Words by Son Raw
I won’t eulogize him for his friends – I did not know the man, though by all accounts he was a fantastic human being, the love of the party you’d expect after hearing his music. I also won’t speak to his core fans, I am one of them and know no words can truly dull the pain we are feeling, and the only thing that can help right now is to listen to his music. Instead, I’ll try to share his genius with those who might not know of his work: DJ Rashad toiled tirelessly for decades in Chicago, but only recently found critical acclaim outside of his hometown. This last fact makes his passing all the more tragic, though we can find solace in the idea that he at least got to enjoy a taste of the success he truly deserved.
It’s impossible to talk about Rashad without talking about Ghetto House, Juke and Footwork. Alongside a dozen contemporaries , he helped synthesize the former styles into the later, bridging elements from House and Hip-Hop in a creative moment impossible to overstate. Bar a few token early 90s singles, Hip-Hop and House have always been uneasy cousins, with rap rejecting Disco’s heritage and House intensifying it. By accelerating, breaking up and adapting House’s rhythms and textures to fit the tastes of a younger, more street oriented crowd, Rashad not only carried on the work of his predecessors in restoring post-Disco music to the Black American mainstream, he created a new form of music whose traditions were the latest step in Black futurism. The only comparison I can make that genuinely feels right is to mention him in the same breath as the late J Dilla – another Midwestern genius taken too soon, who changed the way we think about music through his use of the sampler.
Because make no mistake – Rashad’s legacy goes beyond Footwork and is relevant to practically every form of music. Juke is the Blues – its very name comes from Chicago’s Juke joints where migrant southern Bluesmen electrified the sounds of the Mississippi for urban dance floors. It’s also Jazz – the dizzying rhythms and astral chords of last year’s Double Cup taking dance music into the intellectual realm. It’s Bass music, in that it was welcomed with open arms by British Djs who saw a cousin to their own form of Jungle, a kinship Rashad was only too glad to emphasize, and also in that it expanded on ideas by party starters such as 2 Live Crew. Funk, Soul, Rap, Techno, Acid… there isn’t a genre Rashad couldn’t incorporate into his music through his sampler and by connecting these dots, he made us realize how outdated and stifling current conceptions of genre could be.
Rashad was also a generous collaborator at a time when music was in danger of becoming a solitary pursuit for young men who knew more about computers than real life. A look at the credits on Double Cup will show just how important Spinn, Manny, Taso, Earl and the rest of his Teklife crew were to him and I have no doubt they’ll carry on his work. And yet it won’t be the same, because Rashad was the man with the vision to bring their talents together. Now he is gone and it’s up to us to carry on his legacy – there will be no letters from Barrack Obama as was the case of Frankie Knuckles, no European super clubs dedicating vigils. Instead, it’s up to us in the underground that Rashad played for and was inspired by to carry on his work. It will take all of our efforts to even attempt to match what he brought to the world of music. He shall be missed.