Ronnie Styles hasn't sported long-ass dreadlocks for years, but he's still just as big into reggae culture and Rastafarianism as during his kinky-haired days, if not moreso. As such, the 32-year-old busies himself with spinning irie and dub sounds as DJ Jon Dread at The Sail Inn's Reggae Roots Unwind every Sunday night, or booking local and touring bands to appear at the weekly when he isn't working as the executive chef at CenPho eatery Luci's.
Longtime attendees of First Friday may also recognize Styles from his stint performing atop the now-defunct Tree Jay House, a distinctive two-story structure that was located in front of the old Fifth Street boutique HoodRide until city officials had it torn down in 2009. It's one of his more memorable gigs from his career as Jon Dread, which also has included opening for the likes of Sister Nancy, The Original Wailers, and Stranger.
It's worth noting that Styles is a bona fide practitioner of the Rasta religion and readily discusses his belief in Jah as fervently as his passion for the Arizona reggae scene. The potential humor of a ginger into Rastafarianism and reggae culture isn't lost on him, but exemplifies how Styles believes he's "breaking boundaries" and changing mindsets.
"I had to overcome many challenges and the adversity of being a white redhead trying to come up in a predominantly black genre," Styles states in an e-mail. "Not only here in Arizona but in other states also."
Up on the Sun spoke with the DJ about such things during a recent interview via Facebook chat, as well as his new twice-monthly gig spinning reggae on KWSS, his opinion that most dubstep fans aren't aware of the EDM genre's Jamaican roots, and other topics.
Name: Ronnie Styles
AKA: DJ Jon Dread
Preferred genres: Rasta music and hip-hop, of course, are the day-to-day basics, but mushroom jazz, trip-hop and downtempo are really what I'm into these days. A lot of good, dope beats; no lyrics; and very melodic with a lot of horn. Dope to scratch, too.
Current gigs: I run, promote, book and DJ for Roots Unwind Reggae Sundays at Sail Inn; a long time resident for WTFunk? Fridays at Stray Cat Bar; still a regular at First Fridays; and I do shows over at Hidden House [and] at a great little spot called The Firehouse as well.
What's the explanation behind your DJ name? Got Jon from a fave movie of mine, Rockers, an old '70s Rasta movie. It's dope.
How did you get into the DJ game? I started rappin' with friends in high school, [who] later became Beatbox Killa Swindel, Dapper Dan from the Adepts, and Otherwords from Fresh Produce crew. I just wanted to play beats to rap over. That turned into doing my own DJ project and I kinda progressed very slowly from there.
What's the craziest shit you've seen at a gig? I don't think it's the craziest thing I've seen, but when it's all is working, everybody's having fun -- the band, the crowd -- enjoying the daily break from stress, dancing, and being in love with at whatever that moment you're in love with, but it's mostly the vibe. From Cali to Colorado, I've seen the craziest vibes.
Okay, then what's the most fucked-up thing you've witnessed while performing? Now, I do have to say that reggae/hip-hop scene in Arizona has some of the most well-maintained, respectable, down-to-earth, true-to-the-art members (fans, DJs, artists) that try and represent the art to the fullest, so its not necessarily that scene that I've seen the craziest [things]. I can answer 'bout crazy sexual acts, drugs and late night mayhem all day long, but I have to say the circus, belly dancer [and] fire performers have dropped my jaw to the floor more anything else. That community is shriving and I've seen the dopest shit with them.
What's something that no one else knows about you? Most people don't know I'm an executive chef at a busy restaurant, Luci's Healthy Market Place. I love it. Professional chef during the day and making booties shake at night. Great combo. Fits me well.
What's your best experience as a DJ? Opening up for The Original Wailers last November was super exciting, working in the tree house at HoodRide in the midst of the "good" First Fridays was really fun, but - honestly -- without trying to sound super cheesy, the fellowship of the whole thing and watching us (Phoenix, music, art, reggae) all grow up over the past 11 years I have been doing this.
Speaking of the Tree Jay House, were you DJing up on the second level or the ground level? We had a two-level tree house with a DJ platform with a full sound system, small hookah lounge and below was a merch booth.
Was it perilous DJing up there? It was! A little squirrelly bringing the equipment up and down an old wood ladder 20 feet in the air. It took four guys.
Ever worry it was gonna all come tumbling down? Ha! Yes, sometimes we would have 20 or so friends up there, maybe a dog or two, but in the end it was the [city of Phoenix] who came with there paperwork and pencils that brought the house down, $1,800 fine included.
