Aaron LaCrate Interview
Author: Adam Bernard
B'More Gutter Music. What is it? Well, you've actually heard some of it if you've watched HBO's acclaimed drama The Wire, which has featured songs of the subgenre. According to Baltimore native son Aaron LaCrate “it's a next level of hyphy.” Recently LaCrate completed a tour with Mark Ronson and Lily Allen and RapReviews sat down with him to talk about B'More Gutter Music, what it's all about, and what's going on with his other ventures as a DJ and CEO of Milkcrate Athletics.
Adam Bernard: Aaron, your resume is thick, so my first question of the day is what DON'T you do?
Aaron LaCrate: Windows. I'm not great in the kitchen or in the laundry room.
AB: Of all the things you do what came first and how did it lead to everything else?
AL: The first thing that I was completely obsessed with had to be the whole graffiti thing, which was around second grade. I'm not an active graffiti writer today, but when something gets into you that early it never leaves. That just led me into the whole skateboard, Hip-Hop, DJ thing and eventually skateboarding faded away and it was all about graffiti and DJing and basically just Hip-Hop in general, the whole movement, trying to be as good in as many different elements as I could. I never really focused on the dancing bit, or the rapping bit, I left those out. I realize my limitations with those, but I can not spin on my head very well.
AB: How was the scene where you grew up?
AL: I grew up in Baltimore which wasn't too heavy on the Hip-Hop scene, it was more like this club thing that's happening now and the night would consist of the majority of music being this Baltimore club and harder UK sort of records that were being played in sort of the ghetto clubs of Baltimore. It was really ironic looking back that the same records that were getting played in UK raves with a bunch of white middle class, upper class, kids on ecstasy, were the same records that I grew up listening to in all black ghetto clubs in Baltimore. To me that's the most interesting parallel that I see of the whole thing at the moment.
AB: Talk to me about B'more Gutter Music. What is it and why should people be hyped about it?
AL: I think first and foremost in its simplest form, before anyone tries to intellectualize it, or rip it to shreds, basically it's a dope mix. It's definitely a next level type of thing. I wanted to take the street Hip-Hop mix tape thing and turn it on its head. I try to pull from that with the shout outs and make more of like a street tape that wasn't your typical hood boring, no mixing, no blending, no cutting. What's happened to the mixtape is a tragedy in my opinion. What's considered a mixtape or a mix-cd these days, it's a shame when things become all about marketing and all about self-promotion and all about the business sides of it and people give actually not even one percent to the skill or the craft and I'm not trying to be some kind of old school KRS-One type of preaching thing, but it could be so much of a better product. If you're such a businessman and you're so concerned about your product and saying it's dope, make that shit the best that it can be. I don't care if you put one out every day, at least cut, at least do something that is gonna raise the bar and is gonna have some sort of competitive edge other than who can get the most new records or the most rappers on the most beats. You should be blending records and dropping them at the right spot. I still come from that mentality that if you're gonna be calling yourself a DJ mix in a bedroom until you actually know in your heart that what you're doing is right and not just selfish for you to run around and be cool and be popular and try to win a popularity contest.
AB: It's not hard to win a popularity contest.
AL: People do it every day because there's two different types of DJ's, there's ones that are actually good and then there's the majority that are all hype and who are friends with so and so and this one and that one.
AB: How's the acceptance of B'More Gutter Music been outside of Baltimore?
AL: In Europe they love it, which is great because I don't DJ for a living, it's something that I do to try to break records and to actually try to make an impact. So many kids now have to DJ to eat that they're all coming up the same way, playing the same thing, and people dance but people have been conditioned for all that. I'm trying to do my part to bring back the days where people played a lot of different shit and the public didn't know what they were gonna hear. Right now the public controls the DJ, that's a fucked up situation for fun or nightlife, the DJ is supposed to control the crowd. I grew up in an environment where the whole night was club and there was maybe 15 minutes of Hip-Hop so it was never so hard for me to wrap my head around the concept of playing club all night. Back in 1990 (in Baltimore) you'd make a mixtape and one side would be club and the other would be Hip-Hop so it was always combined growing up for me. This is just an extension of that and trying to make sure things are represented properly.
AB: You're also heavily involved in fashion. First off, what's it like being a straight male in the fashion world and second what makes Milkcrate Athletics unique?
AL: I'm not in that sort of scene, but I have collaborated with the high fashion world and I appreciate it. When it comes to gay designers I don't know if it has to do with how they have to live their life, or if they're wilder, but they definitely come from a different perspective and I respect that. That's a creative bunch, man. My label, Milkcrate Athletics, was one of the first music, DJ inspired fashion brands. We were the first to do that whole headphone, turntable, flipped cool artistically on t-shirts in like 96/97, I started that whole catalyst which has become now, like a lot of things, just out of control with how many people just do that. There's still kids today that wake up and say you know what I think it's a great idea to put a pair of headphones on a t-shirt and it goes back to DJing like if you're gonna be a part of this, regardless if you're in your room alone in Illinois or if you're in New York City surrounded by a bunch of people who couldn't come up with an original thought if their life depended on it, you are a part of a greater thing and there are some rules to this thing and people should acknowledge them. Simple rule, don't bite, if someone did something don't do it. People still want to get into the game and not respect the rules and then they wonder why the game is in the state that it is.
AB: Should there be a book, or should they remain unwritten rules?
AL: I think unwritten, you should know, that whole thing has always been about you had to be about something to even be a part of it, now it's become so easy with the way everything is set up. Unfortunately that will never change. I'm still young but I grew up in a different era of everything. I'm caught in-between two worlds. I'm 30. If you've been doing something for ten years that's a lifetime that doesn't exist for half of these kids and they don't want to hear about it.
AB: That's the worst part.
AL: Exactly. Not to be cliché, but if you don't know your past you don't have a future. How can you ever come up with an original thing if you don't know who did what? I just always strive to be original and if you're gonna take some old shit then rule number one is flip it. The whole emphasis for what Milkcrate is and what I feel like I embody in general is taking old shit and making it new and then trying to show the young kids, almost educate them. So many kids come up to me today, 20 year old kids, “oh that shirt you did, I just realized that had to do with this and then I got that album and I love that album and I would have never known about that if it wasn't for that t-shirt you made three years ago.” That's why I do it. At least you feel like you've reached somebody. It's not just about jacking something, or putting it on a shirt, it's about actually trying to do your part
AB: Ever dated a model?
AL: No, no I haven't. Briefly, but briefly enough to realize that it was the wrong thing for me to be doing.
AB: Finally, are you always the best dressed person wherever you go?
AL: Hell no. I'm the most comfortable.
Check out LaCrate's MySpace page at myspace.com/aaronlacrate or visit MilkcrateNYC.com.
Originally posted: April 17, 2007