Words by Emily Shapiro, Photos by Martei Korley—
At age 17, Ricky Blaze, produced Ding Dong’s “Bad Man Forward, Bad Man Pull Up,” a dancehall track that, eight years later, is still in rotation at clubs, where it elicits a crowd response as if it just bussed last week. In the years since, Ricky has produced tracks like Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh,” Vybz Kartel’s “Touch A Button” and Santigold’s “Disparate Youth,” all while carving out a niche for himself as a solo artist on the edge of dancehall, pop and dance music.
As he recounted his career to us, in the one-room, basement studio in East Flatbush, Brooklyn (with a detour to his grandma’s crib in nearby Brownsville) he’s kept since his teens, it became clear to us that this modesty has definitely played a role in his success. Ricky is an extremely humble, low-key dude who, as we learned during our interview, keeps a close circle of friends and family.
So much of his music has been created organically, in that little studio, in collaboration with friends, and for the sole purpose of providing dancers and music lovers with dope tunes. While he is constantly experimenting with different genres, he has stayed true to his vision of bringing elements of West Indian culture and music to other styles, and bringing artists together to create new sounds. (See his new single “Lightaz” from his upcoming electro-reggae project on Ultra Records, his latest venture aimed at exposing the world to reggae.)
Still young at 24, we can only imagine what Ricky will do in the coming years. For now, read our chat with him to learn about everything from his come up to his goals for the future. (Tune into the LargeUp Sessions on RadioLily.com from 6 to 8 PM tonight, June 13, to hear more from Ricky, tonight’s special guest on the show).
LargeUp: Coming up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, when did you get into music? When did you know this was it for you?
Ricky Blaze: I started DJing at age 10 and running around like every typical kid in the area. But I started being around some older guys in the area. Having older company was always cool because you could learn more than with a bunch of kids your age. I was just talking smack to them and they asked me had I ever DJed before and I told them, “Yeah, I DJed before and I play at parties and stuff.” And they were like “Alright, cool, we’re gonna test you out.” So they brought me into their spot that they practiced at, and were like “Let’s see what you could do.” I started scratching the records and had no clue what I was doing, and broke their needle. And they were like, “We could teach you but only if you want to learn.” And I was like, “Yeah I wanna learn.”
I thought it was fascinating and I loved music, and that’s where it started from for me. So from 10 to about 16, I was just DJing in local parties. I started thinking like, how can I have fans? How can I get people to listen to my DJing? So I would keep parties in the area, design my own flyers.
LU: What spots? Do you remember which places were the first?
RB: We had a popular spot on Flatbush. There was a bowling alley but they would shift it up a little bit, put neon disco lights on and keep parties in there. We would pack it up. It was called something Lanes, but we ended up calling it The Alley. It became a hot spot and we kept parties there. At 17, I produced this record for a popular Jamaican dancer, Ding Dong — “Bad Man Forward, Bad Man Pull Up.” That was the first record I ever made. I made it at a friend’s house on his computer.
LU: How did you link with Ding Dong originally?
RB: A mutual friend gave me his number. At that time, I didn’t have production in mind but I wanted to be on a business-type tip so I wanted to manage him, as a dancer. I reached out and we started talking, and the same night that we spoke, a popular dancer by the name of Bogle was killed in Jamaica. The day after that, I hit him up, and he was feeling stressed ‘cause they didn’t know where it was coming from—if it was a target against dancers or what. All the dancers just stopped dancing, they weren’t going out or anything. And I was like “Yo, you have to keep it alive. You gotta push it to the forefront and take lead of it.” And he started to do that. He started gaining a lot of recognition on the Passa Passa DVDs, he started coming to New York. And at that time, I had this office spot, a graphic design spot in this store called Future Vibes. It was the hot spot at the time because we were selling CDs of all the latest music, the latest DVDs from the latest parties in Jamaica.
He met us over there and I introduced him to Future Vibes, who owned the spot, and we both kind of took over his management. I brought him to a party and they were playing old-school, vintage dancehall. The party was at Elite Ark in Brownsville. He kept doing the dance and I was like “What is that? It looks cool.” And he was like: “it’s this new dance that I made in England called ‘Bad Man Forward, Bad Man Pull Up.’” The dance was so universal, that any song that he did it to looked cool. He ended up leaving the next day to go back to Jamaica. That Friday I went to my homeboy’s crib and ended up making the track. Ding Dong came back from Jamaica the Friday after and I was like “Yo, I got this track for you, we gotta make this record.” And he went straight to the studio and recorded that song.
It started gaining recognition from Brooklyn ‘cause I was playing on a pirate underground radio station, Whaa Gaan Radio. We started promoting the record on the station, and Hot 97 DJs were driving around Brooklyn and listening to it. You only could get it on a certain radius of Brooklyn so they would drive around in the area and listen to what the hot songs were. ‘Cause Whaa Gwaan radio was the streets. If you heard it on Whaa Gwan Radio, it was popping in the clubs. We were getting all the music from Jamaica, local artists, it was mixed up. But whatever we were playing on the station is what was hot in Brooklyn. The other DJs on the bigger stations would listen to know what was hot on the streets.
I went on the radio from 8-10 and I played it for about 2 hours and it was a frenzy after that. The record was gaining recognition in Jamaica ‘cause he was on the Passa Passa DVDs, and New York gravitated to working with him. We did his birthday party in the same club, Elite Ark, so we used everything as a promo stunt and he had the biggest party in the history of dancehall dancers. He had 5,000 people at his party due to the song, how we were promoting it. That just gave me confidence to say probably, I really can make it as a producer. So then I went on to building this studio as a start. I’ve been in here since 2010 but I always loved the vibes that it gave me creatively.
LU: You did a lot of tracks that were related to dance and promoted certain dances…
RB: That situation I was telling you about, with Bogle dying and then the turmoil of dancers trying to figure out what was going down, was in 2005 going into 2006. That’s when they came out with [sings Voicemail and Ding Dong’s “Wacky Dip”], and the dancers all started coming back out and were like “Yo, we’re just going to live this out in Bogle’s name.”
I wanted to do R&B, I wanted to do pop, but I wanted to build my name. I didn’t have any connection to R&B and pop so how else could I do it? I always loved techno music. I was like you know what, I’ll do this music as promo to try and build my name up as a producer and a songwriter and as an artist. Half of those tracks was tracks I did for other people but they just didn’t see the vision so I just dropped it— “Cut Dem Off” and then I had signed [dancehall crew] Merital and we did “Love Dancing,” “Everybody Dance.”
I had my own dancer that came from Brooklyn, Fresh Prince, and we created a crew called The Rolling Stones. We would go to parties and post up, and we were the popular guys but then I started shouting them out in songs and hyping my crew. Those records all came naturally. None were planned. Fresh Prince would just come to the studio and I would play a beat and he would dance for hours in here and that would hype me up and I would start chanting things. I would go in the booth and record and be like “Fresh Prince jump on the record too.” And that’s how we created that.