Words by DJ Gravy
Photos by Tone, Tono Radvany, Reid Van Renesse and Kevin Ornelas
I started collecting records when I was seven, and copped my first set of turntables in 1997. While working at reggae record store Jammyland in 1998, I accepted my first DJ gig at a Japanese club in midtown. From there I played different kinds of gigs for almost every different type of crowd imaginable. While I collected and played hip-hop and classics, was into scratching, and even messed with an occasional drum and bass set, it was always reggae that got me my biggest reactions and satisfied me the most as well. I always stood out amongst my colleagues who played hip hop, breaks, funk, etc. I remember frustrating some far more established DJs with the response I got, and figured I’d take that as far as I could.
After years of playing lots of hip-hop and streetwear events, I decided I had to start a straight reggae dancehall bashment party, but I wanted it to be different from the local reggae events I’d been attending where the M/F ratios were way off, and the promotion missed the reach of a lot of cool people I knew who loved the music and culture around it.
I had attended some great parties that Max Glazer played at, and befriended him in the process, only to see him disappear on a world tour with a young artist named Rihanna for almost three years. I knew he had to be part of the new reggae wave I’d envisioned, based on his club-friendly style of mixing and his diverse and influential following. I decided not to bring the event to a venue that already had reggae, but instead chose to approach influential spots that catered to creatives and cool downtown types on my concept. After Max finally got back to NY in 2007, I managed to lock down a monthly at the highly respected APT in the meat packing district.
I assembled lineups with Glazer, King Jam Sound from Japan, Shortman Movements from the Heavy Hitters, DJ Maya (whose brother Micro Don would come and talk on the mic for her sets), Skerrit Bwoy (an Antiguan from the Bronx who I later brought to Diplo to front his then-new project called Major Lazer) and Weed Cologne who I partnered with to start this event. He always brought Orijahnal Vibez with him, and Orijahnal ended up being part of the crew til this day.
Right away, we saw that we had created something new and different. After APT we went to Novo in Tribeca and shortly after that I asked Downtown scene queen Roxy Cottontail about bringing it to Retail Mafia Mondays at Sway Lounge. We did Assassin’s Gully Sit’n album release part there with VP Records and packed the place with people including Donovan Germain and Mr. Vegas, who performed with Assassin that night.
We soon started playing Sway monthly and the crowd changed dramatically, young kids from Bed-Stuy, Flatbush, East New York and so on started attending, bringing with them the latest dancehall steps; while many were West Indian, it was a highly diverse crowd. The kids dressed and looked different than what we’d seen at bashment parties in the past. Reggae and dancehall artists were attending; they noticed the new wave and complemented us for manifesting it. One night, after a lotta big records got spun, I tried out some electro dancehall tracks as an experiment. When I played Ricky Blaze’s ‘Cut Dem Off,’ I knew I’d either get booed or get a huge forward. The latter happened and I knew we were bringing something new to dancehall.
Over the years we had artists attend and sometimes perform — everyone from Shaggy, Sean Paul, Damian Marley, Beenie Man, Richie Spice, Mr. Lexx, Leftside, Red Fox, Screechy Dan, Khari Kill, Wayne Wonder, Cham, Chi Ching Ching. We even had the Mad Stuntman perform his mega hit with Reel 2 Reel, “I Like To Move It.”
Since we started the game has changed a lot. Vinyl faded away, making way for Serato and laptops; the tempos and styles of dancehall switched up; emergence of electronic music in dancehall and soca, etc.
Fast forward 10 years to present day, while dancehall is still an underground phenomenon, it’s also now the inspiration for much of pop and urban music from Rihanna, Drake, Justin Bieber and even Ed Sheeran. Reggae, dancehall and tropical bass parties have become far more trendy and mainstream and I think we’ve silenced the naysayers who told us that there could never be a dancehall party in the downtown scene.
Friday, July 7th we’re celebrating 10 years of the Rice and Peas Party at Black Flamingo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We’re also celebrating the influence we’ve had in making the bashment experience more widespread and accessible. And last but not least, we’ll be celebrating several things New York nightlife often lacks these days — diversity and high energy dancing that’s on beat with the music. Imagine that!