Do you ever gig on Fifth Street any more? I rock First Fridays still, outside of Think! Printing, run by Mike [Cause] from the Drunken Immortals. Even did Jobot a couple First Fridays ago. Wasn't nearly the same as the old tree house days.
Any other unusual places where you've spun? I DJ'd out of my 1958 Volkswagen microbus at a festival [and] on someone's roof are a couple fun ones.
What's your favorite reggae track of all time? I've never been asked that. "Utterence" by Black Uruhu, many Bob Marley songs and a handful of Sublime ones. Sorry...it's like trying to pick out a movie on Netflix. Sometimes you spend more time looking than you do watching the damn thing.
What Marley jams do you dig the most? I have "Soul Rebel" tatted across my stomach, it's a nice piece. I would say that's the track.
What about reggae and Rasta that appeals to you? Reggae is the riddem of life, it has the natural movement of how we walk, work and even go about our daily lives. it talk about a positive message that's universal to a certain type of person worldwide who "gets it". It talks about God and how wonderful the creator is, appeals to number of blur collar working ass people who can slow down and enjoy the small things in life, Like the herb plant that has grown thousands of years. It's for everyone!!
Do people realize that dubstep is a distant offshoot of Jamaican dub? I really don't think they have any clue! At first, I used to get excited about peeps talking 'bout step, "Awww yeah! Rasta roots this and that." It was way heavier in reggae music in the beginning [like] Bay Area dubstep and Rusko. It was really, I feel, in the beginning predominantly roots grounded. But now? It's a little too chainsaw and noise to me.
Me and Dave Beaterman...brought out the drummer from String Cheese [Incident]. Mostly Dave made it happen, but the show was dope. It was at The Green Room in Flagstaff, local style. All dubstep. Gross, dark [stuff], which I dug. Then I saw the dude the next day playing for String Cheese Incident and I couldn't believe it was the same dude. So at that time I started liking a little of what is now dubstep. But, for the most part, roots/reggae is lost in today's dubstep.
Are you a practicing Rastafarian? I'm [a] Rasta man, a Christian Man, a God-loving man. We people are born to be Jah soldiers, its not so much a title as it is trying to live "the life" that God has put before us. Its a daily struggle to try and be a good man, a religious man, no matter what faith you choose, Jah people just try to do there best no matter what Babylon puts in front of us, and Jah people come in many forms. That's the beauty of it.
Do you still rock the dreads? Nope, I had them for about 11 years. It's a lot different now doing shows with Rasta now [that] they'e gone. I haven't had them for about three years. My career actually started picking up a lot more momentum shortly after I cut them.
Why do you joke about being a "white redhead trying to come up in a predominately black genre" like reggae? It was my friends and I joking around saying that "of course in Arizona," as they put it, a "spunky redheaded ginger could come up and help run the reggae scene." And after a few jokes aside, the point was more about how in Arizona, the music and art community is [very] diverse and it's good to see something you don't expect
Yes, of course reggae music can be and is rooted in black culture, which is what makes it what it is to an extent. A lot more white dudes are sporting locks, not all Rasta but the vast majority of Rasta that do are met with love.
Do you have a soul, by the way? Because...well, you know Well, if you ever have seen me on the dance floor, you would know I got soul, baby. Like I said, breaking boundaries
What's your opinion on the current local reggae scene? Reggae music today in the Valley shares a bond with its mountain-high peaks and muddy washes.
Um...what? The promoters and DJs work very hard to make this scene happen. It's not like San Diego or any other part of Cali, Oregon, B.C., [or] where Rasta music is more celebrated by the masses out there on the regular, than [seemingly] in the shadows of hip-hop, dubstep, and hipsters [like] in Arizona. Reggae music is gaining more momentum now than ever in Arizona. I would love to see the gene become more progressive like our neighbors from the west.
What would you change about the local reggae scene if you could? I've been working a lot with Cali bands, and our main goal in the whole thing is to bring both Arizona and California reggae music to more clubs, partygoers, and fans than just the regular trendy dubstep, Old Town Scottsdale house, get-drunk-and-be-a-dick attitude. I think those mindssets are changing.
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I feel it's time for a radio station, I feel now is a more exciting time than ever for the genre, I feel very strongly in making Arizona a known force in the southwest reggae community. I mean, come on. We need a reggae station here in Arizona. That's what I'm talking about in being behind our neighbors.
What's your new radio program on KWSS? I have been recently asked to be the frontman for a new reggae [program] on KWSS 93.9. It's a [twice] monthly show called "Up in Smoke."