DJ English Fire (Black Chiney)

This guy did well at the last Red Bull Culture Clash even though Mixpak won (and I think they deserved to win.) Here’s an interview I did with him a while ago. Enjoy!

Why don’t you just introduce yourself?

My name is DJ English Fire, member of the Grammy Award winning number one sound system in the United States of America, Black Chiney. I’m very proud to say that!

What’s the story of Black Chiney and how did you get involved with Black Chiney?

Black Chiney, the sound itself, is born and raised in Miami. Dups, which is the owner, and Bobby Chin are Jamaican with Chinese heritage but they left Jamaica years before the Black Chiney thing started. They left Jamaica when they were still young. They started Black Chiney in 2000. This is our 12th year as a sound but collectively the members on the sound are all seasoned veterans. Bobby Chin used to play a sound called Earthquake (from Washington D.C.), then he joined Poison Dart which is where he linked up with Dups. They joined Poison Dart together. At the times Dups was working on the radio and had his own radio show. So he was doing that and he was doing production and remixes as well. He’s the one that got DJ Khaled started with the reggae community. He used to do the remixes which Khaled took to Jamaica and got popular with. With his remixes becoming well known, he decided to start Black Chiney. The rest is history!

I’ve been djing for twenty-one years now. I had my own sound called Prodigy Movements. I was on that sound for about ten years. Black Chiney approached me a couple of times to join them but I didn’t think the timing was right as I was doing my own thing on another sound. And then, just like with any company, you feel that you’ve gotten as far as you can go with that company – so when the opportunity with Black Chiney came again, I decided to take it. Me and Bobby, me and Dups had been friends before that. I had been friends with some of the other members as well. I’ve known Walshy Fire,  since high-school and I’ve known Special K for a while. When I joined, I felt that the timing was right and the fit was right. I’ve been with them for three and a half years now. It’s been a good ride! I learned a lot!

Since you mentioned Poison Dart, I bumped into Taranchyla in Trevor Sax’s record shop a few years ago.

Really? He’s a good friend of mine!

I later saw him again at a clash in the Netherlands which I didn’t enjoy much as a whole. I think Poison Dart should have won just for him being on the mic. While the other mcs were doing nothing but calling each other names, he was actually being funny and intelligent.

He’s a very, very good guy, a very very talented mc. He’s not gonna like this: We beat him in 2010! We beat Poison Dart! We had a clash called the Knock Out Clash. Black Chiney, Poison Dart, Innocent Sound and a sound called Juicey Mental. Black Kat was on the bill but Panther never showed up. Black Chiney took the Trophy! Big up to Bobby Chin and Willy Chin! They took the trophy. They did a very good job. It wasn’t a typical clash. Everybody else took it the typical hardcore clash way: hardcore dubplates. Miami is not really a clash town. They like it but they don’t attend it. So when people show up, you have to see that they are coming for more of a party vibe. Bobby and Willy saw that and they took the trophy. A custom Vybz Kartel took the night.

We’re in London right now so let’s talk about the difference between European and American audiences for a minute.

It’s different. It’s a shock! You can’t come to Europe and play the way you would play in America! America is very fast paced. They are very much about what’s hot now. They’re just about now. Europe is kind of, I won’t say slow, they are more well rounded. They know so many different genres of music. If you’re not experienced in different genres of music, you’re not gonna make it; especially in the UK. I give a lot of credit to djs in the UK. A lot of the music they play is from America but a lot of it is music you just don’t hear in the States. The music scene here is more rounded. When you go to a club in Miami, you’ll hear dancehall, hip hop, some soca and you may hear a little pop influence. That’s it. Here in the UK you’re gonna hear reggae, a lot of foundation reggae, you’re gonna hear dancehall, you’re gonna hear hip hop, r&b, soul, rare groove, house, funky house, drum & bass, pop music… It’s so wide! You’re gonna hear afrobeats. Those things you don’t hear in the States! It’s all new to me. I’m finding myself having to ask “Where did you get this?” and “Where do you get that?”

When I went to Italy for a one week tour at the end of April, I went there with the mentality of knowing that Europe is different. So I studied. I listened to a lot of Sentinel, Heavy Hammer, Kalibandulu, Supersonic, Civalizee, Herb-A-Lize It – I listened to a lot of different sounds just to see the difference of music that they play. They play music. They play music! If I went over there with that Miami mindframe…

You’d flop.

Easily! I would have flopped easily! But the tour went really well. One of my favourite places that I played was Milan. I played in Rome which was a dancehall night. I played dancehall and old school hip hop because I noticed that Europe likes old school hip hop. They prefer the MOPs and the Public Enemys and KRS 1s as opposed to Rick Ross and Jay Z.

I think Europe is still putting food on a lot of these artists’ tables.

