Shop.Talk: DJ Craze


Photos: Lafi

Standing among the cramped aisles of Uncle Sam's Music, a Miami Beach institution, DJ Craze looks momentarily stymied by the bins of 12-inches. “Wowwww,” he says, staring at the hip-hop section crammed into a back corner. “I remember when this used to be a weekly thing!” But Craze can't remember the last time he bought a record or even brought one to a gig — this four-time world DMC champion doesn't use vinyl at all anymore.

One of the first to make the jump to Stanton FinalScratch around 2001, he switched to Serato Scratch Live a couple of years ago. “I was really cool with the Stanton people, but Serato has really become the new standard, like 1200s were,” Craze says. “I mean, when I do all my DMC stuff, I still use vinyl, but even then I'm like, ‘Fuck it, I'm just going to transfer everything into Serato.’” They're at first surprising words for someone who originally made his name by pushing the limits of turntablism on the classic ones and twos.

But Craze has built the rest of his career by defying expectations, both technological and musical. “I mean, I've always just moved on from everything,” he says. “Like when I was into hip-hop, all of a sudden I got into turntablism. Everybody was like, ‘Fuck that turntablist shit!’ And when I got done with turntablism, I got into drum 'n' bass, and everyone was like, ‘Let me see you scratch!’”

And in recent years, he's left d 'n' b, too, in the dust. And the haters can't stop clinging to the past. “I'm always moving 'cause I get bored of stuff. I can't spin it for more than two, three years. But with drum 'n' bass, it was like I got mad at the scene. And still, everywhere I go, I'll start spinning and people will start yelling, [breaks into high-pitched, mock simper] ‘Drum 'n' bass, nigga! Fuck that shit!’”

Instead, these days Craze, born in Nicaragua but raised in Miami, is mining the dance-music traditions of his hometown: Miami. Of course, that means classic Latin freestyle, a smattering of hip-hop and bass — lots of bass. Not that he's turned his back to the past. A self-professed blog devotee (he name-checks Discobelle, Maddecent and Digiwaxx as a few favorites), he's constantly mixing in the latest variations on booty-shaking jams. “See, I'm playing between, like, bass, old-school freestyle, electro, B-more and club — club music like the Pase Rock, Kid Sister kind of vibe, where it's a mix of hip-hop and dance. What are you going to call it, hip-pance?”

It's in that spirit that he skips over most new electronic records, instead heading straight to the domestic hip-hop and classics sections at Uncle Sam's on a sunny afternoon shortly before a tour to promote his latest mix, Fabriclive.38 (Fabric, 2008). It's one of the most fresh-sounding recent offerings in the series, bumping from hip-hop and vintage booty bass to a smattering of house and freestyle, and onto new joints influenced by all that. It'll no doubt be a new trip for most people who didn't happen to grow up in '80s and '90s Miami, or, perhaps, the more Latin pockets of New York and New Jersey.

“I was in Bangkok, and I did a whole Miami bass set,” Craze recalls. “The whole place was going crazy, and this British kid comes up to me at the end of the night, and was like, ‘What's all that grime you were playing?’ And I was like, ‘Grime? That's Miami bass, homey!’”

But no sweat; as evidenced on his Fabric mix, Craze's beat tapestry is one where N.O.R.E., Earth, Wind & Fire, Debbie Deb and Armand Van Helden can all coexist, and it all makes sense. So when Remix meets up with him at Sam's, Craze digs for old records he doesn't recognize, hoping to mine them for beats and loops he can use to fill in the picture.

“Moments in Love” (Zoo)

I have this already. It's the boning song! You throw it on when you want to get freaky…or when you're really sad.

“We're on the Right Track” (Atlantic)

Nope. I don't like it — nothing to play with. Nothing that anybody would like. I can't do anything with it; it's not funky. Well, it's just not my flavor because, again, I'm probably dissing somebody really famous.

“‘D’ Train (Theme)”/“Tryin' to Get Over” (Prelude)

What the hell's wrong with that guy? It sounds like he's speaking in tongues. On the other side, I think I found another 10 seconds. Nah, forget it. Oops, I found a little dope part! This one's going to be made into some bass shit. I can hear some nasty rapping over it. Oh, there's a break in the middle, too! That was a nice surprise.

“Dumb It Down” (1st & 15th/Atlantic)

It's good hip-hop. I don't have the instrumental; I've been looking for the instrumental online. See, that's the only thing about getting beats online: You can't get a lot of, like, instrumentals or a cappella, which was the good thing about records.

I love Lupe. Lupe's one of the last lyricists left in hip-hop. He actually is a good MC and doesn't really care about selling records, which is maybe why he isn't going to be signed for long. [Laughs.] On the new record, I think a lot of his beats were a little too golden-era feeling, but lyrically he's amazing.

“Dumb It Down” is a real dark hip-hop beat. It sounds really '80s, like they used some old sampler or something. It just sounds good; it sounds grimy.

“Party Boys”/“Get Off” (T.K. Disco)

The beginning of the other side, “Get Off,” was sampled by some old-school bass track. I think it was “Give It All You Got” by DJ Magic Mike. I could use this just for that little part at the beginning.

“Peanut Butter” (Island)

Oh, it's produced by Sly and Robbie? I was about to say, it sounds like something Puff Daddy would use. It sounds kind of like that old Biggie flavor. I'll skip on this; I wouldn't sample it.

“Kanday”/“Go Cut Creator Go” (Atlantic)

It's classic LL Cool J stuff. The other side, “Go Cut Creator Go,” is, like, a scratch song. That was one of the first records my brother ever bought because he was a DJ before me. It was one of the first songs where I ever heard scratching. Memories, memories.

“Beat the Street” (Prelude)

This sucks. It just doesn't go anywhere. It's just not good. It sounds like a boring disco track. Watch it be some classic I'm talking shit about. Actually, there's a nice little break on it. I'll use a record for just a break, maybe. That's how hip-hop started! This has a nice little 10-second loop I can probably use. I'll transfer it to my computer and play something over it. If I'm really bored, I'll make a whole beat out of it.

Read the Remix “Shop.Talk.” article on DJ Craze. Craze goes shopping at Uncle Sam''s Records in Miami Beach, Fla.