Aaron LaCrate is a man of many talents.Â When he is not working on his Milkcrate Athletics clothing line or remixing the likes of Madonna, Mr. LaCrate is one of the best-known ambassadors for Baltimore Club music, a regional sound that is on the verge of a global takeover.Â Having produced one of the more memorable interpretations of Kanye Westâ€™s â€œLove Lockdownâ€ last year, Aaron, who has spun for the likes of Rakim and torn down shows everywhere from Pennsylvania to St. Petersburg, has linked up with DJ Debonair Samir (Swizz Beats recently got his hands on one of the duoâ€™s beats for a freestyle) to compile an album for Koch Records.Â B-More Club Crack, is a sonic guidebook to Murderlandâ€™s trademark bump and features stalwarts from the scene such as Verb and Mz Streams as well as dancehall DJ, Mr. Vegas.
Now, during the calm before the next promotional run, Aaron took some time out to talk to Format about his history with Mark Ronson, trying to hook up with Arsenio Hall and Omar from The Wire being denied entry to the series wrap party.
“Iâ€™m down to work with everyone from the hood to young pop girls! From the gutter to the stars…”
Fomat: Maryland and DC have developed their own versions of club music â€“ DC with go-go and Maryland with gutter/ Bmore club.Â What is it about those areas that gave rise to these scenes?
Aaron LaCrate: They were always far removed from the rest of America.Â Also, smashed in the center of the mid-Atlantic being close to NYC and the South is a funky, funky place to be.Â The first city on the chitlinâ€™ circuit back in the day.
Format: What was the first record you bought?
Aaron LaCrate: Grandmaster Flash The Message.Â â€œBroken glass everywhere / people pissing on the trains…â€Â I still have the imagery from being a kid and urinating on the train. Gutter!
Format: What is your earliest memory of the Baltimore club scene?
Aaron LaCrate: Well, I worked at the legendary Inner City Records alongside the Godfather and creator of the scene and genre, DJ Equalizer, back in 1991.Â I was the youngest working DJ in Baltimore history.Â Also hearing Frank Ski play DJ Equalizerâ€™s records and his own on V 103 radio was very cool.Â But going to The Sports Bar on Sunday nights, to see Frank Ski, Sean Marshal, and Ms. Tony perform and DJ with about 1,000 other people and all the cityâ€™s drug dealers was super amazing, still unsurpassed.Â That system, those records and they way they were played in 1990 was just like hip-hop on crack.Â Super breaks.
Format: To the uninitiated â€“ B-more Club has a very similar sound to Miami Bass, particularly to 2 Live Crewâ€™s crazy up-tempo joints like Doo Doo Brown.Â What would you say are the main differences between the sound you represent and Uncle Lukeâ€™s vibe?
Aaron LaCrate: At one time they were very close in sound.Â Frank Ski also remixed I Wanna Rock officially which was a huge accomplishment, and [to us] as kids, that was so cool.Â But B-more is really based more heavily on UK Rave and Breaks than Miami Bass.Â Miami Bass was very much sped up hip-hop breaks, B-more is more dance music driven and much more raw musically.
Format: What three jams in your record box do you feel represent B-More the best?
Aaron LaCrate: Geez… at the moment Verb Down The Hill, Rod Lee Dance My Pain Away, Debonair Samir Samirâ€™s Theme.
Format: What inspired you to start a career as a photographer alongside your DJ’ing gig?
Aaron LaCrate: I have been taking pictures since I was a kid; I kind of always DJed, wrote graffiti, designed tees and graphics, took pics, and made music since I was about ten. All of those things are the same to me, because if you write graffiti, you automatically become a photographer to take [pictures] of your pieces, then you start capturing the behind the scenes stuff that make up the lifestyle, then that spills into street photography.Â Same for DJ’ing, you take pics of the parties and all that. Growing up in Baltimore it was all very much a family like community of really talented street kids.
Format: How did you hook up with Mark Ronson?Â He seems a bit of a musical chameleon, producing everything from rock to hip-hop records.Â Have you been tempted to follow his lead or are you more interested in staying in the club music scene?
Aaron LaCrate: Mark and I have been DJ pals since about 1993.Â We were both DJs very early on before it was cool or trendy and grew up on records and hip-hop. Mark has always been a supporter of Milkcrate Athletics since the beginning.Â Mark has an amazing musical knowledge spanning from all the early hip-hop breaks; he probably owns every record that made every classic hip-hop tune ever. He used to do these amazing sets of all the original samples, cut together perfectly really dope, however he also is like Encyclopedia Ronson, he knows all music, who did what, who played what.Â Itâ€™s natural for him to make all kinds of records now.Â Itâ€™s been amazing to watch his process. As for me, yep, Iâ€™m down to work with everyone from the hood to young pop girls! From the gutter to the stars…
Format: Taking a look at your Myspace page, a lot of your â€œtop friendsâ€ are from the other side of the Atlantic.Â What is it that draws you towards British artists?
Aaron LaCrate: I lived in London back in 1995 for a few months when I just started Milkcrate Athletics, and I also sold quite a lot of mixtapes out there and in Paris in those days.Â So I was traveling around Europe selling t-shirts and mixtapes back in 1995 â€“ amazing times.Â Hip-hop was still kind of new out there.Â Since then, the UK has always been a big supporter of my creations, whether it be music or fashion, London especially has always understood what Iâ€™m all about.Â They appreciate classic quality and thatâ€™s what I represent.Â A lot of artists over [there] supported Milkcrate since the early days, so lots of artists were fans of my clothing before they met me, and when they did the music side just fell into place.Â Especially when I broke B-more worldwide with B-more Gutter Music mix CD.
