DJ Dave Craker is unapologetic for marching to the beat of his own drum, or to be more precise, turntable.
Hip hop has been a constant in Dave’s life for as long as he can remember, taking him to exhilarating heights and helping him make sense of his darkest moments.
Now, through his business, Knowledge Tree HipHop, Dave is sharing his talent to empower others, often at a time when they need it most.
Dave, aka DJ Lotek1200, says like many young people struggling to find their identity and place, he found his niche in hip hop through iconic 80s artists like Run-D.M.C, Public Enemy and Beastie Boys.
“Instead of playing sport at lunchtime at Nuriootpa Primary School, we were playing music in the courtyard on stereos we had snuck into our bags,” he recalls.
“Being young, none of the lyrical content had sunk in, it was just the sound of it. It was an individual form of expression and different to anything we were hearing on the radio.
“That was probably a turning point, when I realised it was more than a passing fad or just another form of music.”
Track 4 youth centre at Nuriootpa Train Station became Dave’s second home, providing a hangout to hone skills and be mentored by emerging artists, something Dave would love to see resurrected in the Barossa.
“That’s where I discovered DJing,” he says. “A guy called Chris had these speakers and a turntable and he was playing the music I liked. I became best mates with him and through a joint interest in skating and music, he taught me how to mix.
“And that was it – I was addicted. If you ask me, ‘what would you be doing otherwise?’ I don’t have an answer.”
It has led to many amazing achievements for Dave, including 2006 winner of the Hilltop Hoods upcoming artist award, Fresh FM DJ and co-host alongside DJ Sanchez and the opportunity to share a stage with international artists Grandmaster Flash, Naughty by Nature and Ice Cube.
However, Dave says it’s regrettable that hip hop was largely discredited by mainstream media emanating from the United States, which perpetuated misconceptions about the genre and what it represents.
“A lot of it was what we call conscious hip hop. From the outside, people thought it was gangster rap (advocating) misogyny, violence and drug-taking,” explains Dave.
“In truth they were making the world aware of what was going on around them as a result of over-policing and poor government policy, which was leading to terrible lives for so many. They were standing up and telling the world, ‘We’re not okay with it’.
“It’s one of the very few genres that still stands by that and has the courage to say the things everyone thinks but is fearful of saying; it’s nothing to do with glorying risky behaviours.”
The hip hop sub-culture that resonates with Dave couldn’t be further from the themes of oppression and subjugation.
“Hip hop is all about empowering kids and giving them positive adult role models,” says Dave.
“Real hip hop is having the courage to be who you are, having the courage to speak the truth and being socially responsible.”
Through Knowledge Tree HipHop, Dave is taking this message to schools and communities across South Australia, and his goal is to take it nationwide as a teacher and mentor.
What initially began as DJ lessons, has diversified into the subcultures of MCing, graffiti writing and breakdancing.
“That’s how I look at hip hop – all four can exist on their own but to truly play the game you need them all together,” he says.
“When I speak to school principals, I refer to us as a multi-arts organisation.
“Once I explain what we’re about and its educational value encompassing music, history, science, technology, psychology, language, art and design, we can have the conversation and they are fascinated.”
Dave says the evidence that hip hop is life-changing is overwhelming, especially in the lives of young people who are disengaged or disadvantaged.
“A lot of it is pushed under the rug because it detracts from the image of the Barossa as an affluent tourism destination,” says Dave.
“But the disconnected kids, the ones who are not socially engaged, a lot of them come from a place of family violence, drug abuse or alcohol abuse.
“One young kid, his home group teacher had not heard him utter a word all year, and I was teaching him DJing. I showed him something not one single kid could do and it gave him that sense of personal pride, a sense of achievement right away. That feeling of purpose was hugely, hugely empowering.
“That was when the penny dropped and we realised this has real life value.
“Quite a bit of what we do doesn’t make any money, but I’d do it every day of my life.”
The transformational power of hip hop isn’t foreign to Dave, in fact, he says it “saved my life”.
“In 2012, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma; there was an 11-centimetre tumour between my lung and my heart. The goal was no longer a cure, it was to make me comfortable,” says Dave.
While it’s not easy for him to revisit the memories of his cancer diagnosis, Dave found solace in the international hip hop awareness movement Universal Zulu Nation, which helped him find positivity in the face of crisis and gave him renewed purpose.
During his treatment, not only did Dave co-found a clothing line that went global, his brand 61 Zulu Wear was worn publicly by the leader of the movement, Afrika Bambaataa.
“The satisfaction that came from our little brand produced here in Nuriootpa being worn by the forefather of hip hop – that feeling of empowerment was unbelievable,” says Dave.
“I think if I can offer just one single person something like that, that’s an absolute win and my purpose in life.”