Aaron Lacrate: In Da Club

U ntil the captivating writing and gritty cinematography of The Wire, Hip-Hop seems to have been slow to embrace Baltimore. But as one of the few remaining checkpoints on I-95 gets its due, Aaron Lacrate rejoices after years of work in the effort. The DJ/producer has been getting the Baltimore City name up with spray […]

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ntil the captivating writing and gritty cinematography of The Wire, Hip-Hop seems to have been slow to embrace Baltimore. But as one of the few remaining checkpoints on I-95 gets its due, Aaron Lacrate rejoices after years of work in the effort. The DJ/producer has been getting the Baltimore City name up with spray paint, with clothing designs, and now with his second album release, the Koch Records-backed, Baltimore Club Crack release this summer. The effort features familiar names like B-Rich, as well as Tim Trees, Chopper, and Dirty Hartz.

As Hyphy, Crunk, and Screw have given cities and regions a sonic identity, Lacrate hopes that “Baltimore Club Music” will be Hip-Hop’s next embraced sub-genre. Already, official remixes for Busta Rhymes’ “Touch It”, Shawnna, and Jurassic 5 have surfaced, as Jim Jones spits on Lacrate and Debonair Samir’s-produced, “Get Doe” on the Waist Deep Soundtrack.

If the 120 beats-per-minute feels like a Moby-minded fad, Lacrate wants to walk you through the clubs where the music comes from, where possibly Avon Barksdale tucks his chain. Likewise, if you think another trendy gimmick is on its way, the Milkcrate Athletics clothier, who worked for both Wild Pitch and Roc-A-Fella, kicks the bobo like Pete Nice and Daddy Rich.

AllHipHop.com: Growing up, what was your Hip-Hop sensibility like in Baltimore?

Aaron Lacrate: In was very New York-centric. Hip-Hop has always been the essence, the main source of everything I’ve been involved in. As a kid, the first things were like the early Eric B. & Rakim, The Fat Boys, Run-DMC, LL Cool J.

AllHipHop.com: Were there Baltimore acts?

Aaron Lacrate: There were a few. There was actually a compilation that came out when I was very young called Bmore Nation and it just had a lot of the local acts at the time. I was always involved in the local community. I worked in a record store, meeting Labtekwon, who I grew up with. There were a number of various talented MCs that never broke. The climate of life in Baltimore City is drug-heavy, crime-heavy, and not the best. It’s very lower working class. There’s not a lot of hope. I never encounter too many from Baltimore in my travels from Europe, Japan, and various places. If you look at the ratio of the kid who makes it out of Baltimore is like finding a needle in a haystack, really.

AllHipHop.com: What told you that you had to leave?

Aaron Lacrate: My cousin went to Parsons in New York City. I always went up there with her ‘cause I wanted to ride the elevated tracks in the Bronx. I was an obsessed graffiti kid. I was the littlest graffiti writer in Baltimore, but I was actually very good. I ended up being up a part of it. In the early ‘80s, there was a lot of writers who were really good in Baltimore. Revolt, who is a massive subway legend, went to the Maryland School of Art in like ’78 and ’79. There’s still Revolt tags there. He brought the New York graffiti style to Baltimore. New York was just the birthplace. That’s the place to be.

AllHipHop.com: The “I-95” hustling mentality, along with The Wire has made Baltimore very big all of a sudden. As a true caretaker of Hip-Hop, how does that feel?

Aaron Lacrate: Praise God. Halleluiah. Unfortunately… the average Joe says, “Oh no, drugs…” but that’s a part of Hip-Hop. The drug culture is sadly the sixth element of Hip-Hop. [laughs] It’s street culture and it’s always gonna be there. It’s no different than action movies. It’s unfortunate that that’s what put Baltimore on, but it’s true. “Bodymore, Murderland.” It’s a fact.

AllHipHop.com: What’s the Hip-Hop identity there? Tell me what spoke to you about the artists you and Debonair Samir put on Baltimore Club Crack…

Aaron Lacrate: They’re the most talented lyricists, Debonair and I feel, in the city. He’s the Baltimore club king! This is the movement we’re pushing ahead. It’s a different sound. There’s a lot of dudes in Baltimore, and in every city, that resemble the New York [sound]. Most of them are [doing it like] Young Jeezy. That’s the comfort zone. For whatever reason, he’s the guy to resemble. Years ago, it was Jay-Z. We’re trying to keep the lyrical content and change up the sound. Baltimore is kind of a combination between North and South. On Baltimore Club Crack, we also brought in the Baltimore club music, which has been a ghetto artform since the early ‘90s. They’re equally credible. There’s clubs that play the uptempo, 120 beats-per-minute, bass’d out hybrid of Hip-Hop/Crunk/House, but there’s some places that now play Hip-Hop. We’re doing a slowed-down version of it. Club music is just faster, and it’s not based around an MC. It’s more chopped-up lyrics that are about neighborhoods, or p***y, or drugs – the same content.

AllHipHop.com: Bmore Gutter Music combined those worlds…

Aaron Lacrate: Definitely. You have a song like DJ Class’ “Stop Snitchin’” at 120 beats-per-minute, but it’s a f**kin’ hard-assed record. It’s a definitely a different sounding record. You have the taste-making guys who are already accepting the music like Missy Elliot, Timbaland, Neptunes – they’ve all been heading there, ‘cause that’s the Mid-Atlantic region. Some Hip-Hop fans can’t wrap their heads around it ‘cause they think it’s Dance music or House music, but if you saw the clubs that this was gettin’ played in, this is no white boy s**t. People think it’s for raves or somethin’, it really isn’t. This music did not come from white kids.