Format: Youâ€™ve been all over spinning records.Â Whatâ€™s your favorite spot to play?
Aaron LaCrate: I was just in Moscow and that went down big time.Â Everything is so new to them, even streetwear, and especially all the Baltimore culture.Â They were amazed that I was actually from Baltimore.Â They have heard so much about the city and never met anyone from there.Â They went crazy for the music.Â It was really cool.
Format: There are a lot of dances associated with the B-more club scene, some of which originate in other parts of the country.Â Can Aaron Lacrate do the Wu-Tang or the Spongebob?
Aaron LaCrate: Nope I canâ€™t, but we just had the release party for B-more Club Crack in Baltimore and the kids went wild.Â The dances are amazing.Â They were even dancing when the music stopped and the party was over.Â Constant dancing. So good.
Format: The Wire obviously inspired interest in what was happening around Baltimore.Â Do you have any Wire-related stories from being out and about in the city?
Aaron LaCrate: We did The Wire wrap party in NYC, and me and Samir DJed and all the actors came, McNulty, Snoop, all the cops and bad guys, but the club wouldnâ€™t let Omar in!Â That made Page Six [gossip column in the New York Post].Â That was crazy.Â They shot loads of it around where I grew up, and most of itâ€™s true.Â However, I think Baltimore may have been worse in the 90â€™s.Â Also since we had a song on the show and soundtrack, HBO had a really cool party in Baltimore.Â It was a prom party for the entire cast and crew, everyone came in tuxes, it was so cool.Â I hung with Snoop and Omar and got to meet the creators of the show.Â That was super cool.
“I was the youngest working DJ in Baltimore history.”
Format: You have an album in the works.Â Can you shed any light on your plans for that?Â Who are you planning to feature on the LP?
Aaron LaCrate: Itâ€™s the follow up to B-more Gutter Music.Â That CD changed the world and created a worldwide demand for B-more, Spank Rock, and Amanda Blank.Â It was my vision one hundred percent.Â All parties involved, even the OG club dudes, thought I was crazy for trying to blow up B-more and the music, but I showed and proved. Before that mix kids said, â€œOh, you can only play 15 minutes of B-more music a night, just at the end of the party.â€Â Now, those same kids are playing two hour sets of B-more.Â Itâ€™s funny to me.
B-more Club Crack is more about creating hip-hop with club sounds.Â There are a few fast joints on the CD, Mz. Streamz Tear It Up and Mr. Vegas ft. Verb Oh My Gosh but the rest features more hip-hop tempo club music. The CD is really dope and is a great listen all the way through. Itâ€™s a gift back to the city and the artists.Â Itâ€™s really the honest and true voice and attitude of the city over some next level amazing club banging beats.Â This CD is the first major label release of B-more music ever, itâ€™s IG news and history for the city and genre.Â It also combines both the hip-hop and club scenes on one release featuring the artists that were most willing to try something new.Â Debonair Samir and I produced the entire record and we have a tour coming in May. Verb and Mz. Streamz really kill shit on that release.
Format: What is your production set-up?Â Are you a strictly synthesizer kind of guy or are you all for recording an orchestra and taking them up to 130 BPM?
Aaron LaCrate: We have a studio in Baltimore with Reason, Logic, the works.Â Iâ€™m totally all about elevating and expanding in all my creative endeavors.Â Skyâ€™s the limit when your rocking with the best.Â Everything will be remixed and mixed up.
Format: How did you come to be involved in the Delicious Vinyl remix project?Â You remixed a lot of their back catalogue for that.Â Did you ever feel intimidated by following in the footsteps of the originals, particularly given how protective a lot of hip-hop heads can be over J Dillaâ€™s music?
Aaron LaCrate: The Delicious Vinyl guys were big fans of â€œB-more Gutter;â€ they saw what we were doing as the next level of fun, crazy party music.Â Not so different from Bust A Move.Â They also knew me from Milkcrate Athletics, and knew I was always down and respected as a forward thinking hip-hop DJ.Â So they felt that Samir and I had the best understanding and pedigree to flip and update the catalogue.Â We didnâ€™t do anything with J Dilla stuff, however Iâ€™ve helped promote Illa J whoâ€™s doing really well.Â We have a collaboration imprint called Delicious Gutter and weâ€™re dropping the Pharcyde â€œSoul Flowerâ€ remix featuring Verb and Wale.Â Itâ€™s really dope next level club hip-hop.
“If you write graffiti, you automatically become a photographer to take [pictures] of your pieces.”
Format: Are there any tunes that have been out in the past few years that you would like to have added the Gutter touch to?
Aaron LaCrate: Weâ€™ve gotten to do a lot of official remixes, but I would have liked to do Lady Gaga.Â Sheâ€™s crazy ill, Andy Warhol style.
Format: Which B-more club artists (both established and up and coming) would you recommend to a new listener?
Aaron LaCrate: Verb, Mz. Streamz, and Debonair Samir.
Format: So, you gave Arsenio his first mainstream shine since the Chappelle Show skit (â€œThis is some good ass cheese!!â€) with the Young MC remix clip.Â Have you heard anything from him about his opinions on the video?
Aaron LaCrate: I emailed him; weâ€™re trying to get him on a track actually.
Format: What is next for Aaron Lacrate?
Aaron LaCrate: Well, I was just in Germany for two weeks with Verb on a Coke tour.Â We remixed Madonna, the official B-more Gutter remix, the first major label B-more record ever out now on Koch, and Iâ€™m headed to SXSW to do a Belvedere Vodka party and Perez Hiltonâ€™s party.Â Iâ€™ll let you know next week!
Format: Can you finish the following statement: DJ Aaron LaCrate is…
Aaron LaCrate: Just getting started…