LaCrate, who returns to the Golden State this weekend for the Audiotistic 2009 festival at the NOS Events Center San Bernardino, is a DJ evangelist for a local movement that arose in the ’90s called B-more club. The scene had stalled at the city limits when LaCrate, now a NYC resident, picked up the mantle and created his “gutter” version, a bass-pounding mash-up of house, hip-hop, live instrumentation and explicit raps chopped up and spit out at lightning fast tempos.
You might even call it chopped and screwed in reverse.
“It’s the ultimate party music,” LaCrate clarifies. “That’s what it’s comprised to be. It’s the most infectious parts of hip-hop, dance and up-tempo music with the hardest parts chopped up to intensify an already intoxicating combination.”
If LaCrate sounds like a marketing exec, it’s because he’s a street-smart entrepreneur who was making money in music before most kids his age had paper routes. Not even 10 years old, he became Baltimore’s youngest working DJ and bought the same record collections—primarily U.K. breakbeats and NY and Chicago house—that became the foundation for B-more club. However, by the time pioneers like DJ Equalizer had popularized the sound, LaCrate was already moving on to street fashion.
“I was a bit burnt out on deejaying by the time I graduated college,” he recalls. “Whether it’s skating, graffiti or club music, Baltimore is very underground, but it was the height of the Bad Boy era and hip-hop had gone too mainstream. I wanted to get involved in something underground, and street wear was still in its infancy.”
Founded by LaCrate in ’97, Milkcrate Athletics caught a buzz when artists like Eminem, Mos Def and Damon Albarn started wearing his duds, and he found himself traveling the world with the clothing line and deejaying fashion parties. When people outside Baltimore heard this unique club sound, they started requesting mixtapes and his music passions were soon re-ignited.
Back home, the scene had died out and friends scoffed at LaCrate’s plan to reboot the scene for a global audience. DJs literally handed him their record collections almost defying him to try to revive the scene, but with some stylish adjustments and a knack for marketing, he did just that.
“I was there and knew all the guys who made the first records, so I thought I was qualified to play a major role in the genre’s future,” he recalls. “My background is music, fashion and street, so I’m at the crossroads of so many popular youth culture movements. I understand it beyond the music, and I was able to make it youth relevant.”
The breakthrough started around 2006. Giving the classic sound a hip-hop mix, LaCrate’s B-more Gutter Music became an underground hit. He then scored a major U.K. club banger with an early remix of Lily Allen’s “Smile,” and official B-more remixes for Madonna and Busta Rhymes followed. He joined friend Mark Ronson (the music maestro behind Amy Winehouse) in deejaying the YoYo parties in London, and they soon started Yo-Yo NYC with guests like Allen, the Cool Kids and Swizz Beatz. When he exec-produced the Delicious Vinyl All Stars’ Remixology collection, Delicious Vinyl gave him an imprint deal for Milkcrate Records. Most recently, Koch Records recruited LaCrate and fellow Baltimore vet Debonair Samir to produce B-more Club Crack.
“The album is a showcase of B-more hip-hop and its uniqueness,” says LaCrate of his latest release. “Lyrically, it’s not trying to be the next Jay-Z thing, so you can’t judge it like that, but it’s a fresh new lane for hip-hop. It’s like an audio vision of The Wire, the intensity of that show communicated through music. It’s that raw inner-city honesty that you can only get from the ghetto. It’s the true voice of the city for the first time.”
Aaron LaCrate, the Roots, Z-Trip, Goldie, the Cool Kids and many others at Audiotistic 2009, NOS Events Center at 689 South E St., San Bernardino, (909) 888-6788, www.audiotisticfestival.com. Sat., May 9, 7PM-4AM; $46-$60.