DJ Craze

"A DJ should do everything -- body tricks, beat juggling, all that," Miami's own DJ Craze told Urb magazine in 1998. "You've gotta show that you're a DJ in the full essence and have that total package." Hmmm. Remember that guy in your high school? The one with the underdeveloped mustache who played guitar? He would spin records by '80s hair stylists Joe Satriani and Steve Vai for you. As the guitar pyrotechnics really kicked into high gear his eyes would close, orgasmic flexings and tensings spreading across his face. You would sit before him, awkward and unmoved. He would say to you: "A guitar player should do everything -- harmonics, jazz chords, all that. You've got to show that you're a guitarist in the full essence and have that total package."

The point is, the longer that hip-hop maintains its position as pop music's most vital form, the more it seems that hip-hop's most devoted fans and players feel comfortable with the kind of bombastic and unnecessary displays of technical virtuosity that contributed to derailing rock's pop promise in the '70s, forever diluting its admirable ability to meld art and commerce, two fields that usually only meet in an unsteady détente. Beat juggling? Body tricks? You can decode the terms, but the question should really be Who cares? Frankly, as a fan of music that intimately accompanies the pop life, the phrase "crab scratch" (a favorite of showboating turnbtablists) should have only one definition: an unpleasant reminder of an otherwise pleasant night.

While DJ Craze's solo debut doesn't suffer as acutely from the peripatetic skill displays of, say, Mix Master Mike's 1998 Asphodel disc, Anti-Theft Device, or many of the tracks on the turntablist manifesto -- Bomb Hip-Hop's two Return of the DJ compilations -- Crazeë Musick still isn't a particularly listenable recording. Play this in the background at your next party and it'll make for some fine avant hip-hop ambiance. If you want to pay attention, but aren't interested in distinguishing the constituent parts of Craze's "package," however, you'll be disappointed. There's no sense that he is building a mood from start to finish on most of the individual tracks, much less over the course of the entire album.

Unfortunately turntablists don't hone their art to create tracks that eschew the hooks of popular hip-hop and make for neat background noise. They do it to be noticed. There is no reason to doubt the claims made by publications ranging from the New York Times to this very paper, in which the music editor gushed that Craze's live sets "inspire jaw-dropping smiles and dumbfounded head shaking." Most turntablists are compelling performers because their playing is as kinetic as that of any other instrumentalist and you can see the difficulty inherent in the tricks they perform.

There's a difference, though, between the combination of sight and hearing, and hearing alone. Craze has been collecting a good portion of the awards the burgeoning scratch-competition circuit hands out, including the field's greatest trophy, 1998's ITF World Scratch Championship. This indicates he is one of the best live turntablist performers in the world. Too bad Craze is a typical member of a DJ culture which, despite its fetish for sound recordings, doesn't seem to notice that an incredible live performance doesn't always translate to wax.

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Alec Hanley Bemis