DJ Rashad: Interview
“[Footwork]’s still growing, but it still hasn’t grown outside the same box that it’s been in for the last five years, as far as a Chicago underground culture.”
Rashad Harden, a.k.a. footwork godhead DJ Rashad, is a man of surprisingly few words for a mind so fraught with sonic irregularity. He might not be the most veteran footwork DJ (that would have to be RP Boo) or the most batshit (there are lots of people in the running for that title), but it’s become increasingly clear since TEKLIFE Vol. 1: Welcome To The Chi changed the game that, flanked by his longtime partner-in-crime DJ Spinn, Rashad is among the kings of footwork and juke — as both hometown bastion and ambassador abroad. Welcome To The Chi was a huge landmark for what was until then a more or less underground scene, in one bold stroke defining footwork for a new international audience and pushing it to its breaking point.
One year later, footwork has broken. Its influence is worldwide, its imitators many, and its Chitown originators hustling to keep up with the change. But as Rashad preps for the release of his second proper full-length, Double Cup, due October 22 on UK tastemaker Hyperdub, his demeanor is nothing if not calm and collected. When I recently caught up with Rashad and Spinn over Skype, they were holed up in a London studio with enough kush and radiant positivity to endure a long day of interviews.
So, you guys are London right now. I know you have a lot of connections there with Hyperdub being headquartered in London, plus you shot the music video for “I Don’t Give A Fuck” there. What draws you to London, musically and otherwise?
DJ Rashad: London? Man… well, for one, it’s multicultural. Everyone is here.
DJ Spinn: Man, it’s a big music scene out here basically, and it’s a small area. There’s lots of different shit happening in one place.
R: Plus, this is where we’re headquartered when we’re on tour in Europe. When we’re off, we’re here — that’s how it’s been since we started touring.
Speaking of the UK, there’s been some talk in the music press lately about this affinity that seems to be emerging between the Chicago juke style and the UK jungle sound. What’s your take on this idea? What do you see as similar about the styles and what’s different?
R: Well, definitely, of course, the beats per minutes is pretty much completely the same. Maybe some jungle is a little bit faster, like 170, 180 bpm, but it’s a similar tempo. Coming up, we were never really fully educated on drum ‘n’ bass or jungle, but back in the 90s, they were definitely sampling some of the same shit we’re sampling [when when we make juke and footwork]. We’d never even heard most of this stuff until recently — maybe a couple years ago — and we were like, “Wow, they’re sampling the same shit we are.” It’s cool, man.
S: It made us understand why the jungle kids like our vibe, man.
Sometimes all niggas are talking about is killing people, fucking, smoking weed, and doing drugs, so that’s what the music is gonna talk about. They’ve just got their own perspective to it, you know?
It’s like two different groups of people in different places at different times having similar ideas.
R: Definitely, man, shit is awesome. And to top it off, a lot of people out here [in Europe] have been doing footwork-style tracks, so we’ve been showing love back and mixing in jungle shit, breakbeats and whatnot. Just switching it up, you know?
I wanted to ask you about what it was like growing up in a city like Chicago, where even prior to the house music scene there’s such a rich musical history. What kind of stuff did you hear growing up that inspired you?
R: Oh, man. It would have to be… shit. [Laughs] It was just, like, everything in Chicago.
S: When we were coming up, it was the end of the MTV generation, so we used to see all kinds of music videos when we were kids. Real talk, we must’ve been like four years old when Run DMC came on.
R: Fuck yeah.
S: All that shit, man. Then from listening to that style of music, going into more pop music in the 90s and then house music, it gave us a whole lot of different influences.
R: A lot of jazz, and fucking R&B shit, too. And really house, man. That was all that was on the radio back in the day.
Do you remember a specific moment — hearing a particular song or an artist maybe — when you knew you wanted to be a DJ? Or was it more of a gradual thing?
R: Yeah, a couple songs, actually. A lot of the songs we didn’t know the name of at the time, but there was “Magic Feet” by Mike Dunn — that was like an anthem in the house scene. Then there was the “Percolator,” of course.
S: Just tracks, man.
R: Yeah, just tracks. We didn’t know the name of ‘em until we went to the record stores and found out. Shit, who else? DJ Deeon, he had so many songs. Paul Johnson, Lil Louis’s “French Kiss.” That was the kind of shit that inspired me — like, “Damn, I want to make this shit.”
When you first started out, do you think you were more trying to imitate the style or did you always have an idea to do something different with it?
R: No… [Laughs] Probably imitate the style [Laughs]. That’s how you start out, though. At first you want to sound just like [your influences] — but there’s more to it than just that. You kind of pick up what you need and put your own shit into it. That’s what’s fun about it, because you get to do it your own way.
When you guys were involved in the Chicago house music scene, there was hip-hop going on in Chicago too, right?
R: Oh, hell yeah.
What’s some of the Chicago hip-hop shit you were feeling back then?
R: Oh, man. Psychodrama…
R: There was a lot of cats back then, man. Snypaz, we were definitely about that shit [Laughs].
You can definitely hear the hip-hop influence in footwork, in the rhythms and the samples, plus the whole attitude.
R: Yeah, I mean, back in 97, 98, that [hip-hop] shit was huge. Hip-hop was good.
S: And we were always listening to the hometown cats.
Do you think the rap scene has changed a lot since then?
R: Hell yeah. [Laughs] In Chicago, or elsewhere?
In Chicago specifically, what do you think about the rap scene currently?
R: Well, I fuck with it. You know I’m from Chicago, man. I like it. Some people might find it offensive, but it’s fucking rap music, you know what I mean? [Laughs] We support it, it’s good music.
I follow a lot of people involved with Chicago footwork on various social media, and sometimes I see them saying negative stuff about the Chicago rap scene, saying that it’s ignorant or stupid.
R: Like I said, man, it’s rap music. That’s what rap music is about. Sometimes all niggas are talking about is killing people, fucking, smoking weed, and doing drugs, so that’s what the music is gonna talk about. They’ve just got their own perspective to it, you know?
S: Can’t knock ‘em for that, man.
R: It’s real music. At the end of the day, they’re talking about some real shit.
Do you two personally feel that you still have a close connection to the violence in Chicago that’s been so prominent lately, or do you feel more removed from it now?
R: Well, I can be honest with you. Due to us, like, moving around a lot and being on tour — nah. But if I was in Chicago — yes. But there’s ways around that shit.
S: Yeah, you gotta know how to move around.
R: Depends if you wanna be around it or not, know what I mean? [Laughs] But I can relate to it, too. Definitely.
Would you guys ever think about doing a footwork-style edit of a drill track? Maybe a King Louie track or something like that?