DJ Craze has just woken up after a long night of DJing at Miami's latest hotspot, Nocturnal. A weekly resident for the club's Friday-night parties, Craze dons a different DJing style at Nocturnal than he is normally recognized for. A three-time DMC World Champion, he is renowned for his turntablist abilities. In recent years, he has turned his skills in the direction of drum 'n' bass, combining his signature scratches with that genre's angular dimensions. But at Nocturnal, Craze, as they say, gets jiggy with it.
“Since it's a residency, I thought, ‘I want to do something different,’” Craze explains. “It's downtown, so you got to get jiggy. I don't really enjoy doing it. I tried changing it up. I played ‘White Horse’ [by '80s Danish duo Laid Back], but people don't know that, so [the owners] told me I'm changing it up too much. I do a little scratching, but this is actually work. I have to somehow like the crap that I don't like.”
Basically, if you're hearing it on the radio, Craze is playing it at Nocturnal. From Ying Yang Twins and Usher to 50 Cent and Mario, he combines hip-hop and R&B for a commercial, accessible set geared toward the downtown-Miami crowd. “Selection is hard — especially when I'm like, ‘I'll never play this track,’” Craze admits. “Then I think, ‘They'll probably like it,’ so I'll play it. And they love it.”
DON'T JUDGE A CD BY ITS COVER
The cover of Craze's latest mix CD, Miami Heat (Cartel/System, 2005), personifies the Miami vibe he derides when playing at Nocturnal. Featuring Craze poolside in a slick white suit with pimp shades and a well-endowed bikini-clad honey in said pool, it is Miami to a tee. But the music choices on the record are anything but that.
Miami Heat gives a snapshot of Craze's drum 'n' bass sets near the beginning of 2005. Considering his selection of hot, of-the-moment tracks, Craze's tendency is toward more up-and-coming producers such as Pendulum, Baron, Distorted Minds, Chase & Status, TC and Sub Focus. He balances those with tried-and-true productions from the likes of Total Science, Zinc, Fresh and Simon Bassline Smith & Drumsound. Craze himself has two tracks on Miami Heat: “Take It EZ” with GNR8 and “No. 1 Sound,” a collaboration with Photek and MC MC.
Craze's reputation as a formidable turntablist has an adverse affect on the public's expectations for his production. Given that he's been practicing his turntable skills since the age of 14, his fame comes in part from the fact that he is an expert at every type of scratching pattern, from crab scratching to beat juggling to body tricks.
It has only been in the past five years or so (seven years down the line from his start in turntablism) that Craze — now 27 — has turned his attention to production. He created his first attempt, Crazee Musick (Bomb, 1999), using two turntables and an 8-track recorder. Although Craze was aiming for simplicity, critics still dissected Crazee Musick, looking for something more.
A few months after Crazee Musick, in conjunction with the members of his crew, The-Allies (Craze, A-Trak, Develop, Infamous, J-Smoke and Spictakular), Craze released the D-Day (2000) EP on Asphodel. The-Allies' own label, Ammo, is a source for battle records such as Lazy Hand Leroy & Cool Hand Luke's Handthritus (2001) and Craze's Bully Breaks (2000), as well as original productions from the individual artists.
Craze released another EP, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Zoo York, 2000), with erstwhile Deee-Lite DJ, Ani. “That was more experimental, a little weird — a lot of turntablist cuts synchronized, sampled and more production,” Craze says. “[The battle records] are raw beats and samples to make beat juggles, sounds from different records all put into one so they can chop them up and do whatever they want to do with them. It's mostly for turntablist kids to do routines with. Some of the beats are just plain beats that you scratch over.”
In 2003, Craze combined forces with the Bay Area's Juju to establish Cartel Recordings. Cartel is only up to its fifth release, two of which are featured on Miami Heat: Juju's “Skyburning (VIP)” and the aforementioned “Take It EZ,” Craze's collaboration with GNR8.
“[Me and GNR8] both use Logic,” says Craze, who also has Alesis Andromeda A6, Korg MS2000, Novation Supernova, Clavia Nord Lead 3 and Roland XP-30 synths as well as an Akai MPC2000 sampler in his home studio just outside of Miami. “The sample, the drum break and the bass are the three first things that I try to get at. From there, you add all the musical stuff and all the atmospheric stuff in the back. [GNR8 will] come in with ideas; he'll have a sample or a break or a drum loop. I'll add some congas, a little synth here and there. We feed off each other. The stuff I do with him is kind of darker. As for Juju, he has got his own little vibe going on, but when we make tracks together, it's dancefloor shit.”
