If you aren’t from Chicago, chances are slim you’d ever heard of footwork before Planet Mu introduced it to the world with its Bangs & Works compilations. The hyperspeed strain of ghetto house has a long history, though, dating back to the late 1990s. RP Boo, sometimes Arpebu, is credited as the creator of the first footwork track. Despite the indispensible role he played in the genre’s emergence, Boo has never had a commercial release.
That’s about to change, though – with an LP due out on Planet Mu later this month, Boo is finally going to get his share of the limelight. I spoke to him about the origins of footwork, his process, playing parties, and where he plans to take his sound. —Adam Wray
Adam Wray: Let’s start by talking about the new record, Legacy. This is your first official, commercial release. What does that mean to you?
RP BOO: It was an honour to finally do an album of my own. Doing so much other stuff in between, I’ve just been so far into the love of the music that I thought, “Wait a minute, this is my first album.” And I was really honoured for somebody to give me the chance to do an album. And I’m very proud of it.
AW: Why did you call it Legacy?
RP: It was due to a lot of individuals in the world liking the sound. As the years went I was labeled the Godfather of Footwork, and it was in high demand. I came to the conclusion that if footwork is steady growing in the world, I want them to remember something that’ll live on forever after I’m gone, or if I decide to retire. So, I say a legacy is giving back. A legacy will outlive the person who set the seed to grow. The fans that’s out here, they drive me to do more. I’m gonna leave this for them and just call it Legacy.
AW: If someone thirty, forty years down the road is writing a book about this period of dance music, what would you want them to say about you? How do you want to be remembered?
RP: I want to be remembered as an individual that tried to make a difference and it actually worked. And for someone to talk about that thirty or forty years later, it’ll prove the reason I called it legacy. It’s like Mozart, we still talk about Mozart. We still talk about Michael Jackson. Those are people that set legacies, but they didn’t understand at that moment that a legacy – not too many people can actually live the legacy and understand it. When you understand that you can leave a legacy you become more humble, and that’s what got me a lot of respect. A lot of people still look to me and talk to me and I try to encourage them as much as possible.
AW: Let’s talk about sampling. How do you know when you’ve found a good sample?
RP: You know what, I make it a good sample. It could be something that’s simple. If it fits into how I feel, it never comes out the way I took it, it comes out better. I used to have doubts about my music – now I don’t. I don’t have no doubts. For some reason, whatever expectations I have [about my music], the fans enjoy it more. And as they enjoy it more, they still come back and they analyze it with me and tell me how they feel – “it was a great sample,” “I like how you chopped this up,” or “your music is so authentic,” and that’s what keeps me going.
AW: How do you want people to feel when they listen to your music?
RP: I want them to feel free. Free and open. You don’t have to footwork. If it can get into your heart and your soul, if you can feel the groove within your body, if it makes you nod your head and say, “Man, that’s incredible,” I got you. My job has been done. It’s to touch what’s in the inner side, and so far, it’s steady working. It still works.
AW: Sometimes you base your tracks on a sample, and sometimes you use your own voice. How do you know when it’s time to use your own voice rather than a sample?
RP: It all depends on how I feel. If no sample comes across my mind I don’t use no sample. I could be singing something and I just work with it. And as I’m working with it, having a nice time, and it just comes out. A lot of people try to figure out, you know, “How you do it?” I just do it and I see people enjoy it. I never thought it would happen that way. People enjoy hearing my voice. When I started you couldn’t pay me to talk. Now, I have to. And if people like, I love it.
AW: When you started, you were probably making tracks with the dance floor in mind. Are you still making tracks specifically for people to dance to, or are you trying to have a broader appeal?
RP: Just broader. I feel that as long as there’s rhythm in it, you’re gonna dance. In some ways footwork seems like it got downsized ’cause it was all footworkers clinging on to it. For me to be the artist, I say if you get out there you gonna see different places, but Chicago don’t have any places that do true footwork events that just let the music play. But we workin’ on that now, to show them what it should look like. It’s gonna take time. But when I went to New York, I saw what I was looking for and what it used to be. It was more freedom, and people enjoying themselves. I was able to interact with them on the dancefloor, do some footwork with them.
When it was time for me to get on stage and perform, what I saw, it made me feel like this is what it should be. It was free. Everybody enjoying themselves whether they knew how to dance or not, and I said, “This is what it should look like.” It’s an everyday process of making it better and more enjoyable for people. Some people have a closed mind, and some are open, but it should be for everybody to enjoy.
AW: So, you’re talking about the event you did in New York last week for Lit City.
RP: Yeah, Lit City.
AW: You were saying there aren’t really any pure footwork events in Chicago these days – why is that?
RP: It’s due to a lot of the individuals that’s really trying to do these events. They’re looking for venues to create money for their businesses. They do footwork events here and there, but they don’t have no interest in it. If they had true interest in it even I’d probably do business with them, but I do not. It’s the wrong approach. I don’t share a part of that, and I can’t indulge myself in that.
