DJ Super Slice is feeling the pressure from both his audience and his fellow DJs when all the lights go out at Kaffa House. Slice’s reggae beats pile up, then fade to silence. He doesn’t know whether something’s broken or if another DJ has sabotaged his set. Three large men rush Slice and offer disgruntled looks. DJs from Upsetters International, clutching bottles of Guinness, come by to give shoutouts through the microphone, which is the only part of the setup still working. Is this a coup? Slice wrestles with the wires, then, after a few false starts, pulls out an old-school dancehall record, drags it across his back to knock off the lint, and cues it up. He wins the crowd over—for now.

“It’s fucked up for real, yeah,” Slice admits, showing his usual half-smile. “I try to make it a little more smoother, you know.” He knows the other DJs—like other reggae jocks, they’re a competitive lot—are listening carefully in the adjacent room. Slice’s friend, DJ Armageddon, who’s sitting in the corner, says I should lock the door.

A few minutes after the blackout, Marcus Barrett, owner of Things Caribbean Records, wants to challenge Slice. “He’s an American trying to play traditional island music!” Barrett exclaims. “He’s an asshole. He’s incompetent….He’s trying to be West Indian, and he’s not West Indian.”

Barrett soon stumbles into Slice’s room and offers to put up $10,000 for a spin-off between Slice and his DJ, Chung Fah. There isn’t as much tension as confusion. “Where’s the money at?” Slice asks. “I don’t want to waste my time. Who the hell is Chung Fah?”

Slice has seen similar divisions in the past. When he was growing up as Martin Alvarado in Laventille, a ghetto in Port of Spain, Trinidad, music factored into class distinctions: Calypso was middle-class, while reggae was favored by streetcorner rasta-hippies.

When he was 14, Slice’s family moved to southeast D.C. Reggae faded from his memory as he got turned on to Eric B. and Rakim, Public Enemy, and Run-DMC. After a stint in college, he came back to D.C. and became obsessed with local favorite DJ Kool and New York City’s DJ Red Alert. He began an apprenticeship centered on dancehall, Jackie Chan films, spirituals, a little hiphop, and early-morning phone calls to Kool for advice.

His grounding in both hiphop and reggae informs his technique as much as does a club’s “vibe.” He throws the traditional into a blender; his dancehall and reggae (taking in everything from Buju Banton to Marley) is spun machine-gun quick—about a song per minute—and is mixed with some serious scratching, sampling, and heavy bass and drums. It’s a style that has paid off well enough for him to hold down a steady slot at WKYS (93.9 FM) (Sundays from 2-3 a.m.) and earn shows at the Ritz and Kaffa House. On May 11 at the Ritz, he’s celebrating the 5-year anniversary of his radio show.

But as the name of his production company, Muzik Nashun, suggests, DJ Super Slice envisions his sounds as something to unite his audience, not divide it. “I would still like to see the day where someone can listen to reggae, hiphop, house—all the music together,” he says.—Jason Cherkis