Fans of DJ Irie know him as the official DJ of the Miami Heat, the guy that pumps up the crowd with party tunes before opening tip-off, and who is there to give the team a boost whenever its energy is lacking.
Or maybe they’ve seen his smiling face on Good Morning America, adding an adrenaline shot of cool with lively beats that help ABC viewers get their hearts started early.
And for the past 11 years (including this weekend), fans have grooved to his celeb-soaked Irie Weekend, an annual event that’s centered around the DJ’s birthday but is really just another way for the philanthropic entertainer to give back to South Florida’s at-risk youth (events benefit his Irie Foundation, which offers mentorship programs, enriching cultural experiences and scholarship opportunities).
But here are few things you might not know about DJ Irie, other than the fact that his real name is Ian Grocher:
1. He can’t swim, but he loves water sports and is an avid wakeboarder. And he found out he loved water sports by accident, through a friend who worked for Red Bull, which sponsors many athletes. “He called me out of the blue and said, ‘Hey, you gotta meet me at Key Biscayne right now — we’re filming something at the marina and we want you to be a part of it.’ So I get out there and there’s Nick and Jules — two of the most accomplished wakeboarders from the U.K. — and I’m watching these guys do all these incredible tricks, and it’s so cool. And my friend is like, ‘You’re not leaving until you try this.’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t swim, and I don’t do anything in the water except take a shower.’ They literally stripped me down to my boxers, held me down and put the board on me, and I’m screaming and carrying on, and they threw me into the water and told me I had to get up on the board before we call it a day. And you know what? I got up, and I was freaking out. And that’s the day I fell in love with the sport.”
2. His first DJ job was at the Miami skating rink formerly known as Hot Wheels, now Super Wheels. “That was my senior year in high school, so I was 17. And it’s funny because I was hired there to be a floor guard, so I was one of those guys telling you to slow down and stop acting the fool. But there was a guy there they just hired as a DJ, and little did they know he was also working at the competition, but they found out and fired him immediately, which left a gaping hole in their schedule. The head DJ knew that I was DJing as a hobby, and he went and told the owners. The funny thing is, it was also how my name came about: I was about to step up to the mic and introduce myself and the head guy stops me and asks what’s my DJ name. I didn’t know what to do, but then he said, ‘You know what — you’re gonna be DJ Irie, because your family’s from Jamaica and you’re always happy.’”
3. He’s a big history buff, especially World War II history. “That just came out of the blue, because even in school I never paid attention in history class. But my dad is the kind of guy who would always watch the Smithsonian Channel and all those history shows. And I remember just hanging out with him, and this show about World War II came on, and I was just like, ‘That’s what happened?!’ And literally from there it just fed my appetite of learning more and more about what actually took place and how history will repeat itself.”
4. He went to boarding school in Jamaica for five years, and rapper/producer Sean Paul was his roommate. “After graduating, we didn’t stay in contact. But the way we met up again was probably about 10 years later when there was this record called Infiltrate, and it was tearing it up and I was playing it all the time. Sean’s name was Sean Henriques, so I get this record by Sean Paul and I don’t know who the hell Sean Paul is. I was playing this club in the Grove, DJing and hosting the party, and Sean Paul was performing that night. I’m DJing and doing my thing, and they say, ‘Hey, you should introduce Sean Paul now.’ I introduce him, and as I’m running off the stairs, Sean’s coming up, and I look at him and I’m like, ‘Sean!’ He goes, ‘Ian! What’s going on?’ And I go, ‘Listen, I can’t talk to you right now, because Sean Paul is about to perform.’ He looks at me and goes, ‘Bro! I’m me! I’m Sean Paul!’ I go, ‘Get the f— out of here!’”
5. At FIU, he was vice president of student government and general manager of the campus radio station in the same year. “Yeah, I was a real nerd [laughs]. At that time, my career goals were set forth by my parents. I have Jamaican parents, OK? They set the career path very early: doctor or lawyer — it’s your choice. [laughs] So I thought I could do more good as a doctor, so I set forth on this medical track and actually got a full scholarship to FIU to pursue medicine. And the group of friends that I gravitated to was very involved, and one of my buddies said, ‘Man, we should run for student government.’ And I was like, ‘Why?’ [laughs] And the next thing we know, we’re taking off spring break to put together a campaign. And it’s something that’s helped me tremendously even in my business today, with my corporate partnerships. I learned so many lessons.”