Image via: Will Glaspiegel
RP Boo, real name Kavain Space, is one of the most fascinating forces behind the birth and emergence of the current Chicago footwork scene.
His name is an abbreviation of his full title – “Record Player Boo”. Kavain cut his teeth as a member of the House-O-Matics dance crew, and later gravitated towards DJing and eventually, production, inspired by his contemporaries DJ Deeon, DJ Slugo, and the circle of artists who orbited the legendary Dance Mania label. His tracks may sound familiar, even if you’ve never known who actually produced them – the fractured drum patterns, and distinctive use of his own voice to punctuate the rhythms, project a uniquely disorientating and beguiling space between the speakers. This is music built for intense dance battles, music that grew out of a creative environment fraught with fierce competition.
It’s fortunate, and perhaps even miraculous, that a collection of his work, entitled Legacy, is finally seeing the light of day due to the persistence of Mike Paradinas and Planet Mu records. The compilation collates a decade’s worth of Boo beats, and will be the first time his music has been correctly titled, mastered and pressed on vinyl in this way, which should give you some idea of just how murky the waters of the industry are in his hometown. Boo’s tale is simultaneously saddening and inspiring by turns, and contains a valuable lesson for us all – his sheer love of music has powered him through countless pitfalls and challenges, and all these years later, he’s still as energized by footwork music as the day he bought his first drum machine.
The first time I heard about you – and I think many others found out the same way – was the Dude On 59th Street mixtape. The track “What Have You Done” caught my ear immediately, I’d heard it on a few footwork videos on YouTube, which didn’t have any credits for the music.
I didn’t expect that to go so far. It did way better than expected – I just made the mix, and a guy gave me the actual title of it, cause he knew I worked at 59th Street, he saw me at the parade like, “hey, dude on 59th Street! I know you”. So I decided right there that was my next title. That tape is a mix tape, the track you mention isn’t by me, it’s by DJ Solo – and since you mention it, this is an issue we have right here. We would make tracks and share them with each other, but only certain DJs would have the means to actually manufacture mixtapes or CDs. DJs would take your mix and put their name to it, change all the titles in the playlist. People buying the CD wouldn’t know who actually made the songs, they would think it was the person whose name was on the cover. That went on for years, so many years that no one really knew who made the tracks in the first place. When Mike Paradinas spoke to me about that tape and asked about ‘What Have You Done’, I complimented the track and told him it was by DJ Solo, and that track made it to the Planet Mu compilation, Bangs And Works Vol 2.
How did you get into DJing in the first place?
I used to listen to the radio, back then certain DJs, like Farley Jackmaster Funk, were often on the radio, I admired the music. And years later, once I understood how it was done, years later I was like, “I wanna be a DJ”. After I got out of high school I started to buy my own equipment. That was just stage one.
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Did you start out playing house music?
Yes, it was house. I saw it as house, I didn’t understand it as disco, the first kind of “mixed music” I heard was house music. The first time I heard what I would consider house was 1981, my uncle and aunt, they were heavily into all types of music, from rock’n’roll to R’n’B to country. When I went round their house they would play this music that was constantly mixed, every weekend we would listen to this music together on the radio, in ’81.
But 1981 is far too early for what we would call “house” today, surely?
Well yes but no, at the same time. It was stuff like Kraftwerk.. I went to parties at my cousin’s house years later, not knowing that Kraftwerk would be what they would be mixing… Prince, there were certain songs that Prince wrote that would often be played in house mixes. And then a lot of stuff from New York – but of course at that time I didn’t know it was from there! Afrika Bambaataa, Prince, The Time… I remember going to a party in the mid 90s, hearing ‘When Doves Cry’ and it all clicked for me. All these things that were later considered house music, it was purely about rhythm! Just about any kind of music can be played as house.
It’s interesting that you say that about the idea of genre – when I hear your music, it reminds me of free jazz like Ornette Coleman or Sun Ra, the way your drums are all freeform and chaotic.
Wow, I mean I would never compare my music in that way, or try to understand my music in that way. I just wanted it to sound different, and it happened. It takes other people to just, give me a tap on my shoulder, and be like “do you know what you just did?” “No!” “Well whatever you are doing, just keep on doing it”. I can’t stop to think about what I’m doing, but I know what I’m doing is catching peoples’ ears. What I like to do is tell the story of what I’m feeling at that moment.
