to anyone I influenced in a bad way. Go listen to Jesus Party, renew your thoughts about me, love Jesus, go join a good Bible-applying church, & let me know about it. Love ya fam!
You made a major (no pun) ((that was an intended pun. lol)) transition from the secular world and having what some would say is the epitome of their success, to stepping into the gospel world and solely making Christian music. What was the turning moment that propelled you to make this leap?
Honestly, it was a question that I overheard. A pastor asked a lady, “What’s worth more than God?” I thought about it & my answer was, “Nothing.” At the same time, the lady cried & said, “Nothing.” Then the pastor goes, “So, for the money that’s nothing, the sex that’s nothing, the drugs that’s nothing, the house, the car, the land that’s nothing… You willing to give up everything that God has for you, for all of this nothing?” I thought to myself, “Nah! That doesn’t sound like a good deal.” So, right then & then I decided to give up all the “nothing” that I accomplished & go get God… Then he tells the lady, “The house that you live in is on fire, grab ya draws & run for your life.” She broke down. I honestly don’t know if she accepted Christ that day, but I went all in. I went back to my hotel, retired from Major Lazer, canceled all my independent shows, & even gave up on investments that I have made in clubs, people, & upcoming events. I was done! I even had to give Major Lazer money back for flights, hotels, & other stuff that we had planned for our upcoming tour. It was a total cut cord & run type situation.
Being born in the Caribbean island of Antigua, share with us your take of Caribbean and afro beats gaining such popularity in America and what being Caribbean and breaking into the industry when you did was like.
I’m not sure about the Afro side… For the Caribbean, it’s rough though. I know people are not going to like to hear this, but the industry doesn’t treat Caribbean music right at all. I don’t think Dancehall Reggae is a category on the majority of industry charts anymore & not soca. If we are lucky, we get like 2 or 3 songs spinning each summer on the radio. It’s usually like 1 though… We get treated bad bad bad. Even our hit songs are restricted demographically a bit. How many radio stations across the USA include dancehall reggae or soca in their normal rotation? We are lucky if we get a Caribbean show, without being forced to play genres from outside the Caribbean. Caribbean music is only popular in a few cities in America & it’s usually where Caribbean immigrants have settled (NYC, LAX, Boston, the DMV area) & it’s mostly pirate stations that lift Caribbean music. Then once it gets hot in the streets, commercial radio may toss us a bone. Even the biggest dancehall artist can only tour about 12 cities & most likely won’t even get 1,000 people in each city. All that to say, if you plan on being a dancehall reggae artist, you better do it because you love it. After all, it’s not as much money as you think. It’s good recognition for the streets though & most successful artists are well respected within the community… That’s why I do EDM fused with Dancehall Reggae and gospel. EDM allows me to reach a bigger audience, dancehall reggae is the vibe, & the gospel is in the lyrics… As for my come-up, I was fortunate to be one of the first people in New York to make content for dancehall reggae parties & putting it online. The wild parties & the daggering stuff got a lot of people talking. Adults did not like it at first, & it was originally called “Domestic Violence” in the Bronx, but the kids loved it & especially the girls, cause at the time it was a male-dominated dance floor. My crew & I were not into seeing guys dance, so we would pull girls out of the audience and dance with them. Some of those girls went on to become celebrities and dancehall queens too. You just never know who’s the life you can change when you give them the spotlight. I’m all about seeing my ladies shine. Even now, my doctors, dentist, all that are ladies. lol. Sorry fellas. Love y’all too, but gotta give my ladies a chance to shine… After that, the bookings started coming in crazy. A guy named Dan Brunn found me around that time & made a documentary about me called “Temporary Sanity” The cover was designed by the underground celebrity “Jus Buss” & it went on the dominate international film festivals, & would fall under the category of “cultural anthropology.“ Then I got my American Green Card & started touring internationally. A little while after that was when Diplo reached out & the Major Lazer thing happened. I did not even like EDM at the time, but I have seen the potential to expand the reach of reggae music to an untapped audience. Fortunately, Diplo spent enough time teaching me why EDM was important & I eventually warmed up to it. It honestly took me like a year, even after joining Major Lazer to begin enjoying EDM. lol. So, if you don’t enjoy my music as yet, I understand. Just listen to it for a year. I promise you, you’ll get it.
Talk to us about the power of rebranding, and being able to pivot within your career. Having such an esteemed career and longevity in the business, how have you developed an ability to stay current and up to date within the industry?
Be yourself, cause you’re going to have to be you for the rest of your life. People can sniff a phony miles away, especially when they get close to you. So you should be yourself. That way, you can brand yourself 24/7 without spending a dime… Now, if you do have a dime to spend, personal branding is all about communicating your personality & values without having a conversation. So choose merch, music, logos, colors, textures, and stuff that reflects you. For example, when people see the Nike check, they think “Just do it!” or sports. When people see Skerrit Bwoy, I want them to think, “Jesus Party, Christian EDM, if he can be a Christian then so can I.” For that, I live my brand every day, in every way. I’m always having a party for Jesus, playing Christian EDM at secular events, or letting people know that “if I can change my sinful ways, then so can you, cause I was making bank to sin.” Sin was my whole job & that’s not the case for most people. It’s usually hanky panky (I love my spouse & I can’t live without sex), racism (what color was Jesus?), or church-hurt (I used to go to church, BUT ((insert random blame on someone else here)) that keeps people from a committed relationship with Jesus… As for my “esteemed career & longevity.” I would say, I had a modest career. I always kept it real with my people. Was always accessible to fam & fans alike. I would come off of a 10,000 stage with Major Lazer, and go to a basement party on 183rd in the Bronx. In every city that Major Lazer went to that, I knew someone, I would call them up & give them VIP tickets with backstage access, & they would roll with me so they could see what’s possible. I brought dancers, DJs, MCs, recording artists, media, & even regular homies from the Dancehall Reggae world to Major Lazer events. None of them ever left the same. The thing is, once you see someone you know doing a thing, you know it’s possible for you to… Right now, I want those same people & more to see me doing the Jesus Music thing & know that Christianity isn’t boring & that there is room for them over here.
What’s next for you and how can our readers connect with you?
More wildness! More craziness! More experimental Jesus Music.
Jesus Party Vol. 3: https://ditto.fm/jesus-party-vol-3
Dropping Fri. Sep. 9th. Please presave & let’s make history!