Watch Closely: Daniel Crawford

Most great artists have a “signature” something – a feel, a look, a flow, a sound- a special thing you sometimes can’t describe, but almost always recognize. Sometimes it’s just a “gift” they’ve been blessed with, but often in concert with that “gift” the signature has been developed through committed practice and time honed experience. Examples of this are all over the artistic landscape – throughout all its disciplines.

In the role of music producer, particularly in R&B, Soul and Hip-Hop over the years, that “signature” sound has become one of the most sought after commodities in the music game. Think Kashif, Teddy Riley, Babyface, Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, Raphael Saadiq, Pharrell/Neptunes or J Dilla to name only a few. Daniel Crawford, a fast rising and crazy talented producer, songwriter and keyboard extraordinaire, is one of those with that special quality that has his name on it – always a splendid concoction of infectious grooves, funkiness, lush climatic arrangements, infused with the sounds of his musical influences including Soul, Jazz, R&B, and Hip-Hip – beautifully and dexterously crafted.

Like the aforementioned producers, his palette is eclectic – his experience vast and ability, is off the charts. But there is also one other key element Crawford shares with those elite as well as others he grew up listening to and admires today – musicality. “No matter what type of vibe that you’re going for or what kind of genre that it might be, the musicality of it is the thing that has always caught my attention. Even from being a kid and hearing certain things and not even fully understanding what it was catching me,” says Crawford. “But then the older I got and listening back, the common thing is just the musicality of it.”

It’s undoubtedly what many have heard from the LA native in the mixtape and remix jewels he’s dropped over the years including his fantastic J Dilla tribute series as well as in the few full-length projects imagehe’s released, Red Pill and The Awakening. Amongst those many captured enthusiasts are the artists and musicians who are increasingly tapping Crawford for use of his obvious talent and sound. Artists like Amp Fiddler, Aloe Blacc, Vikter Duplaix, Osunlade, Raphael Saadiq, and many more. He even had an opportunity to work with the imagelegendary Maurice White, architect of one of the greatest bands in the history of music, Earth, Wind and Fire. “That was a surreal thing as far as being able to pick his brain about the way they use to record stuff and what were some of their influences. That was one pretty surreal moment,” says Crawford

That list also includes acclaimed, and uber-talented, singer/songwriter, Eric Roberson who’s beautiful, just released EP, EARTH, showcases Crawford on production duty. Crawford also supplied one of the many standout tracks, “Something” on the duet record Tigallerro from Roberson and A-list rapper/singer imageof both hip-hop clique, Little Brother and eclectic soul group, The Foreign Exchange, Phonte. And then there is his work with the highly venerated producer and turntable whiz DJ Jazzy Jeff who enlisted him to be amongst a hand-picked squad of top-notch musicians, producers, and vocalists (including Roberson) brought together as the PLAYlist collective to create the phenomenal project, Chasing Goosebumps that was unbelievably produced in a week. “That experience was life changing,” says Crawford of the project. “And this is something I can very often imagesay whenever I do something that Jeff puts together or is involved with. It’s crazy. We were there, but also, it was sort of like an out of body experience type of thing. Because once everything’s was actually done, and the album was streamed on [Jazzy Jeff’s Facebook] page, and we started listening and we saw the pictures, that’s when everything just started to sink in. Like wow! We really just did this!” He then humbly admits, “Even now when I listen to the album, and I’ve spoken to others involved with the project, you listen to album and its almost as if you didn’t have anything to do with it. Like completely being able to listen to it as a fan, that didn’t even help create it. Because of just how everything happened. It was like a spiritual moment, man!”

Crawford has been doing this for a minute, professionally since thirteen in fact. His father, himself a multi-instrumentalist who played professionally with a Gospel group for years and even now plays in a band the younger Crawford has had for twenty years called the Wylde Bunch, was certainly a major influence. Between Crawford listening to his dad play, having a spot designated as the “music room” in the house that was filled with instruments at he and his siblings disposal, and the vast soundtrack of artists being played throughout Crawford’s young years, he was bound to at very least adopt an appreciation for music. But it was recognized quite early that he had possessed more than an appreciation – He had a natural born gift.

“I started playing when I was around five or six years old and I played by ear starting out,” recalls Crawford. That realization came when on what he fondly remembers was a blue and yellow Fisher Price keyboard he received for Christmas, he worked out the parts of a song his father wrote that was played at church for the children’s choir to march in on. “One morning I was in the [music room], I was sitting Indian- style and I had the keyboard on my lap. So then I started figuring out how to play the song by myself. My parents got up and started saying, who’s that in there playing? And then they walk in and I’m in there on the ground, playing the song.”

From that point on his talent was obvious, so much so that he recalls when just in elementary school the music teacher saw enough in him to not only hone that talent and furnish him with great encouragement, but to also make quite a prophetic statement. “His name was Mr. Marshall and he said, ‘You need to take care of your hands because your hands are how you’re going to make your money.’” That predication was indeed something he could literally take to the bank.

Even though Crawford is firmly in place as a sought after producer, songwriter and musician he is savvy enough to know that growth and development is ongoing. It’s in part what’s key to solidifying that signature sound. Other things that are key to that continued growth? “Being surrounded by like-minded individuals that you can learn from and keep you humble,” he declares. “Also, everything that I do whether it’s playing or producing, I base everything on feel. Feel is the most important thing for me because it has to feel good. And if it doesn’t feel good, then we’re not doing it right or I’m not doing it right.”

Needless to say, he is indeed doing everything right.

Bert Caldwell

Look out for a new project from Daniel Crawford coming soon, but in the meantime go here to check out his popular remixes, mix tapes and projects.

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