Tell me about the drum machine you use, the Roland R70. There’s a sort of mythology about the relationship between you and this machine, it seems that you’ve mastered it in the same way that a jazz musician masters their instrument.
The R70? The story with that goes – I was out this one time, with DJ Slugo, we went to his house, with the dance group I was with at the time, the House-O-Matics, we went to get a performance tape made. I finally got to see something in production that he was doing, he had a Roland R70, and he had a Gemini mixer / sampler, and he had some other foreign objects that he used for his samples. So I looked at the drum machine and I was like “Damn, that’s real nice, where did you get that?”. He said, “Go to the Guitar Centre and ask them for one.” At that time, Paul Johnson was using the R70, DJ Milton, DJ Deeon, at that moment, a lot of the Dance Mania artists were using it. So I go to Guitar Centre in Chicago, and when I got there the only one they had left was the display model. The guy behind the counter said, “If you really want that one you can have it for 500 dollars”. So they put it in a box, no owners manual or nothing, I took it home. I didn’t know it, but the sounds that were programmed in there weren’t the original sounds! So the sounds I was using came from multiple different DJs, producers, who had all used this one in the store. I took what was inside the machine already and gave it my own twist.
So the distinctive 808 sounds you use on “Legacy” were all in there?
Those sounds were in there, but the tempo settings were all messed up, the audio was edited multiple different ways. The R70 can take sounds and tweak them, you can go right in and change so many things about them. Mine had been programmed by multiple people! I took it from there and learned my own tricks with it, I still feel like I have so much more to explore with the R70, things I haven’t even seen yet. That’s why I kept it, and why I still use it.
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One thing that amazes me about your music is the abstract samples – on this album, there are fragments of all sorts of things, from Tarzan’s jungle cry to Justin Timberlake and Aaliyah. How do you put the songs together?
Whatever fits the mood, I just lays it down! I’m a listener, you see. There’s an unreleased track I made called ‘Playpen’, I sampled Frankenstein on it! ‘Off the Hook’ was a project I made that sounds like, well a phone off the hook. As the track opens up, it turns into the music from The Empire Strikes Back. People say to me, “How did you do that?”. It’s just like, my mind was just there in that moment. Before I started making tracks, I always liked certain songs, and when I found the tools to sample, those songs started coming out. When things come out, I never throw the idea away. Never! A track I made called ‘Area 72′ that samples Phil Collins’ ‘Easy Lover’, I wanted to do that one for 20 years.
Another striking thing about your productions is the way you sample your own voice to punctuate the track, for example on “that’s what the speakers are for”. How did that come about?
Well in the beginning, you couldn’t pay me to talk for nothing! Still right now today, if I’m doing a show, I won’t talk. I won’t talk during my shows. You might hear me say things like “Boooooooo”. That just lets them know I’m here. I was afraid to pick up a mike and say something, until one day, I started making ‘Baby Come On’. I tried to come up with the concept of having some one do some vocals for me, but no one wanted to, I had to do everything on my own. So I started using my voice on the tracks, and everybody liked it, so I kept doing it. Nowadays I get a lot of requests to do live recordings or live drops, people use my voice in new tracks they are making.
You mentioned Dance Mania, the legendary ghetto house label that released hundreds of raw Chicago records over the years. The story goes you had a release on that label at one stage?
Yeah, my Dance Mania record has ‘Ice Cream’, ‘Baby Come On’, ‘Automatic House Arrest 2’ ‘Dead In’, ‘Take It Like A Good Girl’…How that happened – I made a tape called Dancematazz, I gave it to DJ Slugo, he had a box of 250 mixtapes, and took them on his trip to Minnesota. Within an hour of him traveling on the road he gave me a call, he began asking what certain tracks were on this tape, and they turned out to be ones I had made. He said, “We have to put this on record”. He was a real good friend to Ray Barney, the owner of Dance Mania, at that time. We took them to Ray but he refused to listen to them, and Slugo insisted he took a chance on them, do a test. In those days, to test something out you would do a test press, and that usually meant 50 to 100 records – only 50 were pressed of my record. We never reached an agreement with Ray, bottom line, that’s all that were made, I still have my original copy, I only know one other person that has it. That record is a treasure – of the last days, the end of what was then, and the birth of what is now known as footwork.
Speaking of the birth of footwork, how did that scene grow out of the ashes of Dance Mania? The Dance Mania period is pretty different to the rapid fire footwork sound we hear today.
