DJ Craze’s ‘Tablism’ Is A Love Letter to Turntablist Culture
“If you’re not doing it to be the best you can be, what are we doing here?”
Those words may have come from the mouth of Kendrick Lamar, but they speak a mantra which encompasses DJ Craze’s entire career. As such, they’re the perfect backbone to his “Tablism.” video, the latest in a string of influential DJ routine clips through which he showcases his skills and makes a statement about the culture at large.
The Nicaraguan-born, Miami-bred DJ is a five-time DMC Champion and the only solo DJ to ever take the Worldwide trophy three years in a row. As opposed to chart-topping DJ/producers who have permeated pop radio with catchy hooks, Craze focuses his skills on the art of scratching and battle DJing. He belongs to a rare class of turntablist Gods who exist on this Earth to do one thing and do it very well — push the needle of DJ culture forever forward.
“People nowadays, with social media, the passion isn’t there,” Craze says. “Motherfuckers make songs for TikTok. DJs make ‘content.’ Nobody puts in that extra effort to be special and prolific … to make a statement.” That’s exactly what Craze intends to do in his routine videos, with “Tablism” as the latest to make waves.
While it’s packed to the gills with impressive tricks — like juggling two records and crafting a new beat all without touching the fader knob — it stands out from Craze’s catalog not because of its braggadocious display of talent, but for its emotional message. Indeed, this is Craze’s love letter to the art form that gave him his life and a call to arms to the next generation.
Craze discovered DJing as a teenager in Miami in the early ‘90s while watching his brother man the decks. Through the local chapter of the hip-hop organization Zulu Nation, he was introduced to DJ TMS, who showed him his first battle DJ videos. “When I was 15, I did my first battle at this club called the Zoo,” he recalls. “I won that shit. Everybody in there was older and was like, ‘Who the fuck is this little kid doing all this crazy shit?’”
For the uninitiated, battle DJing is the art of mixing two or more tracks to create a brand-new beat, almost like a musical conversation. DJs like Craze might cut up rap lyrics to form entirely new statements, usually about how great the DJ working the decks is compared to his competition.
The results speak for themselves. Craze won the DMC World Championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000 on his own. He reigned supreme again in 2000 with the Allies battle crew, which included future EDM star A-Trak.
In the late 2000s, as DJs and producers such as Diplo, Skrillex and Deadmau5 emerged from the rave underground to become full-fledged rock stars, Craze was able to cross over, bringing his talents to the scene via trap tunes and open-format sets as he headlined festivals and clubs around the world.
When it came time to craft “some new shit” for his latest routine video, Craze decided to create a song part by part to remind viewers that “turntablism is this art form that everybody forgot about. We’re more worried about saying ‘three, two, one, jump’ than showing people something creative and dope.”
It’s a desire Craze rekindled after the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced him off the road for the first time in decades. At first, he found himself reflecting on why he does what he does in the first place.
“I got dark, just re-evaluating my career, my life and what I was gonna do after this all stopped,” he says. “When I started streaming DJ sets on Twitch, I did hip-hop streams and drum and bass streams. They were doing well, and I was just like, ‘I forgot this is what people like about me. I’m different. I’m not just some open-format EDM DJ or whatever.’”
He decided the next video was going to celebrate the art which has allowed him to tour the world and provide for his family since he was a kid himself, while also aiming to inspire a new generation of talent to take up the technique.
Craze found a 2017 Apple Music interview with Lamar where the Pulitzer Prize-winning MC talks about making songs out of other songs, the ever-present quest for greatness and giving praise to the legends who came before him.
That interview formed the foundation of the routine, with Craze building a song around different spoken snippets. In the Biagio Musacchia-directed clip, Craze is shown creating all the distinct parts – a process combined into one black-and-white composite.
“I’m showing everybody that that’s me doing the kick drum,” he says. “That’s me doing the snare and doing the bass line. That’s me doing the high hat. That’s me playing with the words — just be a band because that’s what turntablism is, right?”
Between masterful bits of mixing, Craze drops video clips that further the story. As Lamar talks about “challenging” and “confirming to yourself that you’re the best,” Craze works in footage of his award-winning past sets and routines. When Lamar discusses his influences, the video cuts to cameos of Craze’s own DJ heroes, including Grandmaster Flash, Mix Master Mike, Grand Wizzard Theodore and A-Trak.
When the song comes to a close and the Lamar monologue fades, Craze starts fresh to craft a monster beat across two turntables without ever touching the fader. Both tracks would have kept playing at the same time unless Craze used his hand to hold the beat in place, which, of course, he does.
It’s that kind of thing that sets Craze apart from other DJs, and it’s that hunger for innovation that he hopes catches fire.
“I knew they were gonna appreciate the whole song and the message, but I knew the heads really just want to see me do something new,” he laughs. “I want to spend the rest of my life pushing this art form that I thought was so cool, and still is so cool. Kids that don’t even know me saw this video and want to know what the fuck turntablism is. I want it to bring a whole new generation into this.”
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