Chicago’s wind whipped with grief this weekend after the unexpected loss of footwork/juke pioneer DJ Rashad Saturday afternoon. Rashad, founder and active member of Teklife, has had a huge influence on Chicago’s electronic music scene for two decades, although his work has only attracted critical acclaim and global recognition in the past few years. An innovator whose talents have been compared to J Dilla’s, Rashad was nothing short of a musical genius. Consistently challenging convention, he pushed the boundaries of Chicago house music to develop a thriving genre with a unique culture. Indeed, footwork is the only genre of electronic music that can truly be classified as 100% Chicago-born-and-bred. Yet, even after the solidification of footwork as a movement and a genre, Rashad was never content with the routinization of its sound—or any sound, for that matter. He was an iconic leader who refused to let electronic music get comfortable—a testament to the vibrancy of underground culture—and exemplified the purpose of art. He was only 34.
Rashad’s musical career began with dancing and DJing in middle school. By the time he was in high school, where he formally met future fellow Teklife member, DJ Spinn, he had purchased equipment and was making his own tracks. His interest in ghettohouse, Chicago’s self-tailored brand of hip-hop sampled house music, eventually led him to the juke movement. Alongside contemporaries DJ Deeon and DJ Gant Man, he transformed juke and later became a leading pioneer of footwork. The distinction between juke and footwork is tenuous, but juke is typically classified as an offshoot of house, while footwork has solidified into its own genre that has gained attention as far away as Japan, Poland, and Norway. Footwork, which typically has tempo of 160 BPM, is also polyrhythmic—one of its distinguishing characteristics—meaning that multiple tempos (for example, both triplets and doubles) are often present in one track. 2014 was poised to be footwork’s breakthrough year. With the loss of its figurehead, the future mainstream visibility of the genre is uncertain.
Teklife is, in Rashad’s own words, “just a crew of DJs and producers.” Rashad started off in a group by the name of Ghettoteknitianz, but the label Teklife was adopted as Rashad evolved outside of Chicago. As a collective, Teklife now reaches beyond Illinois into other states and even countries. Central figures in the crew include DJ Spinn, DJ Manny, Traxman, Heavee D, DJ Earl, DJ Tre, DJ Taye, Boylan, DJ Phil, DJ Tmo, Taso, Tony Moondoctor, Lacey Fresh Till Def, Feloneezy, and Jackie Dagger. The name has become well known and revered in the Chicagoland area over the past decade or so, and the collective is constantly adding new members. Despite the plethora of active members, the loss of Rashad has left a noticeable gap. His position held such respect and leadership that it may never be filled.
Technically, Rashad’s sound is all over the map. He restructures R&B and soul samples with elements of jungle, trap, grime, and drum n bass to create tracks that are consistently unique, even when he reuses the same sample in different tracks. Rashad released a number of albums and singles on the label Juke Trax Online from 2004 to 2008, including Juke Trax Online Vol. 3 and Something 2 Dance 2. In 2010, Rashad and Spinn got involved with the record label Planet Mu. After the release of 2010’s Itz Not Rite, Rashad’s career took off and he began touring full-time. In 2011 he released music on Ghettophiles, including the notable album Just A Taste, Vol. One. However, footwork and the Teklife movement took off with 2012’s standout Teklife Volume 1 – Welcome to the Chi, which was released on Lit City Trax. After signing with the much-admired underground electronic label Hyperdub in 2012, Rashad dropped his critically acclaimed, “debut” full-length album, Double Cup, which has been compared to J Dilla’s monumental Donuts. Double Cup is far from a footwork-pure album; many of the tracks maintain slower, more accessible tempos, and the album incorporates influences from jungle, soul, and trap. The Rollin EP is another 2013 Hyperdub standout.
Most notably, Rashad was both present and active in the Chicago community, despite his consistent touring over the past few years. His passion for music went far beyond its material benefits; the events he helped organize rarely took place in clubs or bars because of the limits of age restrictions. Instead, footwork events take place in warehouses, where people as young as 15 can participate, bringing more flavor and vitality to the movement. Rashad was known for his good cheer, warmth, charisma, humility, and genuine interest in humanity. As I write this, I’m struggling to use past tense. The mistakes I’ve caught have primarily come from writing about Rashad as if he’s still here, roaming around the city or inciting a crowd of feet to fly across the dance floor in some distant country on tour. The news is hitting hard here at the WNUR radio station, as we’ve been blessed enough to have Rashad and other Teklife affiliates join us for Streetbeat guest mixes and warehouse events many times in the past few years. We’ll be playing tributes this week for a man who was, in one of my co-DJs words, “an amazing musician, a local hero, a brother and friend.”
We’ll be pouring one out for Rashad for years to come. Check out some tracks below.
DJ Rashad – On My Way (from Teklife Volume 1: Welcome to the Chi)
DJ Rashad – Feelin’ (feat. DJ Spinn and Taso) (from Double Cup)
DJ Rashad – We Run It (from Just a Taste, Vol. 1)