On the way to pick up his teenage daughter from school, DJ Craze reminisces about when he was her age. At 16, he says, "I had my first DJ battle. I soaked up that early hip-hop influence of battling and being the best. I wanted to be the best DJ I could be."
The Miami-based turntablist officially realized his dream when, for three years in a row from 1998 to 2000, he was named winner of the DMC World DJ Championship. Craze was the first — and remains the only — three-time winner of the event. "My parents came to the last one in London and watched. It was perfect," he remembers. "I figured I might as well retire on top."
Though he loves the battle culture, Craze figures at this point he has more to lose than gain by DJing competitively. But, he warns, "I still come up with routines to show people I still want it and they can't fuck around."
Born in Nicaragua, Craze came to Miami as a young child, moving over the years from near Miami International Airport to Sweetwater, then Kendall, and now Westchester. It was his older brother who influenced him to pursue a life of music. First his brother introduced him to Rush and Prince by way of MTV music videos. Then he ushered a young Craze into the DJ culture by letting him use his turntables. "DJ Magic Mike became one of my biggest influences. He was one of the first people I saw scratch live. He got me wanting to scratch and make it work on the club circuit," he says.
As Craze speaks of the old days, he can't help but criticize what the DJ culture has become. His website features a video of him listening to people discussing their impressions of how easy it is to be a DJ before he steps up to his equipment to demonstrate that excellence demands work. "People think DJing is something anyone can do. Everybody is a DJ. The culture isn't what it used to be. It has become watered down so you're just a cheerleader who pushes play." Turntablism is an art form that requires skill, he says. "I like to educate people with the music I play and mix in music people might not know."
Craze wants to keep that educational spirit alive with a project he's currently working on with Four Color Zach that they call 2¢. "We have an EP called Making Change. We're going to put [that] out and then tour it at the end of the year," Craze says. He's also working on a solo EP that is in its final stages which he plans to give away for free.
Before that, though, Craze will be schooling crowds with one of his coveted Music Appreciation classes on May 29 during a headlining set at Rhythm & Vine's inaugural Rhythm Fest. "When I spin, I like to play all kinds of styles, not just dance or hip-hop," he says of the style he'll bring there. "I'm into more soulful stuff that is not so EDM-ish. There's a cool UK genre now that's like classic hip-hop mixed with drum 'n' bass. My daughter calls it chill-step."
Which brings up what his daughter thinks of her old man being a DJ.
"She thinks it's cool, I think. She wants to know how to do it," Craze muses. A few minutes later, when she gets in the car, she backs that statement up.
"I think it's amazing what he does."
Would you want to be a DJ one day?
"Nah," she says with little hesitation. "Too much work."
With Pompeya, Millionyoung, and others. Noon Sunday, May 29, at Rhythm & Vine Beer Garden, 401 NE 5th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale. No cover. Visit rhythm-vine.com.