Pioneer DJ Rashad dies in Chicago

DJ Rashad

"I'm too high, I'm too high, I'm too high," echoes an incessant refrain over a frenetic drum and bass beat in "I'm Too Hi," off the critically praised 2013 LP Double Cup by Chicago footwork producer (and Hammond, Ind. native) DJ Rashad. 

Double Cup helped push the underground Chicago footwork sound into mainstream view, garnering positive notice in publications from Pitchfork to Rolling Stone, while earning Rashad a place among the elite of international electronic music producers. The future looked bright for the 34-year-old, but sadly Double Cup will be remembered as the producer's swan song. Rashad was found dead in a Southside Chicago apartment last Saturday.

Despite being a primarily instrumental work, Double Cup is rife with references to drug culture like the one quoted above. The album title itself is a nod to lean, the potent cocktail of prescription cough syrup and fruit-flavored soda referred to in Southern hip-hop as purple drank. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Rashad's death was likely an overdose; Chicago police have reported that drugs and paraphernalia were found near his body.

I had the opportunity to interview Rashad while he visited Indy as part of Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap tour in December, where he played an extraordinary post-concert set alongside fellow Chicago footwork producer DJ Spinn.

 I'll always remember Rashad as one of the kindest and most humble artists I've ever spoken with. At the time of our interview Double Cup had just been released on the influential European label Hyperdub and Rashad was widely being touted as the ambassador of footwork music. But he was quick to downplay the title and share credit with fellow Chicago producers.

"I'm just one of the ambassadors," he told me. "I can't say I'm even the top; it's me, DJ Clint, R.P. Boo, DJ Spinn and Traxman. We're the original footwork guys and we're all carrying the sound on," Rashad told me.

I asked Rashad to describe the sound of footwork and explain the genre's penchant for dark textures and avant-garde sample material.

"It's just raw and dirty, fucking in your face, crazy, weird, bass-heavy shit. There's no limits on the footwork sound," Rashad said, while pointing to footwork dancers as a key source of inspiration. "It's influenced by the aggression of the dancers. They like that dark, weird, crazy shit."

On Double Cup, Rashad successfully blended the street elements of footwork with sophisticated production techniques. I asked why the album featured a more expansive frame of musical reference than typical footwork recordings. "It was about trying something different," Rashad said. "I love acid house, trap and jungle. I thought it would be cool to mix those styles with our sound. I wanted to show a smoother side on Double Cup."

With the critical success of Double Cup, Rashad forced the attention of the music world back on the Midwest as a source point for important developments in EDM, a history Rashad emphasized as having great importance on his musical growth. "Cajmere's "Percolator" really brought me into the scene. I was in 5th grade when I heard it. After that it was DJ Deeon and DJ Milton. Those guys are my idols and they're Chicago ghetto house legends. They made me want to stop dancing and start producing and become a DJ."

It remains to be seen if footwork can recover from the loss of its most important innovator. But Rashad left behind a strong crew of colleagues under his Teklike banner. One of those artists, DJ Tre, will appear in Indy this Tuesday in what has become an impromptu memorial for DJ Rashad. 
DJ Tre will perform as part of Broke(n) Tuesdays at Melody Inn. The weekly event series has been the most prominent exponent of the footwork sound in Indy.

"Obviously, I could never have fathomed the death of DJ Rashad when I booked DJ Tre," Jay-P Gold, Broke(n) Tuesdays organizer said. "But it's an honor to celebrate the music and legacy of DJ Rashad with one of his co-founders in TekLife."

This week's Cultural Manifesto podcast features audio clips of my December 2013 interview with DJ Rashad.

1. DJ Rashad feat. DJ Spinn and Taso - Feelin

2. DJ Rashad interview "ambssador of footwork"

3. DJ Spinn feat. DJ Rashad - Let Me Baby

4. DJ Rashad interview "putting in work"

5. DJ Rashad feat. DJ Spinn and Taso - Only One

6. DJ Rashad interview "footwork and juke"

7. DJ Rashad feat. DJ Gant-Man - Somethin 'Bout the Things U Do

8. DJ Rashad feat. DJ Spinn - We Trippy Mane

9. DJ Rashad interview "weird dark sounds"

10. Fatima Al Qadiri - Vatican Vibes (DJ Rashad Remix)

11. DJ Rashad - Too Late Now

12. DJ Rashad feat. DJ Spinn - Last Winter

13. DJ Rashad interview "footwork on tour"

14. DJ Rashad feat. Manny - Leavin'

15. DJ Rashad feat. DJ Spinn - Double Cup

16. DJ Rashad feat. DJ Manny - Over Ya Head

17. DJ Rashad interview "Chance the Rapper"

18. DJ Rashad - On My Way

19. DJ Rashad feat. DJ Spinn - On Site

20. DJ Rashad feat. Add-2 - Ghetto Tekz Runnin' It

21. DJ Rashad interview "double cup influences"

22. DJ Rashad feat. Spinn - Drank, Kush, Barz

23. DJ Rashad - I Don't Give a Fuck

24. DJ Rashad feat. DJ Spinn and Taso - Pass That Shit

25. DJ Rashad interview "ghetto house influence"

26. DJ Rashad feat. Spinn - We Get High

27. DJ Rashad feat. Gant-Man - Heaven Sent

28. DJ Rashad - Kush Ain't Loud

29. DJ Rashad interview "where to take footwork next"

30. DJ Rashad feat. Earl - I'm Too Hi

31. DJ Rashad feat. DJ Spinn - Let U No


Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.

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