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DJ Craze Talks About Mixing Things Up From Behind the Turntables

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Jake Pierce

DJ Craze has been pumping up audiences with his spinning skills for more than two decades. He’s the only DJ to have won the DMC World DJ Championships three consecutive years in a row, he’s collaborated with some of the best artists in the business, and he even went on tour with Mr. Kanye West himself. His latest collaboration, though, is with Grand Marnier, where he mixed things up in a dance video for them that blended together the worlds of music and Marnier. We spoke to Craze about this latest collaboration, his style of DJing, how the industry is evolving, oh, and of course what it’s like to hang with Ye. 

Jake Pierce

Thrillist: So, how did your partnership with Grand Marnier come about?

DJ Craze: They reached out to my management, and I spoke to them about what they wanted to do and I thought it was a cool idea. I really liked how they really knew what I was doing. They weren’t just like, “Hey we wanna have a DJ in this video.” They actually knew what I was doing, and they actually wanted somebody like me.
 

Are you a big fan of Grand Marnier?

I really like it. It was cool to go to the chateau in Cognac, France, where they showed me how the liquor was made from the grapes, and how they put it in the big-ass jars or whatever. I became a fan, there’s so much work put into every single bottle, that I was just really impressed.  
 

How did you come up with the idea for the video?

They came up with the idea, actually. They were like, we have this idea with the “blend-out” with all the different genres, with you as the master blender, and I was like “yeah that’s right up my alley” cuz when I DJ, that’s a big part of my thing -- I play a lot of different genres, I don’t just stick to one thing, so it made perfect sense, I was with it. I really liked the music they had me play with.
 

But you were really DJing in the video, right?

Yeah! Those are real cuts, real scratches

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSAh2YJhMNE" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">YouTube</a>

Do you normally drink when you’re DJing?

I’m kinda shy -- DJs and producers, no matter what they tell you, we’re all geeks and introverts, and we’re all anti-social, for the most part. So I drink a little bit to get loose.  
 

So how did you start DJing?  

I started when I was 14 or 15, and I was watching my brother, he was a local DJ. Just watching him, I thought “wow turntables they look so cool.” I would go to parties with him, I would just check out how he was controlling the vibe, how being a DJ was so cool. At the time I was getting involved in hip-hop culture, and it all came together for me, the hiphop and the message it was bringing, with the DJing and breaking [dancing], graffiti and all that stuff. I couldn’t rap, I couldn’t break, so I got into DJing.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSAh2YJhMNE" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">YouTube</a>

Were you always interested in music?

I remember being in elementary school, always wanting to get drums, begging for a set of drums. I would make these makeshift drum sets with shoeboxes and pens; I remember I always wanted to play the drums. I wanted to become a drummer as a kid, but when I got older I got into production and music and DJing took over that love. I made it happen with the DJing thing.
 

How would you describe your spinning style?

I would describe it as forward thinking. That’s my thing -- I’m always looking for new styles because that’s what attracts me to DJing -- playing new music and hearing new music, and that new vibe. And I’m always trying to push it forward, push the skill level.
 

What gets you pumped up before a show?

The vibe hypes me up. I love getting to a club at least an hour before my set just to check out the vibe, and just to try to get on the same wavelength as the people. I love watching what the crowd is into and how I can get them on my side.
 

How do you know when you’ve got the crowd hooked?

That roar. That love, when you look in the crowd and everyone’s looking at you smiling, that happy look on their faces, you know you killed it. And the screams.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSAh2YJhMNE" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">YouTube</a>

I know you’ve collaborated with a lot of people, who’ve been your favorites?

Recently, TroyBoi, he’s having a real good career right now; he’s really blowing up. And my boy from turntablism is A-Trak, and love all the scratch DJ’s. Plus, I was Kanye’s tour DJ, and just being around him was really inspiring.
 

Tell me about working with Kanye.

I was his tour DJ for the Glow in the Dark tour in 2008–2009. It was really cool -- it was Rihanna, N.E.R.D., and Kanye. For the European tour it was Santigold, Kanye, and Rihanna. I would wake up every day and watch Rihanna.
 

What’s Kanye West like?

He could have his little moments, but in general he’s amazing. I’m not just saying that cuz it’s Ye, but he really inspires the hell outta me. You can’t say no to him -- you can’t not feel the energy when he’s talking. He could sell you the dumbest stuff and you’d believe it, like, “Oh my god this pen, this is the most amazing pen, holy s*&%t, Ye, you’re right!” He’s like a guy where when he’s around, you can’t help but feel the hustle and the grind.
 

Which DJ’s do you admire the most?

DJ Qbert, cuz there’s nobody like him on the planet. He’s the greatest scratch DJ of all time, he constantly keeps pushing the envelope, he’s constantly the best at what he does. He’s my #1 influence when it comes to the turntablist side of it. But the whole-package side of it, being a DJ, being a brand, being an entrepreneur, being a tastemaker, I would say A-Trak.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSAh2YJhMNE" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">YouTube</a>

What’s the biggest show you’ve ever played?

Probably some of the ones with Ye. I remember we did a show at Madison Square Garden -- it was the second to last, and Jay-Z came out and I was like ,“holy s*&t I’m on stage with Jay-Z and Kanye.”
 

Do you consider yourself a new-school DJ or old-school?

I mix a bit of both, cuz I still use turntables in the day when everyone’s using CD players -- that’s the standard now in clubs, everyone used to use turntables, there’s only a few of us that still use turntables. My style of mixing is a little more old-school -- the new generation just tends to [pre-]make edits of what they’re trying to do, whereas I perform the edits live -- I like doing everything live, I show people the art form of turntablism. I crowd rock, I party rock, I do everything hands on, but I try not to cheerlead too much, I try to let the music do the talking.  
 

Where do you see the DJ industry going?

DJing keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s more of a producer’s world now; you can’t really come up just as a DJ. Back in the day if you were a dope DJ; that was all you needed to be successful. Now it’s different, you have to be a producer first, and then a DJ. And the whole mashup thing is coming back, what DJ AM and Z-Trip made popular, that style is coming back where people wanna hear a lot of different styles. I see a lot of kids actually buying turntables again, putting work into their mixes. I feel like it’s getting cool again.