Over four decades of dance music, few localized sounds have spread quite as virulently as Chicago footwork and juke. DJ Rashad, alongside brother-in-arms DJ Spinn, remains the movement’s principal ambassador.
Having been spinning since the age of twelve, Rashad has worked his way up from dancer through to DJ through to scene figurehead. As a key player in the GhettoTekz collective – a unit that includes Traxman, Spinn, DJ Manny et al – he operates at the epicentre of a scene whose influence continues to expand with centrifugal force. 2010’s Just A Taste remains the essential footwork artist album, and remixes for the likes of Addison Groove and the Shangaan Shake compilation have further reinforced his influence.
Rashad is currently preparing to touch down on these shores for Norfolk’s Glade Festival, running from June 14-17. More pressingly, he’s joined forces with GhettoTekz associate J-Cush to launch Lit City, a new label intended to offer the definitive word in Chi-town releases.
“When I started DJing in the 7th grade, fuck, it was rough.” – DJ Rashad
FACT’s Joseph Morpurgo caught up with the pair as they chilled at DJ Spinn’s house (Spinn, ever the laissez-faire host, was out). As well as giving us the lowdown on Lit City, the pair discussed footwork’s global influence, Chicago scene politics, and that DJ Rashad/Britney Spears collab you’ve always dreamed of.
What was the situation that led to Lit City coming together as a label and as a collective?
J-Cush: Just to have the opportunity to accurately represent the culture out here. To play the music that is making the footworkers move and evolving the scene.
What is it that Lit City is designed to do that will enable you to represent footwork better?
J-Cush: It’s going to be the innovators, and the up-and-coming new guys, who’ve been pushing the scene from the beginning. A lot of the stuff that comes up is idiosyncratic – but there was stuff that was a singular view and wasn’t really true to Chicago. For the sake of posterity – and everyone else’s careers who’ve been working on this for twenty years – we like to represent the music and get it through to people, because they want to hear it.
“I’ve never been to a place where a person has not heard it, and not liked it.” – DJ Rashad
In what way was that sound becoming too ‘singular’, and not representing the breadth of what’s going on in Chicago?
J-Cush: A lot of people are getting full-length albums and they’re not even around. Or dancers don’t find the shit interesting. Myself as well.
DJ Rashad: Exactly. Also, some of the other record labels just pick what they want and say “That’s the No. 1 shit, Chicago…” They ain’t ever been to Chicago! So how would they know?
J-Cush: That is a big problem. People act as experts, but…
DJ Rashad: They don’t know shit about what’s going on.
J-Cush: There’s a lot of history. I think the most important thing with any form of culture is knowing the culture.
That’s interesting. I’ve seen musicians speak here in London, saying “I make footwork”- and not only have they never been to Chicago, but their music sounds nothing like footwork. How do you feel about people who aren’t from Chicago – and don’t even make footwork – who might want to associate themselves with the term?
J-Cush: Y’know…it’s awesome to see people inspired by the music.
DJ Rashad: I love it, especially the guys who will take it and flip it and do it their own way. Some of the stuff that these guys are making, they send it to me, but for the most part it’s not an insulting thing. We embrace it, and we love it.
J-Cush: To see the culture have an influence outside of Chicago is not something we were necessarily ever expecting.
“[Labels] say “That’s the No. 1 shit, Chicago…” They ain’t ever been to Chicago!” – DJ Rashad
Is it an accurate mirror image that you get back from ‘footwork’ producers in Moscow, or Germany? Are you pleased with what you see, or does it sometimes seem like a distorted version of the culture you come from?
J-Cush: People should be able to do whatever they want with their music, putting their own twist on the sound and create their own music with it. It’s all love for footwork really.
Rashad, you’re playing at Glade soon. I guess a festival is perhaps the only environment where you might be playing footwork to people that might have never heard it before – is that something you notice, and find exciting?
DJ Rashad: When we did Poland…what festival was that?
DJ Rashad: Unsound – we were the first guys to ever play juke there, and it went off. They loved it. That’s something we kind of like to do anyway. We go out of town and we like to present it new to people, and try to lure them in so they can get to jukin’ with us. (laughs) That’s not a problem though, I’m not nervous or anything.
J-Cush: People always come around and get it.
DJ Rashad: I’ve never been to a place where a person has not heard it, and not liked it. Being a DJ, you also got to keep it moving too, and keep them on their feet. Me and Spinn try to do that, and GhettoTekz as well. Especially when people have never heard it before. We might do a little commercial, throw a little jungle in the mix, throw a little dubstep…who knows? We mix that shit all together.
J-Cush: Getting to travel overseas has definitely changed the sound palette and expanded it a lot.
“These guys make a lot of music, like 20 tracks in a week.” – J-Cush
Listening to some of your recent mixes, there are lots of tracks that dabble with, or use sounds from, more commercial acts: ‘Niggas In Paris’, Beyoncé, The Weeknd are in there – have acts like that started to come to you to put a footwork influence on more conventionally commercial music?
