[18 September 2005]
On the turntables, DJ Craze is generally considered to have few peers. Having won the DMC Technics World DJ Championship title an unparalleled three times (even Q-Bert earned two of his titles in the team category—but then, Craze one a separate title in the team category as well). He’s been written up in Time magazine and has performed across the globe. Most importantly, however, for the purposes of this review: he has become an almost one-man bridge between the world’s of American hip-hop and British drum & bass.
The worlds of dance and hip-hop exist in separate spheres. Despite occasional nods towards rapprochement—a mid-level MC might appear on a big-name dance track, or a mainstream hip-hop producer might entertain a brief flirtation with the dancefloor—the two schools maintain an attitude of consistent, blissful ignorance towards each other. Of course, it goes without saying that this distinction becomes significantly less important on smaller scales, where indie labels such as Mush and Ninja Tune exist almost exclusively in the middle-ground between genres. But in terms of the mainstream, or pseudo-mainstream represented by modern dance culture, the gap could not be more pronounced. Even the up-and-coming British hip-hop scene was quick to distance itself from its roots as UK garage—a permutation of house that eventually evolved into the slightly more rugged “grime” sound we know today. Ghostface rapped on Cassius’ “Thrilla” back in 2002, but I’d be willing to bet even the most dedicated Wu-aficionado has never heard of Cassius.
Which makes Craze’s achievement all the more significant. Most dance DJs who come up in America these days are—not to put too fine a point on it—white as the driven snow, a development that undoubtedly feeds the American perception that dance music is an exclusively white phenomenon. It almost goes without saying that dance music, especially drum & bass, is a far more diverse scene in the UK than America. The contributions of black and Hispanic musicians to the creation and evolution of modern dance music are overwhelming, if not totally dominant, and yet nowhere in the native hip-hop community are pioneers like Juan Atkins and Larry Heard even remembered, let alone celebrated. There can be little doubt that the lingering divide between white and black culture in America at least partly fuels this continued discord. Despite the fact that both forms use the DJ as their primary conduit, the best they usually manage is the occasional stilted trans-Atlantic cultural exchange.
Craze is more than a dilettante, however, and Miami Heat is no one-off fluke. He seems genuinely comfortable existing at the confluence of two seemingly exclusive worlds. This is as hardcore as jungle gets, with a rolling rhythm that doesn’t let up for almost 80 minutes. The UK D&B scene is notoriously dismissive of American junglists, but Craze has won the respect of producers and DJs from across the genre’s entire spectrum, including Goldie, Grooverider, LTJ Bukem and Bad Company. Considering how prickly and clannish most jungle cliques can be, the fact that he has toured with such a wide cross-section of DJs is significant. But listening to Miami Heat it is impossible to deny the facility that Craze brings to the tables, and it’s easy to see how an American DJ was able to ensconce himself so easily in the traditionally exclusive scene.
Most drum & bass DJs traffic in absolute transparency, eschewing many of the fancy tricks their brethren in, say, the house world might usually employ. But Craze is a walking “fancy trick”. Miami Heat operates under an unusual structure, with the mixes themselves usually proceeding in an unadorned, straight-ahead fashion that never disrupts the rhythm. The fun happens when Craze starts playing on top of the tracks, inserting his scratches over the beats with the precision of a master craftsman. Considering the wonkish reputation of most turntablists, the sparse nature of Craze’s scratching is somewhat surprising. But it works, because the CD’s primary focus is the rolling beat—amplified by the slight adornment of the exquisite scratching. There isn’t so much as a speck of self-indulgence on display here—no mean feat.
This is also the first mix produced by Craze since he adopted the Final Scratch mixing system for his DJ rig. There can be no better indicator that the once-outlandish computerized-scratching system has been fully accepted by the dance world. I’ve yet to see a hip-hopper rockin’ Final Scratch, but it’s only a matter of time.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/djcraze-miamiheat/