Sometimes it's not who you know but what you know. Aaron LaCrate has been making massive waves on the music and streetwear scene since day dot yet it's never been because of who he knows. Through sheer originality and an eye for the ‘next big thing' LaCrate is an anomaly in the ferocious world of hustling for a piece of the game. You may not know his name off the bat, but one look at his ridiculous resume of collabs, production, designs and beats and you'll realise that Aaron has played a monumental part in just about any of your favourite artist's careers. If collaborating and working with Kanye, Dizzee Rascal, Mark Ronson, Rakim, Lily Allen and Jay-Z isn't a one-way ticket to major props, then be sure to give it up to LaCrate for bringing the banging sounds of Baltimore Club to a worldwide audience. From Milkcrate Clothing to Gutter Music, Aaron LaCrate is the absolute truth, so we felt the need to get the good word from this unsung pioneer of the street scene.
Hey Aaron, what's poppin' off in your hood right about now?
All good, working on Milkcrate Spring 2011, the next Aaron LaCrate CD, Highlandtown Ignorant Art, Debonair Samir - Samirs Revenge, as well as a collaboration with HBO's The Wire and stacking songs.
Let's pull up pull up... take us back to where it all began and how you got stung by the B-more buzz...
Well I was born and raised in Baltimore. I was one of the early Baltimore DJs - being only ten years old when I started - spinning house, hip hop, reggae, UK rave, breakbeats, Miami bass, and everything else that wound up becoming Baltimore Club. I also grew up hanging around DJ Class, DJ Equalizer and all the early club guys. They all have known me since I had my Technics 1200s on layaway. So I grew up in the B-More mafia, Mafia!
And Milkcrate Clothing/Records - how and when did that all start?
I've been lucky enough to be on the next big thing a few times in my life. Milkcrate clothing started as DJ Cool Aaron t-shirts - which was the first Baltimore street wear brand, which eventually evolved into Milkcrate Athletics. I've been making music and clothing since I was like nine years old, making my own mixtapes, covers, t-shirts, going to loft parties and raves and selling them hand to hand - that, DJing parties and writing graffiti is how I spent most of my childhood. I was airbrushing t-shirts and all that when kids were learning to ride bikes. It's all been my life's work over 20 years or so....
You were pretty much at the forefront of the whole streetwear movement (as a 2nd gen brand behind Stussy and XLarge) - is it scary to see how much has changed in the last 12 years of Milkcrate!?
Yes, so much has changed around us, however Milkcrate have stayed very true to their original street wear aesthetic and style and haven't changed at all really. We created an original lane and have stuck to it. We haven't swayed with trends, etc - as streetwear is meant to be counter culture, as in the opposite of mainstream. It's funny to have watched the underground become mainstream, and watch the underground copy mainstream. It's still most important to be original and do things first.
Preach on. How have you kept it fresh, considering two or three years of a brand is actually a long haul these days!
I think it's because I have been doing this since I was a little kid, so I still have that excitement of doing this for all the right reasons, it becomes an extension of your personality, which can be a lot of fun. Also I've always been mixing music, fashion, and art - long before it was trendy.
Musically, it wasn't really until Gutter Music that we started hearing about LaCrate on a worldwide scale. Just how pivotal was the mixtape to your career?
I have been making mixtapes since I was like ten years old, so B-more Gutter was really 20 years worth of experiences, styles, and ideas, all rolled into one. On that release I was the artist, producer, DJ, designer, A&R, record label executive, and everything else in between. It was 100% my vision for the future of dance music, Baltimore, hip hop, etc. It was also the first worldwide major distributed Baltimore product that truly reinvented a 15-year-old genre, thus sparking a worldwide demand for club music. It's a classic and I'm very proud to have made it. That mix showcases just how talented I really am on many many levels as a creative power.
That talent goes way back too - you actually interned at Def Jam and Rocafella back in the day! We hear you even helped out on Jigga's Reasonable Doubt...
