by Khalics Bryant
Jordan Johnson’s long dreadlocks flow from under a black head wrap almost touching his turntables, which sit on a table about waist high. His black and white fitted New York Yankees cap loosely sits atop the wrap, brim facing backwards. The clubs’ strobe lights flash an assortment of colors against his jeans, black and white checkered button-up, and black t-shirt.
“We have a birthday in the house,” says the host, as Johnson drops the music so everyone is inclined to listen. “Shout out to Katie for her birthday.” “WHOOOOOOOOO!” comes immediately from the birthday girl’s direction.
Johnson, 28, better known as DJ Triple Crown has been a staple in the hip-hop and reggae music scenes in Bellingham for more than five years. The name “Triple Crown” originates in Ethiopia during the times of King Solomon, Johnson explained. “A triple crown was the crown king’s wore.”
Originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Johnson taught himself to be a disk jockey at a friend’s music shop in his hometown.
This is before DJ’s starting using Serato, a music software that allows them to mix and scratch digital media using traditional vinyl turntables, Johnson said confidently. “I learned on 7” records.”
Johnson moved to Bellingham about seven years ago. “ Mainly because the music scene was poppin,” he said. “Hip-hop and reggae weren’t big in Bellingham when I first arrived. That quickly changed.”
Bellingham has always been a good place to do music, according to Johnson. “Back in the day a lot major blues and jazz artist came through.”
Every Wednesday for the past five years the Wild Buffalo nightclub in downtown Bellingham is a-buzz with patrons. Johnson hosts “Wild Out Wednesdays,” the only reggae night in Bellingham. “ It’s crazy how many people come through on Wednesdays,” Johnson said. “When I first moved here I couldn’t have guessed.”
Fridays, Johnson can be found just a few blocks up the street at the Glow nightclub. “The Glow on Fridays, it’s a different crowd but always fun,” he said. “I play more mainstream music at the Glow because that’s what the people want to hear. A good DJ knows how to please the crowd.”
The DJ booth in the Glow is raised above the dance floor giving the DJ a birds-eye-view of the club. Bass shakes the walls at the Glow as bodies jump up and down, hands move side to side, and people scream frantically.
Johnson, along with DJ’s Ryan I, and Lionize, comprise Blessed Coast sound system, a group that has rocked crowds in a number of areas including California, Washington, and Michigan.
“When I first got to Bellingham the only other DJ playing reggae was Ryan I,” Johnson said. “He was out here from Cali going to Western. We linked up and be fam ever since.”
A sound system in the reggae world is a group of DJ’s, MC’s, producers, and/or engineers who work together hosting events and battling other sound systems in “sound system clashes.” These clashes originated in Jamaica. They are one of the premier social events in the culture.
To win clashes, sound systems use money or their connections to get major recording artists, normally reggae, to rerecord their hit songs and add the name of the sound system to it. This is called a dubplate.
Dubplates are used to hype-up the crowd and criticize opposing sound systems during clashes, Johnson explained. “There are two types of dubplates, juggling version and the killing version. The juggling dubplate is the “nice version.”
The killing version of the dubplate is used specifically for clashes with other sound systems. “In the killing version, the artist includes the name of the sound system we are battling in a derogatory way,” said Johnson. “The clashes are judged by the crowd so whoever has the craziest dubplates from the biggest artist normally wins.”
Johnson begins to scroll down the list of songs on his laptop. “ You know this song, right?” Out of the speakers comes “Finally the herbs come around, the high grade when me a look for, me get it by the pound yeah.” He plays a well-known song by reggae artist Collie Bud.
“That was the regular version of the song, now here’s the Blessed Coast dubplate,” says Johnson.
The song comes on and it has the exact same beat and same artist. It starts “ When a Blessed Coast come killa a sound / them boy…” The song has a lot of its original words but Collie Bud has obviously made this version specifically for Blessed Coast.
“An artist might pay $500 for a dubplate they can only use one time, at one sound system clash,” says Johnson. “If it’s a killing dubplate, the names used are specific to the clash.”
Johnson’s’ eyes light up when asked about sound system clashes. “Its crazy, that’s the only way I can describe it,” he said. “In Japan they sell out entire baseball stadiums.”
The sound system clashes, “started in Jamaica due to the radio stations not playing reggae on the air,” Johnson said. “In order to get new music to the people, DJ’s started teaming up and throwing parties. You can have up to 15 sound systems competing in a night with single elimination. Its serious.”
Johnson’s first sound system clash was in Seattle he said with a nostalgic exhale. “No one expected anything from us.” Although Blessed Coast would lose that clash, they made a name for themselves by having an original dupplate from a major reggae artist. “When we dropped the killing version of the dubplate everyone was shocked,” he recalled. “It was amazing!”
As Johnson plays with his laptop, turntables, and mixer, the crowd gets more into the music. His energy seems to come from the reaction of the crowd as he goes through his mix. “We call that a Forward or Pull up,” says Johnson, referring to the reaction the crowd gives when he throws on a hit record.
“If we were at a sound system clash I would press rewind and play the track again,” says Johnson. “When the tune is nice we play it twice.”
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