In the United States you’re gonna gear towards the DJ Khaleds, the Rick Ross, … When you go to Europe, they know that and you may get away with it for a little while but to really catch the crowd you have to do the MOP, the Boogie Down Productions, the Public Enemy. They know that and they love that! I did that in Rome and when I went to Milan, I gave them the old school foundation, I gave them the Bob Marley, I gave them the Peter Tosh, the Tenor Saw, Nitty Gritty, …. The place was absolutely going bananas! I played for an hour and a half. An hour of that was all foundation and I gave them about thirty minutes of dancehall. Towards the end of the night when the lights were coming on I decided to slow it down again for everybody to leave and I went back into foundation. Nobody moved! The lights were on and nobody was leaving! I thought I’d play one more and the people would leave. So I put on Many Rivers to cross by Jimmy Cliff. They were beating the walls and asking for more! I moved on to Burning Spear and they still weren’t leaving! It went on like that for twenty minutes! That was my favourite night! I don’t usually go old school and foundation like that in the states. Unless you are playing old school events you really wouldn’t go so deep into that. But when you’re in Europe you have to, because Europe really embraces reggae as a whole. They embrace reggae culture. That was really good for me to see!

It’s quite a professional approach to study before going to work!

Whenever I get booked, especially to somewhere I’ve never been, I always like to go a day before. I really stress to bring me in early the day before. I wanna go there and I wanna go to whatever party is going on that night just so that I can analyze the crowd, see what songs they like, see how their reaction is to certain things so that I can incorporate that in what I do. I wanna make sure that I give them a lot of myself but I also wanna give them a lot of what they like. I think that’s what a lot of djs fail at. You may be very good at Miami but if you take that style of playing and you go to Germany and play like you do in Miami, that might be your last day in Germany. You’d never get booked again in Germany! I take my profession very seriously and I study wherever I’m going; wherever I’m going, I wanna know the number one song and I wanna know the local artists. If there’s a local artist in that town that has a hit song, I’ll try to find him and get that on dub. The crowd won’t expect it and when you play it on dub, the crowd will be like “Whoa!”

You must have brought some Alborosie to Italy.

Of course! I had to! Alborosie is somebody that is very big in Europe. He’s known worldwide but he’s not big in the States. If you’re a dj, you know of him. But I knew his power in Europe and so I made sure I had his songs. I made sure I had all the Damian Marleys, I made sure I had the entire Busy Signal album.

What do you think of Busy’s album?

It’s probably one of the best albums I’ve heard in five years. That’s the best dj album I’ve heard in years. The only albums that would compare to that might be the Romain Virgo album which is exquisite and Damian Marley’s album. But I wouldn’t put those artists in the same category with Busy Signal. I would put Busy Signal with the Bounty Killers, Aidonias, Kartels and Movados. To see Busy step out of his comfort zone and give you a complete reggae album, it completely blew my mind! My first instinct was “Busy you’re tripping!” It threw me. But then I listened to it and I was like “Damn!” It really is a solid album. It’s really unfortunate that he has that success and then had to have this downfall. On a personal level I know it’s devastating to him and his family but on a cultural level it is really damaging to the culture and the music. He was one of those artists that expanded what reggae music can bring. He opened up a door to artists to step out of their comfort zone and try something new and just push the barriers of the music. he really did that!

Could you tell me a little more about your history and where you’re coming from?

My first introduction to music came as a child. Being related to Alton Ellis and coming from that lineage… My grandfather owned a record shop and I was always in that shop. The first record that I owned was Pass the Dutchie by Musical Youth. I played that record every day, religiously. I must have been about five at the time. I played it every single day. Non stop! My uncle Double G and Seanie T who is my cousin had a sound called Stylee Media. So at eight, nine, ten I was going to their house parties. The music side has been in me from then. When I migrated from the UK, I incorporated what the States was. When I first came there, people made fun of my voice: “You talk funny! Where are you from?” I got so tired of that that I tried to talk like them. I lost my British accent in a year. I tried to be American and I did hip hop but after a while I got back to what I knew and what I am and that’s reggae. My parents are Jamaican, that’s my ancestry. I listened to Stone Love and little clashes. My favourite sound of all times is King Addies with Babyface and Tony Matterhorn. I’ve been able to meet Matterhorn and he’s become my mentor. He’s like my big brother. He’s taught me a lot about the business. Back then I tried to emulate him and that’s why I took the mc route. Music and sound has always been a part of my life and my family. I moved to California for a few years and played a sound called Citystar out there and that took me to Jamaica as a dj for the first time. I played in Montego Bay alongside Pure Playaz. That was the first time I ever actually played by myself as an mc and as a selecter. I had to mix and talk by myself! In Jamaica!

How did that go?