Yes, very few people actually know how far back I go in the music game. I interned at Roc A Fella while they were recording Reasonable Doubt. I was promoting the single with Jay and Foxy - another time in my life that I was ahead of the curve. Those were classic years in the music game. In the Summer of 1995, I was designing Milkcrate, interning at loads of other classic hip hop labels and DJing back and forth in NYC, Baltimore and DC. Funnily, I also interned at Payday when Jay Z's ‘In My Lifetime' came out - I've been around Jay Z since back when he was the under dog.
We assume then being born in Baltimore and living in NYC you had an incredible exposure to a crap load of sounds! You've said you were the link between the old BMore veteran heads and the new school NY kids that had ‘inadvertently' became part of the movement... How so?
Well, I was born in Baltimore and raised in Baltimore. I went to Syracuse University, which is a whole other story of how I took over that campus with music, however Milkcrate the brand really grew up in NYC. I was always on some next music, growing up with skating, punk rock, hip hop, DIY, dance music, street life - you see the common thread into what sparks dopeness. That's a quality you can only learn from experience.
Do you think the genre lost its way once electro blog music became the music de jour?
The genre only thrived due to the electro blog forum, it's gone mainstream now, which is where I've tried my best to push and guide it. As a kid, B-more Club was our local hip hop, so I've always tried to show that this is bigger than chat room arguments and nerdy politics -that shit will take the fun out of anything. Now B-More is Pop and that makes me happy. Let the kids argue about disco or dubstep now...
For sure!!! It seems a lot of high profile artists are looking to you to produce tracks. Can you tell us about some of those artists you're working with and how they approach you to come on board?
It's exciting - lots of major artists have been sniffing around lately. It seems that they have been hearing some really watered down B-More and therefore want the real thing from us. Artist like Dizzee Rascal actually have the balls to make a real B-More record with us. His single Road Rage is an example of the future of that rowdy, festival charged, big room club records we make. But we have officially remixed everyone from Madonna, Gorillaz, Lily Allen, Mark Ronson, Souljah Boy, Jim Jones, Busta Rhymes, to many others. We're still a bit ahead of the curve sonically, but we're having fun being the pioneers.
We had no idea you busted the ones and twos behind Dizzee as his official US tour DJ - how did you link up with the Dirtee Stank crew?
I remixed Pussyhole when Dizzee was on XL, and from there we hung out in NYC quite a lot. When it came time for him to break America we were quite good buddies, so they asked me to back up the Rascal. When we were touring Colorado, Dance With Me hit number one in the UK - that was quite cool to experience! And we just received our plaques for Road Rage, the first ever platinum B-more tune.
Big ups! Talk us through some of the crazy collabos you've done. I love the idea of the double collabo (music and clothing rolled into one!)
The official Jay Z x Fade To Black x Milkcrate is a crazy one, Milkcred - the first and best official Justice x Edbanger x Milkcrate t-shirt also defined an era in pop culture. We worked with Mark Ronson on his first CD t-shirt - The Mark Ronson Review, and Lily Allen's first USA tour t-shirt. These were all really special times for Milkcrate and pop culture as a whole. Also there's a video that just popped up of Gorillaz recording Demon Days in the studio wearing Milkcrate most of the time. It's amazing that these musical geniuses were inspired by my designs, and brand while they were recording Grammy-award winning music. That's just as legit as you can get from combining music, fashion and art.
That's what we call magic. And you copped your very own Vans as well - I hear you knew the right person to make that come to life, hey!!! Did you end up selling them at retail?
We sold a few one-offs, but that project was so amazing. Lucien Pellat-finet and Vans are creative heavy weights, so for them to add Milkcrate and Aaron LaCrate as equals in a collabo was just huge. Vans are very picky over who they collabo with.
Well, you're an incredible networker... it must spring from the DIY era we all grew up with in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. Is it fair to say that makes up a chunk of your success?
Hahah, I think if I was a better networker this interview would have happened a long time ago! I'm actually quite underground, and don't know most people. I am a creative force and the right people recognize that and want to work with me. Game peeps game and all that. If you don't have any game you probably can't comprehend how real this all is.
So what's next for LaCrate and Milkcrate?
Hopefully hanging with you in Australia homegirl ☺