DJ Rashad Talks His Influences, Chance the Rapper, and His “Double Cup” Album

Image via Red Bull Music Academy on Facebook
Image via Red Bull Music Academy on Facebook

Until recently, it would appear that it would be possible to glean everything you need to know about the creative strategy of Chicago native Rashad Harden (aka DJ Rashad) from the title of his July 2013 EP, I Don’t Give a Fuck. However, with his latest album Double Cup for UK dubstep don Kode9‘s Hyperdub label, Rashad’s explosive and emotive footwork style has expanded. In this exclusive interview for Do Androids Dance, Rashad discusses his ever-expanding sources of inspiration, alongside some key points of growth for both himself and his Teklife crew of DJs. From playing Boiler Room sets to preparing to join frequent collaborator DJ Spinn in opening for rising emcee (and fellow Chicago resident) Chance the Rapper, it’s an intriguing look into the mind and work of one of arguably the Windy City’s best musical ambassadors, and proof that there is tremendous positive energy coming from a place so often mired in negative press. Interviewed while at the chiropractor rehabbing injuries following an automobile accident that led to the cancellation of a European tour, he was in good spirits and definitely expressed some intriguing thoughts regarding not just footwork, but dance music overall. Enjoy!

You’re releasing your latest work, Double Cup, and for people familiar with your material, it may in some ways like a departure from the norm or a maturation of your sound. Thoughts?
Instead of the same old hyper up shit that I normally do – the aggressive side of me that people usually expect – I tried to smooth shit out on this one. I wanted to present sounds that I’ve never presented on an album before. I tampered with jungle, trap, and other places where footwork has never went before. [Teklife] tours a lot, so we tried to cater to a lot of the fans that we’ve gotten over the last couple of years of touring as well. I wanted to do something fun and show another side of me and Teklife, to show that we’re well-rounded instead of just one thing.

Did you ever expect to see Teklife as a collective get to this point of world tours and a high level of global respect? What has been the most rewarding part of this process?
I never thought it would get this far. To see the music grow to other countries and to see those fans put their input into it is a blessing. It’s a good feeling to be a part of this, period.

I always wonder these things about producers who decide to get into producing music in underground dance genres, so I figured I’d ask you, too. Who was the first footwork producer you heard that made you want to make footwork music?
Before it was called footwork, it was called “ghetto house,” and it was DJ Deeon and DJ Milton that caught my attention in this style of music, around ’92 or ’93.

Teklife’s had a number of opportunities to grow as of late, but none may be bigger than your forthcoming opportunity to tour with rising emcee (and fellow Chicago native) Chance the Rapper. How did that come about, and are you looking forward to the opportunity?
I chilled with Chance and his crew in London, and we started the conversation there. I’m excited. I hope that we can get Chance in the studio to do a track!

Prior to meeting him, how aware were you of Chance’s material? Also, how aware are you of the rising Chicago rap scene overall?
I was aware of him. We’re all from Chicago, so I had heard of who he was, but I never really had the chance to check him out properly. He put me in tune with everything. All I knew was Acid Rap, but there were a few mixtapes before that, and he put me onto it. I respect what he does, and I’m a fan as well. I listen to Lil Durk, too, and everybody out of Chicago. I’m a DJ, so I have to play their tracks out at parties that I do outside of footwork. The energy in Chicago is great. I love the drill music scene, and I dig what Chance is doing as well, but to be honest, I listen to oldies and shit! Jazz, weird stuff.

Jazz? Crazy. So I have to ask who is the jazz musician that influences you the most?
Miles Davis. It’s definitely the creativity and smoothness in everything I’ve heard. He’s just that guy. I don’t know what it is about him. He’s just, the man.

Speaking of craziness, what’s the craziest moment you’ve ever witnessed at a footwork party in Chicago? I know that music connects with kids in a wild way.
I’ve seen fights and shit. People coming in and starting fights. Hmm… let me go down memory lane… it’s pretty chill. Sometimes you get an outside influence, maybe someone getting shot. Yeah. That was definitely crazy. That was probably the wildest shit.

So, I’ll presume that the energy of footwork connects with people differently when you’re touring in Europe. Why do you believe that your European fans like footwork so much?
It’s the similarity to jungle. It’s the same tempo, the bass definitely reminds them of what they listened to and got down to over the past few years. It seems right for footwork and jungle to have that connection.

Are there any jungle artists that you look to for inspiration given that your UK fanbase is so tied into that sound?
Metalheadz, Lemon D, Goldie, Om Unit, Machinedrum, a lot of people, really. Those guys alone were enough for me to open up and say, “Wow.” I went back in time, in history, and they’ve been doing it since like, ’94, and were sampling some of the songs that we’ve just now touched. We’ve also never even heard of half of the stuff [that they're sampling, too]. It’s amazing, the similarities in what we do and what they do.

Getting back to folks getting into the Teklife movement, I feel that your two appearances in the Boiler Room (most recently tied into Pitchfork’s Festival in Chicago) was a major moment. What are your thoughts on that, and on Boiler Room in general, as I feel it’s a major way for newcomers to experience underground music?
Pitchfork had the concert that weekend in Chicago. The first time I played [a Boiler Room set], it was in a small room with four other DJs. In Chicago, it was in a big spot, and unlike other Boiler Rooms that I have attended, there were people actually dancing and there was a party vibe going on. It’s funny though, I went back and looked at the tape of the Chicago event, and it looks totally different from how I remembered it. It was good for us. It was good for people to not just see Spinn and I DJing, but to see the dancers, the whole thing.

As EDM spreads it’s now beginning to enter into some strange racial and cultural territory with America’s influence, as aspects of urban-based sounds (like trap, club and footwork) as well as the creative scope of minority producers is rising into the mainstream. How do you feel about this, and what was the moment that let you see that the market was opening?
I think it’s great. Some genres are overlooked, but just for footwork to get this chance to be heard is a blessing. The trap [development into a mainstream EDM genre] is crazy. Teklife’s been doing half-time for the longest, but we never called it trap. For people to just call it trap, it was funny because there’s guys like Zaytoven – who produced for Gucci Mane – that have been making it down in the South, like [seemingly since] forever. I do still respect it because of the original trap, and [regarding that], there are some trap producers who do make great music, and they’re dope. But, back to the point, I do feel like if everyone’s making “trap” now, then we can definitely do [footwork].

Given that tempo is arguably the thing right now, it would appear that with trap being half time, that when it’s time for the music to speed up again, that hardstyle, club and yes, footwork would stand to benefit in the mainstream. Thoughts about this theory?
It could be a good thing or a bad thing. I’m just blessed that we were able to make it this far, so if [footwork] were to crossover, it doesn’t make me either happy or angry. We’re just going to keep on doing what we’re doing, regardless. I don’t want to see it get commercialized, though, but if it does, it does. As long as it gets the attention it deserves, that’s what I’m concerned about.

DJ Rashad’s Double Cup album will be released on October 22 via Hyperdub.