DJ Rashad: We’ve been hit up from representatives of those, but they never get back to us. That’s a game in itself – you play with those guys. When we do get it right, we would love to do that. I’ve remixed other producers in London, like Addison Groove: that’s one of my homies. Hopefully we can definitely do remixes and take it outside of just us.
Would the possibility of a Rashad-produced Britney track be of interest to you then?
DJ Rashad: Yeah! Fuckin’ A – I would love to do it! Hell yeah – I’ll do it with anybody.
Let’s talk a bit more about Lit City. What’s the release schedule at the moment?
J-Cush: There’s a few things lined up. Welcome To The Chi, which is Rashad’s album. Then we got The Manny And Rashad Show, which is the third joint album. After that, Spinn, then Traxman…we got a ton of stuff. All the Tekz are interested in getting their music out. The albums are going to be 20 something tracks in length. These guys make a lot of music, like 20 tracks in a week. The idea is to offer the output of their work so people can hear what these guys are capable of.
“The young guys are strong, and getting better and better.” – J-Cush
Are you anticipating having a higher release rate than other labels in order to keep up with that amount of material?
J-Cush: I’d like to, but for practical sakes I’m not sure how possible it is. We just want to do each record well and make sure it does well – take our time, and have it get on the right way. But obviously it’s an issue: there’s so much music. Another way to do it is to be putting out mixes.
DJ Rashad: To answer this question: I think, once we do come, we’re going to be shutting other labels down! (laughs) Doing it the real way, not being some person just picking some tracks from the internet, saying “this is juke”, or “this is footwork, and I like it!”, and has never been to Chicago. When we drop, we taking shit over. I’ve got a strong feeling we are.
Have you got any younger producers or newer producers in the fold who are lined up to release things as well?
J-Cush: Shit, DJ Manny is right next, he’s a beast. Apart from that, the Tekz have DJ Taye, DJ Roland, DJ Pillsbury, DJ Earl…shit.
DJ Rashad: It’s like, there’s the 17-18 [age bracket] – and then there’s 18-32. (laughs)
J-Cush: The youngers are out here, just like you have, say, Roll Deep with their youngers.
“Addison Groove – that’s one of my homies.” – DJ Rashad
What’s the dialogue like between the two generations?
J-Cush: It’s open! Everyone’s talking all the time, playing each other tracks. There’s weekly Ghettotekz meetings, we have events all the time every week with our DJs for the footworkers.
DJ Rashad: For free.
J-Cush: For free. The young guys are strong, and getting better and better.
You talked earlier about how other labels seem to putting out quite a reductive vision of what’s going on in Chicago. How would you define the exciting new changes are going on at the moment?
J-Cush: Just watching the way Rashad’s music develops, for example. His drum palette has grown ten-fold, he’s using all new patterns he’s never used. You get a hardcore component – some drum’n’bass and jungle patterns – whilst keeping it a footwork track. Tons of different synth sounds and weird sounds – it’s all in there.
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Rashad, have you switched up your equipment? Are you still using the same kit, or have you expanded?
DJ Rashad: Yeah, I’m still using the same shit, besides Live – I use Live a little bit, to chop up the samples, tweak them a little bit, and then throw them into the 2500 MPC. We still doing the same shit.
Is that the same with the younger producers – are those still the basic tools?
DJ Rashad: Some of them use Fruity Loops. Most of the time, that’s what our studios are for: for them to come over and work with. The MPC, or whatever the fuck…they know all the analogue, they know the software.
“When we drop, we taking shit over.” – DJ Rashad
Were those opportunities there when you started?
DJ Rashad: Not really. I saved up and bought my own shit! (laughs) When we were coming up, the game was harder. You had to prove yourself. There was no internet, and you couldn’t just say you were a DJ, blah blah blah… you really had to be out at these parties, representing. You had to learn – or you had to know – how to play.
So when I started DJing in the 7th grade, fuck, it was rough. To get that respect, you had to carry crates everywhere. And as I say, from when I started to now, shit’s changed a lot to where young guys just need to press a button, and you can mix or it will mix it for you. All power to them for doing that, but it takes the fun out of the sport, man. When you’re mixing live, and some people that aren’t able to mix have it chopped and pre-recorded at the crib.
J-Cush: The hardware was different too. There weren’t the same drum machines – the MPC wasn’t where it is now.
DJ Rashad: We had, like, Casios, Dr Rhythms back then, Rolands…
J-Cush: Still good drum machines – most of us sample those sounds from time to time.
DJ Rashad: That is our drum kit actually. Those sounds:the 808s, 909s…
To finish, is there anything about Lit City you particularly want to broadcast?
J-Cush: Shit, we’re down to do parties wherever.
DJ Rashad: Just stay tuned, man! We got a lot of hot shit coming. Not just myself, but other artists as well: up and coming people that people ain’t heard, and people that are famous as well. Look out 2012, 2013. Lit City, we on something!