It’s about cleaning it up and directing it to where it should be, because really, in Chicago… Chicago never really put a hold on the talent that it has. It’s torn in between the DJs who are producing the music and the dancers. I’ve been on both sides. You have to understand both sides before you can start this journey. So, a lot of people look at me and say, “We trust in you to do what’s right.” If someone else is looking for positivity, if I have to be the frontman to do it, so be it, because I enjoy it. I enjoy what it looks like. And there’s a lot of people looking for what that might look like, and if I’m the beginning, okay, I will do my best to shape it for them.
AW: You also mentioned there’s more of a focus on footwork from around the world these days. How do you feel about that?
RP: Oh, I enjoy it. Especially, like, Japan. I get a lot of response from Japan. In Japan, they adapted the tracks, they even adapted the footwork scene, and they still give honour and homage to this stuff that comes from Chicago. I’m like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” They’re very appreciative of it. Around the world, they’re very appreciative of it.
AW: Let’s jump back a bit. You started out as a DJ, as DJ Boo. Tell me a bit about your early days DJing.
RP: Actually, my first DJ name was B-Boy Juice. The ‘b’ stands for “blend,” because I was known for the blends I would do when I mixed. I wasn’t making tracks at that time. I was just out of high school. Soon as I graduated high school, I always had the passion to say, “Well, I want to become a DJ.” Went and got my first job while I was in high school, but I had to wait ’til I graduated.
I practiced with a couple of friends I knew that was teaching me how to DJ on Technics 1200s. I got very good with just belt-drive spinning and got a couple offers to do house parties, and everybody was saying my skills were so good to the point they thought I was on the radio. I was spinning hip-hop, R&B, dance music, reggae. I was just a typical DJ just playing the music. And in 1996, I decided to start making tracks. In 1997, I did “Baby Come On.” I didn’t have nobody to support me to say, “This is a nice track,” so I just kinda put it out there. And it became an instant classic hit that we were pushing for to be on Dance Mania, but it never made the cut.
AW: Did you ever have anything come out on Dance Mania?
RP: We almost did. What was supposed to come out on Dance Mania of mine, that was my tracks, was “Baby Come On,” “Ice Cream Truck,” a track called “House Arrest 2,” a track called “Daddy,” and “Take It Like a Good Girl.”
AW: And those tracks are, like, the beginning of footwork. That’s what people seem to agree upon.
RP: Right. But we didn’t know that. Years later, the term footwork would come up. It was actually in our present, but we never put a name on it. There was multiple styles of dancing, and footwork would come into the scene then disappear into other movements. But it started to catch people’s eyes and the music started changing.
AW: Right. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of journalists use the terms “footwork” and “juke” to mean the same thing, but they’re different, aren’t they?
RP: Very different.
AW: Can you explain the difference to me?
RP: The difference is – I’m a tell you how it came about. I was DJing at a place called Club Cavallini’s, and at that time it was DJ Gant-Man and DJ Poncho. They was very good, close friends, and I was the main DJ in that place. So, as the party was going about, and it’s crowded – it was the energy that the children had and the participants enjoyed off the music. They was like, “Wow, this party is jukin’.” That’s the first time I ever heard it. It was an expression of “this party is hype, it’s a good time.” So, what they did, they went back and made a song called “Let’s Juke.” A lot of people took it as an expression of “the party is hype,” but it was never actually music. So, juke music – if it’s music – is still ghetto house. It means it’s nice, but it still belongs to ghetto house. Footwork became different because it was more about the actions of the feet, and the music started changing. Footwork doesn’t cater to those who know how to have a nice time and just stand in one place and just bounce up and down, but what makes people think footwork is juke is that footwork still has the rhythm. Footwork is about the actions of how you dance. Juke, you can just stand there and bob your head, and that’s jukin’.
AW: That’s awesome. So, you started making tracks in ’96, ’97. Has your approached to making a track changed? Or do you come at it the same way now as you did back then?
RP: It always changes. Now, I just play around on the [Roland] R-70. When I get a sound I like, I can just leave it on one pattern and go about my business, and if my mind comes to, “Oh, I wanna finish this up,” I just start going, and I finish it up. I always continue to make different styles of music. I still know how to make the juke tracks. I still know how to make the footwork tracks. But every time I end up for some reason taking breaks in between, because I have so many tracks that still haven’t been heard, I can actually just take a break, and when I come back two or three years later and say, “Okay, it’s time to make me some more tracks,” the sound changes, it totally changes. And I enjoy that.
AW: Why would you take a break from making tracks?
RP: Well, one time the R-70 broke down, so I had to put that in the shop. That was an eight-month break. The second time I was moving from one place to another and I left the R-70 in a friend’s storage. But I never had access to it. My equipment stayed in there for two years. I couldn’t get to it! I had enough tracks sitting behind that I was pushing, that was making the cut for Bangs & Works Vol. 1 & 2. And when I got all my stuff back, the style changed again. As of right now, I’m down again. I gotta put the R-70 back in the shop. With Legacy coming out and all the tour dates that’s coming up, me and my business manager want to make sure this is the time to get out and show the fans who I really am, because there’s a lot of demand now. And I wouldn’t mind time off, going to see the world for a little bit. I just still love to make music. So, on my off-time I decided to take a break, get everything back in order, and then start working on new material.