AllHipHop.com: When you produce it, what do you guys use?

Aaron Lacrate: Primarily, Pro Tools. Then the MPC to chop it up and play it out. Sometimes I use Fruity Loops to do some dumb s**t, and Reason and Logic – mainly, Reason.

AllHipHop.com: It’s important to note that Cipha Sounds and others have been playing these records on air…

Aaron Lacrate: Thank God for him. It’s always good when people play stuff on unbiased terms. He invited me up to his Sirius show on Shady. I did a guest spin up there. He’s very interested in promotin’ the s**t the way it is. He’s been playing tons of the remixes that myself and my partner, Debonair Samir have been doing, on the radio every Saturday. We’re working on some production and remixes for his artist, Daytona and Nina Skye. He has vision. He’s not following. He was very instrumental in bringing the Down South s**t up, and reviving Dancehall.

AllHipHop.com: Tell me about these remixes for a second. Are they unofficial, official?

Aaron Lacrate: The first remix we did was for Busta Rhymes’ “Touch It” for Universal Records UK. The UK has been going crazy. They’re in touch with hot, new s**t. New York is not a trend-setting place anymore. I hate to say it, but with what’s happening Hip-Hop-wise, it’s not that innovative. No ones taking chances like that. Universal UK heard “Blow” which we did with Spank Rock and Amanda Blank and was like, “We love this beat. There’s no samples in here. Do a Busta Rhymes one, and we’ll send it out.” They sent it. The taste-making DJs have been playing it – Cipha Sounds, Mark Ronson, DJ AM, Stretch Armstrong. Now every time I go to a New York City club, kids come up to me like, “Yo, I need this remixed.” It’s funny to see how a trend works.

AllHipHop.com: Tell me about your label experience…

Aaron Lacrate: I wanted to be an A&R for Wild Pitch Records during the hey-day of Hip-Hop. That’s why I interned at Wild Pitch, Pay Day, Penalty, Def Jam, I even was at Roc-A-Fella when the Jay-Z and Foxy Brown song [“Ain’t No N***a”] came out. I’m so happy I experienced it, ‘cause that was the last reign of [the industry]. Going to Jay-Z’s first record release party or the Mad Lion release party where there were 5,000 people there. You’re standin’ there next to Showbiz, Puffy, Biggie, Old Dirty Bastard, and KRS-One. Everybody’s laughin’, and Grand Puba’s there. That was what I loved. That’s what I try to recreate with [my DJing].

AllHipHop.com: Milkcrate Clothing is doing so much. After years of creating this reputation for quality, what are your goals to expand the brand?

Aaron Lacrate: I don’t want to run ads in Wax Poetics magazine, targeting a certain group of fans. It’s for like-minded people. If you’re into your s**t how I’m into my s**t…I always wanted the hard-to-find s**t. We’ve been doing it since ’97, when it was a whole different world. We were one of the first people doing any kind of music-inspired fashion. It’s become – every kid is doing it now. Music is where I come from. We started the [clothing] label to say, “There’s more to this than putting dumb s**t on t-shirts. There is a real culture here. It’s not just about taking Marley Marl and putting him on a shirt ‘cause somebody else did. You don’t even like Marley Marl. You can’t even name five of his records.” Too much perpetrating.

AllHipHop.com: You pay tribute to unsung Hip-Hop heroes like Eazy-E and 45 King. What is the image you’ve tried to create in that?

Aaron Lacrate: It all comes back to knowledge. Milk Crate has never been about being a mass-sales brand. It’s about people who share the same knowledge – the people who appreciate 45 King. Understand, I am friendly with 45 King, and we worked that out. It was something that was good for him. It was an awesome thing to do in my opinion. It wasn’t just jacking his logo. That shirt personifies two different generations coming together on the same thing. There’s something greater here. We just did something similar with Pete Nice and Daddy Rich [of 3rd Bass]. Pete Nice was influential to who I am today – how I dress and what I think is possible for me as a human being. It was awesome to link up, and bring a real collaboration out of that. Now we’re talking about doing music together on an MF Doom type of tip. That’s what I’m about. It’s not just t-shirts or old school. It’s about takin’ old s**t and makin’ it new. That’s the whole concept of Milk Crate. I was so young comin’ into this s**t, and I was so touched by it, that it’s hard for me not to be like this.

AllHipHop.com: Do you think because of your young beginnings, that you’re naïve enough to believe that anything is possible?

Aaron Lacrate: Possibly. I look at lot of s**t I do, and my education in life comes from those Hip-Hop records. Get paid. Stay paid. All that s**t. In those records, there were a lot of f**ked up, dumb messages, but there are some messages on a business and [life] level that are extremely relevant and positive. That was my pre-programming.

AllHipHop.com: How do you divide time between DJing, clothing, and your record making? Is there a set format?

Aaron Lacrate: No man. It’s always happening, constantly. I love this s**t. It’s just what I do. This is what I’ve been f**kin’ doin’ since I was eight years old. This is a lot longer than the last ten years. In my opinion, s**t is just startin’ to happen the way it needs to. With a brand like a LRG, it represents a certain change in the masses. Everybody loves t-shirts. Everybody loves their sneakers. Five years ago, that wasn’t the case. S**t is real trendy right now. I don’t jump to trends. I try to create long-lasting s**t. Everybody’s doin’ these zip-ups with the s**t all over ‘em, I wouldn’t wear it, personally. I’m just trying to create an identity out there for all the people who feel the same way I do. That’s like graffiti or early Hip-Hop, it lasts forever.

For more information visit www.myspace.com/aaronlacrate