Coming from a hip-hop background, Craze's musical ideas stem from that genre more than they do from drum 'n' bass. “I like the mixture of hip-hop and drum 'n' bass,” he says. “I try to bring in samples that haven't been used in hip-hop and put it on drum 'n' bass. Or I'll sample some of Premier's drums or some of The Neptunes' drums and make them sound completely different.
“Drum 'n' bass gets mad props from me,” he continues. “The beats are incredible, and the production time that it takes to make a dope track is crazy. Not that it doesn't take time to make a dope hip-hop track, but there's more of a challenge in making a drum 'n' bass track because it's like a little movie. It's a five-minute story, and it's all on the music. You don't just make the beat and have somebody rap on it. It's like you're creating a picture with your production.”
Craze will be the first to admit that the turntablism, drum 'n' bass and hip-hop audiences either had no interest in him as a producer or had unrealistic expectations. Likening his learning curve with production to a long video game, Craze says: “I always learn something new, and I always hit a next level where I'm like, ‘Cool, now I know how to do this; can I move on to this?’ There's always something new popping up that I'm learning every day.”
DON'T FORGET THE SCRATCH
On Miami Heat, Craze's DJ skills and scratching techniques — the latter of which turn up sporadically in the mix — are the focus. They are part of the original production of “No. 1 Sound” and are featured prominently in the later mix of State of Mind's “Running Time” and Visionary's “She Makes Me Feel.”
“I wanted to keep [the scratching] to a minimum because I wanted it to be more of the mix, let it flow and come in here and there with the scratch so you can leave them wanting more,” Craze says. “Wherever I thought there was space or wherever I thought it was empty, I wanted to throw it in, make it sound like part of the mix. The way I'm doing it, any scratch sound sounds good. It's all in your technique and how you scratch with the record. There are a lot of different patterns, combos and scratch names. I don't write nothing down. I don't know the names for most of these things. The new cats, they know the names for every single cut and everything. For me, I just do it. I listen back to it, and if it doesn't sound good when I hear it the second time, I erase it and do another one or fix that one up.”
Using the same system he used in mixing the second disc of Adam F's Drum 'n' Bass Warfare (System, 2003), Craze records directly into Apple Logic 6.3. “On Logic, I can cut shit off and paste it together,” he says. “If I just want to cut four bars of a song that I thought weren't really good, I could do that.” Pioneer CDJ-1000s, Stanton FinalScratch, Stanton 890 needles, music files and battle records make up the bulk of what he uses in the mixing process. Craze layers his scratches on top of what he already has recorded into Logic, using as many as three or four tracks for the scratches alone. Craze employs FinalScratch, with battle records from Ammo, for the actual scratching.
Working in the drum 'n' bass realm for a number of years now, Craze's feel for the style, not to mention his track selection, has improved. His touch has allowed him to pack 24 tracks onto Miami Heat — quick mixes, as opposed to those that ride, are the key to the voluminous CD. Craze chooses the beginning of the first drop of each track as the spot to come in, and if the cut is exceptional, he will let it ride through to the second drop.
His approach to drum 'n' bass is as unique as his approach to battling. Whereas most drum 'n' bass DJs aim to play the latest dub plates, Craze throws in as many old and familiar tracks as he does new ones. When battling, he watches others and tries to come up with something completely different: a routine that is crowd-friendly, with the perfect songs to drive people crazy, combined with the right sounds and body tricks.
Other than a final team-championship title in 2001, Craze's battling days came to an end with his third World DMC Championship in 2000. “I did what I had to do,” he says. “I wanted to do it a third time because nobody had done it. After I did it, I was like, ‘All right, leave on a good note. That way, I can say I won it three times and I never lost.”
CRAZE'S DJ CHAMPIONSHIPS
Zulu National Champion 1995
East Coast Rap Sheet Champion 1996
Winter Music Conference Scratch Off Champion 1996
Zulu National Champion 1996
East Coast DMC Champion 1997
Winter Music Conference Scratch Off Champion 1997
International Turntablist Federation (ITF) Western Hemisphere Scratch Off Champion 1998
USA DMC Champion 1998
Winter Music Conference Scratch Off Champion 1998
World DMC Champion 1998
World ITF Scratch Off Champion 1998
Winter Music Conference Scratch Off Champion 1999
World DMC Champion 1999
World DMC Champion 2000
World DMC Team Champion 2001