It’s Miami in the early 2000s. There is no Major Lazer, only their forefathers – Black Chiney. Every mixtape the group drops seamlessly blend reggae vocals over hip hop and dancehall beats and further cements them as the most influential sound-system in the world. There’s no iTunes, no Soundcloud, and even Myspace is still a twinkle in Tom Anderson’s eyes. The tangible mixtapes that the group’s dropping are holy grails for DJs of the time. Enter Walshy Fire, a Jamaican-born, Miami-bred DJ/MC whose time spent travelling home, hoarding hot mixtapes, and flicking them off at parties has become his unique musical acumen.
His skills are so refined that when he sneaks into a Black Chiney party to play before them, the group arrives to see him slaying a set and induct him as the fourth member of the group. Skip forward to present-day and Walshy Fire is now a member of Major Lazer, talking to me from Miami about the group’s new album Peace Is The Mission, its single ‘Lean On’, and the progression of dancehall music. Here’s how it went.
How you doin’ Robert?
I’m good, I’m good, where are you now?
I’m in Miami, at home Watching a TV show called First 48
I haven’t heard of it, what is it?
It’s one of those shows where they basically say that, as a police officer or detective, you have about 48 hours before your case [gets three times] harder to solve. It’s real people, real stories, real murders. They show you the body, they show you the guy snitching in the room. It’s real life. Real, real life. If you ever get a chance you should watch it
You see the body? Damn man American TV is heavy
It’s crazy. America’s crazy.
What’s up today?
This week, I came to Miami to deal with a lot of personal stuff [and to] just catch up on life, really. So this week wasn’t hectic but I get to DJ tonight, and I’m taking off tomorrow to Toronto.
I have to say as congratulations on ‘Lean On’ slaying Australia’s Top 50 Single charts.
Yeah I saw it got to number one [when] they were tweeting me. I love it man. It’s such a blessing and thank you so much for supporting us.
Five artists got together to make that song, is it hard to make music with five different perspectives involved?
Not really. Everyone is friends first so the energy just matches really well and everyone just goes back-and-forth. It’s a real blessing because there’s no conflicts, it’s a fun time.
How did that song in particular come about?
Well it started as a reggae song that Wes- I mean Diplo and Mø were working on. Diplo asked Snake for some of his heavier base and it kept going and going and before you know it, it went on to a whole new thing. I love where it’s at now.
The new album is stacked with collaborations too, what can you tell us about Peace Is The Mission?
Well, it has a lot of collaborations as you said, but this album’s much more about making songs with a longer life, such as ‘Lean On’, than maybe some of the more clubbier songs that we’ve been known for. It’s got a couple of club songs on it, but it has a lot more songs like ‘Lean On’. You know, songs that will last, hopefully, the whole summer.
Do those summer songs and club songs still have a dancehall inspired vibe to them?
Oh yeah for sure but not just that style alone, they have a little bit of moombahton, a little bit of reggaeton, a little bit of Dutch house, a little bit of rastarinho from Brazil. Dance hall is there, but [the album] has a much more global feeling, I think a song like ‘Lean On’ seems to do well anywhere in the world, we’ve travelled enough and heard so many songs, and we feel like this is what the world sounds like.
Is that what Major Lazer is going for now, a more international sound?
You know what, I think we were already doing that. I just think that more people are into it now, but we’ve always been a group that brings the world together through music, and I think more people are into it now. We want to continue to bring more people into this unification through music.
Back to the collabs, what can you tell me about the ‘Double Cup’ song with Riff Raff?
You know I didn’t have anything to do with the animation at all, so I’m watching it for the first time just as you guys are, and it’s really cool. You know, Riff Raff is one of the best freestyle rappers I’ve ever seen in my life! He makes good records as well so if you guys aren’t familiar with what he’s talking about, watch the episode. It’s a funny take on current issues that youngsters have to deal with.
The ‘Night Riders’ track with Pusha T and 2 Chainz is fire. What’s your favourite track on the album?
