In Memoriam: DJ Rashad We pay tribute to the footwork legend with words and a mix

My heart hurts. I can barely get myself to type this out, because over the weekend, one of my personal music heroes died. DJ Rashad departed just as he was on a seemingly never-ending international upswing, having risen from a decade-plus of DJing, dancing, and producing in South Chicago to suddenly becoming the de facto ambassador of footwork, not only helping to bring footwork and juke to global attention, but mutating them, building on them to form his own unique iteration. And it was indeed an iteration: Rashad wasn’t a purist. He didn’t “invent” footwork, nor was he the first to popularize it. But his version of footwork somehow managed to worm its way above all other promising producers to become its quintessential sound — Jack’s groove remade and reborn, weirder yet appropriately grounded in the flesh, tailor-made to who was listening at the moment. His house was our house.

I found out about Rashad’s death by reading it on this here website, after a message from our news editor Squeo. Shock seemed to be the most appropriate response, because his death was incredibly surreal, so seemingly random and unfair and frustrating and disappointing and sad. A lot of people began texting and messaging me, as if a personal family member had died. It was sweet, but I didn’t really have any words, and when I did talk about how I felt, it didn’t feel sincere. It felt like I was going through the motions, faking it as a way to try to move past the shock. But the next morning, the grief — triggered after my wife said “Sorry about DJ Rashad” — was simply overwhelming, years of passionately including Rashad in my life now being expressed over the sink, eyes bloodshot, tears flowing for someone who I had never spoken to in real life. Why didn’t I cry this hard for some of my relatives? Dealing with death is an iterative process too, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the physical sensation of an all-encompassing, full-bodied cry.

We shouldn’t need affirmation or closure when it comes to DJ Rashad, because his music was always on the move, thriving on its openness to hybridization and collaboration.

Like a lot of people out there, I first heard footwork after Planet Mu’s releases back in 2010. And also like a lot of people out there, it absolutely changed how I thought: about dance music, about “microgenres,” about bullshit terms like “originality,” about regional scenes and their implications on a hyper-accelerated, information-driven internet economy. It also changed how I thought about time, how easily it can be fucked with as a way to create new possibilities, new spaces for artistic expression: the skittering hi-hat forged into a tool for battle, vocals democratized through pitch-shifted, aggressively-cut samples; triplet bass thuds becoming rallying cries for the disenchanted dancers whose showmanship of power and innovation would often transcend the on-the-ground politics and violence, a sublimation that reached its most beautiful contours in the impossible shapes evoked by the jagged yet sensual aesthetics of footwork music, as well as the incredible dancing that not only came with it, but originally informed it.

By the time I heard DJ Rashad’s Just a Taste in late 2010 and Grace in 2011, I knew what had changed in me had become more than just a passing interest, more than just a fetishistic, voyeuristic peering into the footwork battles in underground Chicago via the distorted, blown-out, granular videos on YouTube. Because everything else changed by then too, including the definition of footwork. Suddenly it had become a “thing,” reified and packaged into an easily transmissible form of cultural exchange. The dance slowly became divorced from the sound to those outside of the circle, and the sound itself became a mutant hybrid whose rare claims to authenticity felt like regressive territorial pissing. Footwork was unleashed to the omnivorous culture vultures, and there was no turning back. By the time Rashad made it his mission in 2012 to ensure footwork’s legacy didn’t whittle down to a few random LPs and a comp or two — which resulted, among other things, in TEKLIFE Vol. 1: Welcome to the Chi on Lit City Trax (a label he helped form) and the proliferation of the Teklife sensibility — footwork’s sound kept changing, and its definition with it too.

DJ Rashad (photo by Ashes57)

To have an interest in footwork in 2010 and 2011 meant simply to listen to it through a small handful of releases and venues like YouTube, SoundCloud, and Bandcamp. But to have an interest in footwork in 2014 actually means less than it did before, because the sound has infected electronic dance in such a deep-rooted, indelible way that its reach has become not only uprooted from geography, but past the point of specificity. This is why even though Rashad won’t be producing anymore, the sound he helped kick start, the sound he helped shove into the international spotlight with and through his trusty MPC and CDJs, has become embedded into electronic music (sometimes literally copy/pasted into DAW software), heard everywhere from the deepest SoundCloud stream to the sponsored main-stage at an electronic music fest. We may someday get to hear new material from Rashad through compilations, unreleased projects, or what have you (at one point, he was producing 5 or 6 tracks a day), but that’s not what will affirm his legacy nor will it be the aesthetic closure designed to cement his stature in dance music history. We shouldn’t need affirmation or closure when it comes to DJ Rashad, because his music was always on the move, thriving on its openness to hybridization and collaboration. In other words, if we want to hear “new” Rashad in the future, all we have to do is keep listening to new electronic dance music.

It has been TMT’s absolute honor to follow DJ Rashad’s beautiful, yet unlikely penetration into widespread recognition. RIP DJ Rashad. #TeklifeForever

As a tribute, I made a mix of tracks by DJ Rashad. After choosing over 30 of my favorites, I let the songs sorta organically determine its own order, with a mission of making it a bit economical at just over 30 minutes. This inadvertently resulted in no tracks from his more well-known releases — Double Cup (Hyperdub, 2013), Welcome to the Chi (Lit City Trax, 2012), etc. — and it has very little of the juke-flavored tracks that originally gave him his name in Chicago. Which is to say: these tracks are neither the “best” nor intended to represent the entirety of DJ Rashad’s deep and diverse output, but I passionately love each one and think it’d benefit us all to mourn over his passing with our speakers on the verge of blowing out.

[00:00] DJ Rashad - “From The Start”
[03:13] DJ Rashad - “Drop Juke Out”
[05:14] DJ Rashad - “R House” (with DJ Manny)
[09:15] DJ Rashad - “We Run It”
[12:26] DJ Rashad - “The Letter S”
[16:24] DJ Rashad - “Roy Ayers Show”
[17:39] DJ Rashad - “Iiiiiii Hiiiiiiii”
[21:51] DJ Rashad - “Somethin”
[23:17] DJ Rashad - “Madnezz 2010”
[23:41] DJ Rashad - “Betta My Space”
[25:23] DJ Rashad - “Do It Again”
[26:35] DJ Rashad - “I Can Feel It”
[29:47] DJ Rashad - “Love U Found”

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