Once Dance Mania ended, it shifted to DJs making mix tapes, which then turned into making mix CDs. We were on the south side of Chicago. On the west side, you had Jammin Gerald, DJ Funk, Waxmaster and Traxman. Traxman was basically the baby of the pack. South side you had DJ Milton, DJ Slugo, DJ Deeon, Paul Johnson, and coming up in the ranks, DJ Gantman. They knew each other, both sides, but the younger generation such as myself, Spinn, Rashad, Clent, we didn’t know those guys. We didn’t have that connection, but we just kept producing tracks, and we didn’t know what was going to happen! People call it “ghetto house” nowadays, I was making some of the best stuff in that style, but I didn’t call it “ghetto house”. Tracks like ‘Baby Come On’ weren’t structured in that way, but the beat was still considered ghetto house. My track ’11-47-99′ shows you how that sound evolved into footwork – the ‘Godzilla’ track.
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Trying to work out who wrote that based on the YouTube uploads is confusing – the ‘Godzilla’ track is credited to DJ Slugo, but you’re frequently mentioned in in the comments, and there is another version of exactly the same song titled ’11-47-99′ and credited to RP Boo.
I always held down a job, so I never knew what was going on in the music industry, because I was always at work. Rashad and DJ Clent were always going back and forth to Detroit , where DJ Godfather is at. Slugo and Godfather had a really great bond. So I gave Slugo the ‘Godzilla’ track to put under his own name, to help boost the label and help out Godfather. The track took off, but I never knew about it – Slugo never gave me the reports on how things were going. All that time, he was taking the credit for it – I found out through two of his buddies, like, “Do you realize your Godzilla track is making a lot of noise in Detroit?”. It was travelling across the waters, I had no idea this was going on, I wasn’t gettin paid any money. Rashad and Clent went there, came back and told me the same thing, and they exposed it. “Slugo didn’t make this! RP made it and we’ve got direct contact to him”. So Godfather finally found out it was me, but the damage was already done.
That’s a terrible story – does this go on a lot in the community, this kind of theft and appropriation of other people’s music?
Yes. It’s terribly wrong and it took me so long to find out, it’s a big problem for the community. That’s one of the biggest issues facing footwork right now. We are all still doing the parties to support the footwork community, but there’s no one really trustworthy to do events with. I don’t deal with ‘em anymore. The people who really built it are not here any more, they are travelling now, like Spinn and Rashad – of course that’s a good thing! Around the world now we have people who love what we do, but here in Chicago, we have the same old problems. Why shouldn’t we travel and see all those nice things out there in the world ? The people, like Slugo, who tried to capitalize off us, they do other things now, they do block parties, gone elsewhere. Now they’ve been exposed, if they ever tried to claim they invented footwork, they wouldn’t win against me. Everybody knows now, we know who made this, those people can’t lie anymore.
Going back to the genesis of footwork, at what point did the tempo start speeding up to 160 bpm? None of the Dance Mania music is at that tempo.
No, everything was at 145 bpm. The transformation began with dance groups who would dance at functions, to contemporary music, pop. The kids would do dance routines. The icing on the cake became the footwork contests, which emerged out of house, ghetto house music. Everyone started competing. At one point, on the west side of Chicago, DJs would take a regular song pressed on vinyl at 33 rpm and speed it up to 45. At first the dancers might have found that strange, but soon they made it their own brand. Traxman and DJ Clent began pushing the tempo, and that’s how 160 came into being. I wasn’t doing 160 at that time, we still had our people and our groups doing it “old school”, dancing at 145. I had to move the tempos up over time to get them to 160, feeding them. It took 2 or 3 years for everyone to adopt it across Chicago.
I’m interested in how this music makes the physical transition to the party – obviously you guys were strictly playing vinyl for years, so how did you get to test out these crazy new beats?
I would always take my Tascam 4 track, my tape deck to big events. Rashad, Spinn, Clent would be there. I always supplied the four track, so anyone that was there, we could all display our new music like that. We would run the 4 track into the stereo mixer, along with the turntables, and blend accordingly through the channels. And the rest, as they say, is history!
How do you feel now that the world can finally hear this music, on vinyl for the first time and properly credited to you, thanks to the Legacy release?
I’m overwhelmed, I feel like I have so much more to offer, and I’m so thankful. I always say, never burn your bridges and never throw away things that are helpful to you. I’ve always been humble and respectful, and I feel humble. I never close my heart to any type of music, any type of rhythm. My ears are open.
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