My favourite song is ‘Too Original’ and that’s because I really love ska music and it’s kind of like a ska song.
The casual Major Lazer listeners mightn’t be as familiar with the group’s set up post-Switch, tell us how you got to be a part of it all.
Well, me and Diplo were both friends and he was really into what I was doing with dancehall and reggae, he needed an MC – his MC turned Christian – and so I decided to help him out and it just worked real well. We gelled and it just hasn’t stopped, it’s been about five years now.
And you’re a part of Black Chiney which I’ve heard influenced Diplo to make Major Lazer. Are you still working with them?
Yeah I’m trying to. It’s super hard now because [Major Lazer] is really taking off. I love the dancehall and the reggae community so I try to do as much as I can. But Black Chiney is still super hot, they’re still selling out everywhere.
You’ve been involved with dance hall scene for a very long time, from when it was very thuggish ruggish to it being festival music for preppy teens. How do you think it evolved?
You know that side is still there it’s just that, [back then] you didn’t have Youtube, you didn’t have Soundcloud you didn’t have…I mean, you had to go to Jamaica and get a mixtape!
You used to do that, true?
Yeah I did. You’d have to bring that back to Japan, bring that back to Australia, bring that back to New Zealand, and then make dubs of it for your friends. That’s how dancehall spread, it was a trickle. Now with social media, it’s as fast as you can get it man. After it happens in Jamaica, within minutes it’s in Australia. The appeal of dancehall has always been there, people have always loved how dancehall music sounds and how reggae music sounds. Now they have access to it and have access to it in huge amounts, that’s the only difference now. It’s pretty much the same, the topics are the same, the beat is still about 94 BPM, but now you have a lot more people who are able to access it.
I don’t think nowadays you’d be seeing anyone with a ladder at shows either.
Yeah no that died down. That was ten years ago
Daggering was just a phase?
Yeah everything goes in and out of style. Right now sound-clashes are really hot, which is basically where two DJ’s bring their sound systems and their dub plates and battle. That’s what’s really popular now so I’m blessed.
Have Major Lazer been in any lately?
For sure we did the Red Bull one and we’ve had friendly sound-clashes with sound systems whenever we do a sound system type of show. We cut dub plates all the time, man.
Sidenote: You have a masters degree in Journalism, what made you pursue that?
Well, I was working for IBM and I hated it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I decided to go back to grad school. I saw that they had radio, TV, and film under the journalism degree, and I was really into radio, so I did a radio degree. It’s a journalism degree of course, but the specialisation was in radio.
So have you spent much time on the other side of interviews?
Absolutely, a lot. I have a lot of them recorded. One of my favourite ones was when I did Super Cat. Yeah I’ve had a lot of interviews. A lot.
You said that in the ‘Lean On’ video your get-up was stunting on the others. Are you the best dressed member of Major Lazer?
Clearly! And also if you look at the video you’d see that I was the best dancer of the group. You can make a poll but I’d definitely say that I’m gonna win that.
You’re the people’s choice?
Yeah I’m the people’s choice for sure man!
What do you typically wear that allows you to stunt harder than the other Major Lazer members?
Well I’m from Jamaica, and Jamaica has a certain style you know, very pro-African, pro-positivity, very much into roots and culture. And of course I grew up in Miami, I went to high school there so I add little things that would be more urban like Jordans and Air Max’s. My style, I actually have a name for it, is called ‘The Return of the Rude Boy’.
The Return of the Rude Boy?
I saw in an interview with Team No Sleep that your typical morning involves a phone call that leads to success. Did you get a phone call like that this morning?
Oh man yeah! I did, I did. My house was finished being renovated today, that was the first phone call I got today.
That’s great news to wake up to.
Every day’s like that man, it’s been a blessed couple of years.
I’m happy for you. Lastly, when’s Major Lazer coming to Australian next?
I’m going to say when it’s nice and hot, mid-January around that time, we’ll be there.
‘Peace is the Mission’ releases on June 1. Find out more on their website.
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