It went well although I didn’t do as well as I could do now. I got very good reviews! When I went to Jamaica, I found out what the hottest songs were. At the time the Bruk Out riddim was hot. Can’t believe my Eyes by Bounty Killer, Baby Cham, Cobra… That was the hottest songs in Jamaica. So I called the owner of Citystar and told him “Listen, the dance is on Saturday, it’s Thursday, send me down x-amount of money.” Then I went to Litter Studio in Kingston and I voiced two Baby Cham, two Cobra and T.O.K. When I arrived at the dance in Montego Bay people looked at me and asked “Where’s your selector?” I was like “It’s just me!” Then I played and when I started playing those dubplates the crowd went bananas! That was my first taste and I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life! I did that and returned to the States. Then I had a disagreement with the owner of Citystar and moved back to Miami. Me and Killa Mike from Prodigy Movements had always been friends and I had been trying to recruit him for Citystar and right when I was getting ready to secure that deal for him, I ended up leaving Citystar. So he told me to join Prodigy and I stayed with them for ten years. Killa Mike taught me a lot. I really emulated his selecting skills. I could always mix but I wasn’t a very good selecter. A lot of people get the two mixed up. Mixing is just putting two records on and blending them. It’s not very hard to do.

But people don’t really dance to mixes, people dance to tunes.

Yeah! To select takes skill and it takes talent. To draw for a song that is going to ignite the crowd at a specific time takes a lot of talent. Back then that was not my forte.

I’d take somebody who can select and doesn’t mix over someone who can only mix any day.

Absolutely! I can teach you how to mix but I can’t teach you how to select. You’ve got to have some of that in you already. I learned from Killa Mike how to advance my selecting skills. A lot of the times if he wasn’t around you’d still think it was him, because I used to play exactly like him. Over the years I developed my own style. Now I’m good. I can actually say this and this is not cockiness. I’m good and if I wasn’t, Black Chiney wouldn’t have hired me!

What’s your approach to voicing dubplates?

I try to voice everybody. Because I’ve been in this business so long, now I’ve really started to want to push younger talent. I’ve been blessed to have had certain opportunities in my life. I’m blessed to be on Black Chiney. That has to be one of my greatest achievements throughout my career. Big respect and shout out to Superdups and Bobby Chin for giving me that opportunity! It put me in a higher bracket. It literally put me from being a good selector and a good mc into a top tier. I am now recognized with the elite. Black Chiney is recognized with the top: Stone Love, David Rodigan, Mighty Crown, Bass Oddysey, King Addies, Renaissance… Those are all top tier sounds. Everybody else who is not in that league falls beneath. When you say Stone Love, you have to say Black Chiney. I am a part of that now.

I’ve always been the type of person trying to help younger talent but that I’m on Black Chiney I see an opportunity to really help younger talent being exposed to a different audience. Being on Black Chiney, if I say “this person is good”, people will give it that second look. “If he’s saying it’s good, maybe it is good.” If you’ve got talent, I’ll voice you and I will play your song. When I came to the UK I didn’t know a thing about Stylo G. Stylo G is an extremely talented dancehall artist! Extremely talented! I voiced him quickly! I got every Stylo G on dub. I voiced another UK artist called Don Andre. A very talented youth! And then there’s a crossover dancehall artist called Mr. Midas. To me he is very reminiscent of Sean Paul. He has a similar look and he has a similar crossover appeal. He doesn’t spit the hardcore dancehall, he spits the crossover dancehall. He approached me and I’m actually managing him now.

I’m very interested in working with local talent and whenever I go to a different place, I want to find out who the local star for that area is and if he’s talented, I’mma voice him and I’mma take his music play it and tell people to look out for that artist.

So you’re gonna play Stylo G in Miami?

Yeah! And I played Stylo in Italy. I played Stylo in Italy and I played Gappy as well. I’m not looking for the crowd to go crazy. I just want the crowd to hear it. If they keep hearing it, they will remember. So I play it and I will give it to other djs in the area. I’m definitely about pushing younger artists. Bounty Killer and Movado probably won’t be singing in twenty or thirty more years. You need the Stylos and the Gappys to come up.

What makes a dubplate stand out to you?

The biggest thing is riddims. Riddims! Europe is very big on riddims. That’s something I like about the Italian sounds. They are very creative. Like I said, my favourite sound is King Addies. To me, there’s no sound out there that’s better or was better at creativity. They have some of the most custom dubplates that will blow your mind. Who in the hell would think of putting Bounty Killer, Mad Cobra and Dennis Brown on a dubplate?

Bounty and Mad Cobra together? Definitely. But D. Brown?

Those things don’t fit!

Unless you make them fit.

Exactly! That’s why beyond Black Chiney King Addies is my favourite sound of all time, even to this day. When I voice dubs, I think the King Addies way. Right now Black Chiney has a dubplate nobody in the world can play. It’s the I-Threes which is Bob Marley’s original back up group: Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths and Rita Marley. We are the only sound in the world to have that. There was a dance a couple of months ago: Mighty Crown, David Rodigan and Black Chiney. We played that song. To hear David Rodigan, Sir David Rodigan, who is a living legend and icon, to hear him say to the group “Wow! That’s big!” -to hear that meant that we had done something right! There’s a couple of things that we have in our arsenal that nobody else can have but I’m not gonna say it just in case somebody gets any ideas. I love dubs! I love hearing that Black Chiney name and hearing my name!