Respectfully referred to as Da Reggae Don, DJ Norie was born to Panamanian parents in Brooklyn, which is often referred to a Jamaica’s 15th parish, due to its concentration of immigrants from reggae’s birthplace. Raised in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush area, Norie became familiar with the music of Shabba Ranks, Super Cat and Ninja Man (dancehall reggae superstars of the late 1980s and early ‘90s) by listening to coveted sound clash cassettes that furthered the popularity of the latest reggae hits and the renown of the era’s premier Jamaican sound systems. “Listening to the cassettes of Stone Love, Kilimanjaro and other sounds I thought, I want to be a part of that,” Norie recalled.
Barely into his teens, Norie began working with a neighborhood sound doing odd jobs such as carrying speakers and other equipment to their various gigs around Brooklyn. He paid close attention to the deejays (or selectors in Jamaican parlance) observing their proficiency in choosing just the right tunes to elicit roaring responses from the crowd and keep them on the dance floor. When the selectors needed to take a break, Norie got the chance to display his burgeoning skills on the wheels of steel; however, these early career-training sessions took place unbeknownst to Norie’s mother. “I don’t think I will get in trouble for saying this now but my mom used to work nights so I used to sneak out to play at these basement parties, and basically that is how I learned to select,” Norie laughingly discloses. “It was kind of hard in the beginning; they used to line up four or five records, tell me what to play and when I played them, people used to go crazy. So it used to seem like, yeah, I can do this, even though I was scared as s*#t. But I did it anyway and it was a good experience.”
Norie’s fears subsided with repeated stints at the turntables and eventually he was recruited by Spectrum Disco, working with selectors Redds and Super C; as Spectrum’s popularity spread throughout Brooklyn and the greater New York area during the 1990s, so too did Norie’s renown as an intimidating selector. In the late 1990s Super Claude, the founder of Afrique Sound Station, one of the most venerated sound systems in the New York area, recruited Norie to join the set. Alongside Afrique’s remarkable team of selectors, which included Jagga B, Crazy Richie and Super Twitch, Norie’s talents were taken to a wider audience that spanned many states and several countries. “Sometimes you have to make a move, enhance yourself and go for you, and Afrique is where my name really started from, its what took me to the level of traveling with the music,” Norie reflects. “I will never forget Spectrum Disco because that is where I came from but Afrique has been in the business for more than 20 years, they set the trend for ‘nuff sounds and it is a blessing to have been a part of it.”
Norie has also played on numerous Brooklyn based pirate and Internet stations that exclusively play reggae and Caribbean music (he even started one of his own, My Radio 94.3 FM), a phenomenon indicative of the vast potential for Caribbean music in the New York area. But Norie’s expertise in selecting dancehall also resonated with a mainstream listenership, as he found out when he joined up with (hip hop) DJ Self as one of six deejays comprising a collective called Da Union, which enabled him to take dancehall into several (Manhattan) clubs where it had previously been excluded. This led to a few guest appearances on Power 105.1 FM, and eventually his Sunday night show on the station, which has contributed to his enviable status as America’s most influential radio personality for dancehall reggae. As such, Norie is usually the first to transform a core dancehall anthem into an international hit, which he recently did with Stephen and Damian Marley’s single “Jah Army”, featuring Buju Banton.
Norie is also the personal deejay for Beenie Man, with whom he travels whenever the artist has a show outside of Jamaica and he has also toured with Elephant Man, Bounty Killer, Mavado and Serani. On March 30, 2011 at New York City’s BB King’s nightclub, Norie made history selecting the rhythms for seven time Grammy winner Stephen Marley’s first performance done solely to backing tracks (that is, without his band’s accompaniment); Marley headlined Norie’s two year anniversary party for his Power 105 show, which was also the one year anniversary celebration for his immensely popular monthly live concert series, “Anything Goes”. “Stephen was a little hesitant at first, because he never performed to tracks before, but he did it and he was happy about it, so it is a great experience to have under my belt,” Norie shares.
Norie has recently partnered on several projects with Queens New York based VP Records, the largest independent reggae label in the world. He selects the music at each of VP’s album release parties and the label’s artists are regularly showcased at his “Anything Goes” series. For VP Records’ “Reggae Gold 2011”, a collection of the year’s biggest reggae hits, Da Reggae Don provided a vibrant, 35-minute bonus mix CD, rife with artists’ shout-outs to Norie (including 2011 Celebrity Apprentice winner/country superstar John Rich) and customized renditions of popular songs. Additionally, Norie has just started recording artists on his own dancehall rhythms and he plans to release those tracks as part of his own compilation series sometime in the near future.
Each of Norie’s endeavors is in pursuit of his ultimate goal: expanding the overall popularity of Caribbean music, especially dancehall reggae, the music that inspired his career path almost 20 years ago. “My radio show has served a lot of purposes; not only did it allow my fans to get to know me but it allowed me to give back to this music game,” Norie explains. “But I would like to get further in radio, be more than just a deejay because then I can help reggae by impressing upon program directors that New York’s Caribbean population is really an untapped market that no one is paying attention to so why not go out and support it? We don’t have to follow the same trends that everyone has been doing for years and years, we can do things differently, add on and make it much stronger.”