May 24, 2017
By Carla Torres | December 21, 2016 | People
Straight out of Carol City, Chinese-Jamaican DJ-Producer Walshy Fire, of the EDM trifecta Major Lazer, keeps the chart-topping global hits coming, with help from collaborators like Diplo, Skrillex, and recently Justin Bieber.
As one part of Major Lazer, DJ Walshy Fire—a Magic City native—has cranked out some of the hottest hits of the year, including “Cold Water” with Justin Bieber.
“I’m so 305,” says Leighton Walsh, aka Walshy Fire, whom you may know from tracks like “Cold Water,” with Justin Bieber, and the universal sensation “Lean On,” featuring Mø. Before becoming one third of Major Lazer (his electronic/reggae/moombahton band with Diplo and Jillionaire), the Magic City boy went to North Beach High School and Florida A&M University, but he also worked at IBM and even did time in prison.
How does a Jamaican-turned-Miamian become a global DJ?
Being poor and having something like Ocean Drive as a window to things I never would have seen has allowed me to understand what’s important in this world. It made me work hard and get a job at IBM, but I was dying inside. I had no intention of being a DJ. Going to grad school for journalism and radio opened my eyes. I was on 103.5 The Beat and started at all the clubs on South Beach and downtown.
That’s quite the change from doing time in prison.
I did a lot of drug [marijuana] trafficking. My partner got murdered. That was the end for me. I knew I had a bigger purpose in life.
Like becoming the third leg of Major Lazer, which you’ve kept pretty quiet.
We wanted to have a group that didn’t have a face. It wasn’t until “Watch Out for This (Bumaye)” that we showed who we are. We purposely kept it under the radar because we wanted it to be about the music and not who was making it. Especially when you have somebody like West [Diplo] in the group.
How did you two meet?
He’s from Fort Lauderdale. I was in a group called Black Chiney selling out arenas all over the world seven years ago, and he knew who I was. We stayed in touch and talked music every day.
And now you guys are Beliebers and “Cold Water” has millions of views on YouTube.
“Cold Water” might be the fastest-rising song we’ve had. Justin is a friend first, and every one of our songs are with friends. I’m a believer in making good music, and you can’t force it if you don’t have that chemistry. Of course we want to do a song with Beyoncé, or Kanye or Drake. But our circles haven’t met yet.
That success is insane when you consider the fact that you’re not signed to a major label.
That’s why you won’t see us at the Grammys. Macklemore is the only independent artist to win a Grammy. “Lean On” should have at least been nominated.
What about Beat Making Lab, the charity you founded?
Apple is a sponsor now. We bring instruments and musicians to third-world countries, and before we leave they have to make a song. The last one was in Haiti.
Where can people hear you locally?
I do my party at Coyo (2300 NW Second Ave., Miami) every Tuesday.
What do you want fans to take away from your shows?
Every show, I tell the audience to look to the person next to them and say, “I love you.” You’d be surprised how many people begin conversation after that. I want everybody to walk away with that feeling of community. I have a saying: “I want to make the world smaller by making the party bigger.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES (LAS VEGAS); ROGER KISBY/GETTY IMAGES (PHILADELPHIA)
May 24, 2017