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99 Jamz (WEDR-FM 99.1) likes to present itself as the ultimate party, a nonstop hip-hop and R&B throwdown. But the reality is quite different. Up in Hollywood at the Cox Communications building on a recent Friday, the small studio that is the nerve center for the top-rated urban music station is sleepy and tranquil. Big Lip Bandit and Supa Cindy sit by their microphones, killing time by surfing the Internet and working through ennui familiar to anyone who's been on a job for more than four hours. The TV above them is tuned to CBS, but the volume is turned off; no one is watching it. The rest of the building is nearly empty, save for an anonymous employee or DJ working the controls at one of Cox's three other radio stations, and DJ Irie, who nervously paces around a small room right next to the one that houses 99 Jamz's two bored radio jocks.
Irie scours through four metal crates of records, arranging the vinyl, trying to figure out what he'll play once his mix show starts at 8:00 p.m. He chooses Outkast's "Hey Ya!" "On the radio, the number-one rule is that your very first record has to be a smash," he'll say later during a postshow interview. "If you come out with a hot, undeniable smash, you've got 'em from the beginning." Despite "Hey Ya!" being the most played-out song in the universe right now, he bobs his head excitedly to it and then leaps toward the mixer to drop in Kelis's equally ubiquitous "Milkshake." But this time he transforms the song, juggling the first four bars until the track becomes a piece of undulating, rumba-shaking percussion, then allowing her faux-yard challenge to drop in, which makes it sound new and fresh.
Irie's in full swing now, so he mixes in Ghostface Killah's hot new joint with Missy Elliott, "Tush." But instead of letting the record play through -- something he hasn't done yet -- he quickly shifts to four bars of Riz's break record "Can't Stop Don't Stop." Then he cues up Beyoncé's amazing "Crazy In Love" single, which comes off like a blast of pure energy. All you underground skratch nerds who think radio jocks can't cut, pay attention: Irie juggles and scratches until the horn sample from the Chi-Lites' "Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)" lunges and vibrates like a paper streamer pasted to a fan, a cool breath of sonic air.
After the first verse of "Crazy in Love" ends, Irie cuts to a remix version with Missy Elliott and Jay-Z, then jumps into a completely unknown song that makes him go nuts. When a white-label test pressing of Journalist's "Indestructible" hits, Irie starts bouncing around the studio, hyped up by its hard beat, then quickly spins back the record as Big Lip Bandit plays a promo tape over the airwaves shouting, "Rewind!"
After his mix show ends, Irie retires to a conference room inside the Cox building decorated with various broadcasting awards. Even though the show is over, you couldn't tell by his behavior; he's still energized by his performance, spitting out words at a rapid rate. "I take people on a journey," he says, explaining why he changed the pace of the show. "It's the same thing I do in the clubs. You're going to be throwing your hands up, you're going to be bouncing, you're going to be sliding, and you're also going to have a chance to get close to a lady. When you hear the beat hammering away, that's not really sexy." Though there aren't any ladies in sight besides Supa Cindy, who is currently spoken for, his point is understood.
The 27-year-old Irie, who's been spinning records since 1993, has residencies on Tuesdays at the Metro Kitchen in the Hotel Astor; Thursdays at crobar; Fridays at Rumi; and Saturdays and Sundays at Opium Garden. He is also the on-air DJ for Jim Berry's highlight show Sportszone, Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. on WFOR-TV Channel 4 in Miami; and he plays at Miami Heat home games. He claims to be the first DJ to mix records during games throughout a season since he joined the Heat in 2000. "Now other NBA teams are doing the same thing because they've seen what I do on tape." The distinction has earned him the opportunity to spin records at several events during the NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles this year, including the celebrity basketball game.
Irie admits that he has probably heard Beyoncé's "Crazy In Love" a thousand times. But even though the rest of the world hears it so much that it drives people, well, crazy, he still gets into it, using his talent for mixing records to infect the rest of us with his enthusiasm. "When the music starts playing, man, I feel it," he gushes. "I love it."