By Kat Bein
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Today Miami is home to some of hip-hop's biggest names and in-demand recording studios. But back in the Nineties, the only things most out-of-towners knew about the area, other than the infamous South Beach nightlife, were Dan Marino, hurricanes, and Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew.
That is, until 1998, when then-19-year-old Nicaragua-born, Miami-bred DJ Craze took his first DMC World Championship title in Paris, France. He then proceeded to three-peat like Jordan, retiring from the competition in 2000 with the all-time record for most world championships. DJing as an art form was at its peak — with turntables outselling guitars — and Craze was putting himself and his city on the map.
Nearly a decade later, Craze, born Aristh Delgado, is still one of the top DJs on the world circuit, traveling across the globe and rocking crowds from Alaska to Australia with his signature style of Miami bass, golden-era hip-hop, drum 'n' bass, and a bit of everything else. Although some selectors have stayed rooted in deep house or jiggy hip-hop sets, Craze has continually set precedents by skillfully playing across musical genres, all while keeping the party jumping.
"DJing is getting exciting for me again," he says. "Hip-hop got to a certain level a few years back, where the music and skill level was there, but it just went somewhere else and kind of lost the fun. That's why I started doing Miami bass again. Now I'm moving from that to doing anything I want from hip-hop, baile, funk, rock, B-more, dance, club shit." For evidence, check the monthly Bass Sessions party at Studio A, where Craze gets loose with marquee guests like Roc Raida, A-Trak, and Klever.
Eclectic though he may be, his aggressive mixing style and swagger behind the decks are pure b-boy. "I'm all over the place with the music, but I'm a hip-hop boy," Craze says. "That's what I think Miami is missing — the real hip-hop shit. I've lived all my life in Miami and seen hip-hop grow. I started going to clubs and did my first battle at the Zoo when I was 15 in Coconut Grove."
Before landing in Miami, Craze remembers, he left his birthplace during the first reign of Daniel Ortega's leftist government. "My parents worked as a principal and teacher when Ortega came in and said, 'War is going on; we're taking your house,'" he recalls. "I was red for a few years with 'power to the people,' but nowadays it doesn't make sense, because those leaders have the right ideas but they're fucked in the head. They're taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor, but at the same time some of the rich earned it and you're taking it away from them."
But once Craze began coming up on the DJ battle circuit, nobody was going to take away the titles he earned. He started out as a party DJ, listening to bass music and Miami DJs such as Laz and Eddie Mix. Not until a friend showed him a video of the New Music Seminar battle with Steve Dee, DJ Scratch, and the X-Men did he get hooked.
"I looked up to Magic Mike, Aladdin, Jazzy Jeff, Cash Money, but until [that point, all I had experienced] was audio. Once I saw the videos, I was like, this is the shit, and that's when I wanted to start battling, at like 15, 16," Craze recalls. "When I started, it was like, 'You're from Miami. What you going to do, play some bass?'" But I was like, 'Yeah, I'll play some bass, and then kill you on your own shit too.'"
Between the impressionable years of 1998 and 2000, Craze ruled the scene. He created new styles with his flawless and funky routines, adopted a champion's stage presence, and formed a crew, the Allies, who in their own right still lead the scene today. Going from Mobb Deep to Biz Markie to jungle dubplates within a single routine, and re-creating drum patterns and bass lines with body tricks to match, Craze eventually garnered the props he was due. "It was like the right place, the right people, and I made my whole life from that," he says.
Concurrent with his 2000 retirement from battling, and the beginning of the bling era in hip-hop, Craze branched out by playing more drum 'n' bass, using his turntablist chops at festivals and raves around the world. He also continued to build up his production catalogue, forming Cartel Recordings with d'n'b pusher Juju. Then Craze came out with the essential battle record Bully Breaks (Ammo/Audio Research) and the mix CD Nexxsound (Mixmag), while adding to his resumé of remixes for artists including the Herbaliser and East Flatbush Project.
"Everybody in the drum 'n' bass clubs were there for the DJ and were all about the music and just getting crunk," he says. "I would do raves with 10,000 people, where I would stop the music and start scratching and people would go crazy. I got stuck into it for six, seven years, then moved to the Miami bass, and now back to my roots."