DJ Rashad: A Tribute To The Footwork Pioneer

We lost one of the greats this
week. Rashad Hanif Harden, who produced and performed under the name DJ Rashad,
passed away at only 34 years old last Saturday in Chicago’s Lower West Side. 

To put it lightly, DJ Rashad was a
legend. Beginning with his entry into the scene as a dancer in seventh grade, he
played an instrumental role in pushing the Chicago ghetto house sound toward juke and then footwork. Rashad was at the height of his powers and still in
the process of securing his otherworldly legacy.

But I understand TSL is not the venue and I
am not the voice for properly commemorating his life. For that, you should turn
to the statement from his representatives at Hyperdub, the memorial posts
coming from journalists and musicians alike, and the overwhelming outpouring of
sentiment that occurred on Twitter shortly after the news broke.

Instead, I want to communicate
something that could be meaningful to both those who knew about his passing as
soon as it happened and those who had never heard the term “footwork” until
now: Rashad’s legacy will carry on, bright and beautiful.

Despite his position as the most
prominent footwork producer in the game, his friends and peers will continue to
carry the torch into new, exploratory spaces. Here, I’ll try to give you a sense
of who those people are.

For those who are still unsure of the sound in question, Rashad’s
“Let It Go” isn’t a bad place to start. Starting out as a genre consisting of sped-up
house records, footwork eventually evolved into a rough, battle-oriented take on
the Chicago juke sound by injecting complex grooves and hip-hop sensibilities.
Usually 150-160 beats per minute (bpm), it’s an intense genre based on rough drums and frenetic
sampling, as much about the dance culture that surrounds it as the music itself.

The
particular style of footwork has been around for more than a decade now, but it
was in the past five years that its influence properly seeped into the world of
UK dubstep, techno, and jungle, resulting in the notable, seminal Bangs & Works compilations from
Planet Mu.

Last year, DJ Rashad released two
EPs and a full-length, Double Cup, on
Hyperdub, the landmark UK label responsible for releases from people like
Burial, Darkstar, and Ikonika. The three releases properly cemented footwork’s
current prominence within electronic music.

Further, Double Cup’s collaborative nature should be your introduction to
Teklife, the (mostly) Chicago-based collective that Rashad founded with DJs
Spinn, Manny, and Gant-Man. The group—at this point composed of so many
members that their site doesn’t even update the roster—drops vital releases constantly. If you Googled their name
and were immediately intimidated by the amount of material, just start with the
three Teklife volumes from Spinn,
Traxman, and Rashad himself.

Some other recent Teklife victories
have included Brooklynite Lil Jabba’s Scales
from last year, which drags the sound in a more playful direction, and
Taso’s Teklife Til Tha Next Life Vol. 1
mixtape from March, which featured collaborations with Rashad, Spinn, and
Manny.

Teklife’s sound in recent years has
tended toward the HD, the rich, and the hypnotic, which has been picked up on
in the dreamy arrangements of guys like Ital Tek and Machinedrum. Thug
Entrancer, a recent signing to Daniel Lopatin’s Software label, has worked at
deconstructing that sound into a disquieting mess on his Death After Life, and Vtgnike, a Russian producer, dropped a quirky
LP called Dubna on Nicolas Jaar’s new
imprint a couple months ago.

On the other side of things is the
other half of the proper Chicago sound: the messy, minimal, ragged stuff that
wants nothing more than to bash your goddamn head in. RP Boo has long been the
biggest proponent of such a sound. Just check out his Legacy full-length from last year, a genuinely terrifying,
paranoid record fit for proper dance battles.

Similarly, EQ Why, part of Boo’s
D’Dynamic group, makes tracks that bang, pure and simple. His Chitokyo mixtape from the very end of
last year is a solid introduction to the weird side of footwork, the one that
throws vocal samples at themselves so quickly that they sound like they’re puking
all over each other.

And speaking of Chitokyo, that name actually isn’t a
joke. In the past year or two, Japan has turned out to be the most fertile ground
for lo-fi destroyers other than the sound’s birthplace. Paisley Parks, for
example, turn samples like “Bitch love dis kush” into colliding war tracks. The
comically named Satanicpornocultshop and Foodman have also been working in a
similar axis.

In short, if you got nothing out of
this than a bunch of artist names, know that this sound isn’t going anywhere
anytime soon. Rashad helped push dance music back up into the 160-bpm range,
and, along with the resurgence of interest in jungle in the past few years,
it’s proven to be artistically worthwhile all over the world. A true legend,
his absence will be felt for a long time.

Rest in peace, DJ Rashad.

Gage Taylor PO ’16 is majoring in media studies and philosophy. He is the electronic music director for the 5C radio station KSPC.

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