The track that created a superstar.
The lyrics to "Ghetto Kraviz," the most popular tune from one of dance music's leading artists, have been misunderstood from the moment they landed on vinyl. Recorded in Moscow in 2011, "Ghetto Kraviz" is a genuine house anthem, but it's still sung back to Nina Kraviz by crowds incorrectly eight years after its release. Released on Rekids in advance of Kraviz's 2012 debut album, "Ghetto Kraviz" was a breakout moment for an exciting artist whose profile had been rising for years, boosted by raw, jacking DJ sets and lean, vocal-laced deep house.
Following a string of long, loopy tunes—DJ tools with live vocals—"Ghetto Kraviz" was Kraviz's first "song," running for less than four minutes with a loose verse-chorus structure. "I was actually working on a remix," Kraviz recently told me over the phone from Moscow. "The remix wasn't going anywhere. I was playing with some loops and recorded a quick vocal. You know when you're not bored, but stuck a little bit, and you just want to give some energy to make your blood run faster? So I forgot about the remix."
Improvised vocals have become Kraviz's (much-copied) trademark. There's never a plan, she just picks up a microphone and hits record, sometimes chopping what she records, sometimes leaving the recordings as monologues. This method is inspired by the sound of ghetto house and its leading label, Dance Mania, where simple, swinging beats are peppered with off-the-cuff vocals. Those tracks, without much build up or down, were often little more than drums and a bassline, with vocals or tiny synth snippets to colour the groove. But the grooves were so good that they didn't need anything else, which also goes for Kraviz's best tunes, including "Ghetto Kraviz."
"Those criminally simple tracks from Dance Mania grabbed my attention immediately," she said. "Some records would be nicely recorded, but others were such poor quality that the recording was almost like it was unfinished. But I love this part of it, this home-cooked idea. You have an idea, you switch on your mic, record it—bam. That's exactly how I want to work."
"Ghetto Kraviz" was the latest in a string of Kraviz tracks in that Dance Mania-inspired mould, following smooth, rolling tools like 2009's "Pain In The Ass" and 2010's "Zlobnii Mikrob." She'd released songs with themed lyrics before (2009's "I'm Gonna Get You"), but something about the abstract, hard-to-place sound of "Ghetto Kraviz" gave it extra appeal. The original lyrics, which were edited beyond recognition, reflected on the end of summer.
Summer's gone, I have come home
Summer's gone, I have come home
Spring-ding down the stroke
Do you need else what?
Do you need?
The explanation for those lyrics is simple. "I looked outside and realised that summer was already over," Kraviz recalled. "Some people write their lyrics, but I don't work this way. If the inspiration is there in the moment, I just receive some kind of lyrics in my head."
"It's a very dirty recording," she continued. "Not a properly recorded voice. It's against the science of recording vocals—everything is wrong about it. I was just chopping, playing for fun until I realised that I liked it. Everyone who goes to the concerts goes, 'Ghetto, ghetto, ghetto.' They think that 'have come' is ghetto."
The song-like structure made "Ghetto Kraviz" easier to sing along to than Kraviz's earlier tracks, which were essentially monologues over smooth house grooves. Plenty about "Ghetto Kraviz," thanks to the subtle breakdowns and the ethereal effects on the vocals, is catchy, more so than any previous Kraviz track. But it was also great on the dance floor, thanks to its slinky percussion and blunt, stuttering bassline, a sparse production style that be traced back to its originators in the US.
"Whenever I'm making music, Dance Mania is always in the back of my mind," Kraviz said. "You know when some people make music, they're more Detroit or Chicago. I was always Chicago."
The reaction to "Ghetto Kraviz" was mixed. Fans already on board with tracks like "I'm Gonna Get You" and "I'm Week," deeper tunes with a focus on vocals, found plenty to like about "Ghetto Kraviz," which broke away from the dominating house template even further. But those who favoured Kraviz's more functional, traditional tracks were confused. "It was polarising," Kraviz said. "It's always been like that for me. It was very difficult for me to be myself, because no one knew what to expect. Some people found my song structures too poppy, and some people absolutely loved it."
Kraviz is currently among dance music's busiest DJs. Where she was playing a few times a month around the time she made "Ghetto Kraviz," she now seems to play a few times every weekend. The increase came with the release of her self-titled album in 2012, for which "Ghetto Kraviz," accompanied by a video shot in Berlin, was a the lead single. Kraviz was soon booked by every club that mattered. Eight years later, she has the gruelling travel schedule that comes with being a superstar DJ. It makes the scattered gigs of 2011 feel like a long time ago.
"I'm happy where I am now," Kraviz said as we wrapped up the call. "And I was also happy at that time. That time was different, and I was different a person. I didn't know shit. I never had a strategy, I just loved music."