AW: So, you’ve got a tour coming up?
RP: Yeah, I got offered to do Lithuania, Berlin, London, Italy, and a couple more.
AW: When you play live, what is your set up? Do you use turntables, or…?
RP: Everybody’s doing CDJs. I don’t mind CDJs. There’s not that much vinyl in Chicago. CDJs do just fine. I have no problem with it. It varies, it all depends on how the set-up it. I could go CDJs or turntables.
AW: When you’re playing a party, what do you like to play? How do you like to work the room and bring the energy out of people?
RP: Sometimes I come in blind, and sometimes I actually think about what I want to start off with. I’ll play the first track, and I start watching the room. If the room starts to enjoy themselves – the more they enjoy themselves, the more I keep giving. So, my approach is just to make sure they’re fine. I’ll be like, “Wait a minute, these tracks I’m playing – if they like this, oh, I got more. I’m finna really put on!” So, I always interact and feed on what I see. I used to have situations, years ago, where the crowd might not want to partake, where someone might’ve left a dead energy.
My job is to pick it back up. If you paid your money to come in to see the show, give these people a show. If we don’t give back to them, we might not even get hired again. They really have the last say-so. If they feel the music is nice, well, my job is to have them want me to come back. I focus on that, and so far, I’m known for giving off – my first impression on individuals is still the same, it’s always, “Oh, we hear about you.” But when they see it alive, in action, it’s totally different. They’re like, “We didn’t believe it, now we’re believers.” The last time I played before I went to New York in front of a crowd – a crowd crowd – was almost seven years ago. And it’s still the same way.
AW: That’s a long break. When you see the energy dying in the room, what’s the one track you always know is going to bring people back?
RP: I put on “Baby Come On.” At any given moment. And that’s what I like about the format of how I spin. I could go into juke, I could go into footwork – juke and footwork, when they’re produced right, they can actually change the scene. If I’m playing too much of one style, I can switch into another track where the beat is totally different and has an energy stored in it. I have multiple tracks with plenty of energy in it, and I make sure not to play them all at one time. But, over the years I built up so much of them I can play hours of sets and bring the energy up and leave it there. Give me an hour, a good hour, I’ll make you want some more. I’m gifted with that, and I still try to make sure I keep the energy going, because there’s other DJs that have to play, as well. My thing is, for the time that I’m spinning, to enjoy myself and have a good time. My approach is to make the crowd happy. That’s what’s worked, and it still works.
AW: What’s the best party you’ve ever played?
RP: Wow. Years ago, when we was DJing back in the late-1990s, this place Club Cavallini’s. It was all raw materials that was still coming out. It was more passionate, and it was more love with the DJs feeding off each other. It was always, “Oh, I got another track, I got a new track.” There wasn’t thieves, there wasn’t no arguments. We complimented each other’s tracks. It was like that at multiple places. Club Cavallini’s was the small venue. The big venue was the Dalton Expo Center. The Dalton Expo Center was, like, the Super Bowl of parties. When I played there everything just totally changed. I had people that would actually come in and tell me that they knew I was spinning. And they was rushing, saying “we gotta get into this place, ’cause if we don’t, we don’t know how long he’s been on, or if he’s finna get off. So, we need to hurry up and get in here and get our dance on.” And a lot of the feedback that I was getting was from people saying, “Man, you did a terrific job.” That right there was what I always enjoyed. The Dalton Expo Center was the place I really liked to do shows at, but now that place is closed.
AW: One thing I keep hearing you talk about it positive energy and enjoyment and excitement. Do you ever make tracks when you’re feeling sad, or heartbroken, or depressed? Do you ever try to bring that kind of energy to a track?
RP: There’s been times when I’ve gone and made tracks, years ago, when I was feeling down, just to not sit there and have, like my wife says, the pouty face. I would go sit at the table and fire up the R-70 and as the track’s being made, it comes out as positive energy. There’s a style of track that I can play that’s calm – a lot of people wouldn’t hear that, but to me it’s calm. I call it the “low-light special.” Even though the music is banging hard, the sample can be of a slow song, but it just fits that moment. It’s, like, relaxing, but it’s not soft. Just relaxing. So, I call those the low-light special, and a lot of those tracks touch people. Like the track that’s on Legacy, “Sentimental.” I would have never thought that would’ve made it. “Sentimental” is a low-light special.
AW: So, you’re going on tour soon, but then you’re going to be working on new material. Are you gonna change up your approach again, or work in the same mode?
RP: Oh, when I get the R-70 out the shop, my approach is totally different. It’s gonna be totally different. And I been had it planned. I’m not saying what it’s gonna be, but it’s gonna be so much originality but still be understandable, like, “How did I miss that?” That’s what a lot of people are gonna say. I’m not saying I’m better than anybody, but nobody’s been doing certain things that I’ve been doing. So, that’s what I look at. I gave other people the concept to do more and more, but some of the concepts that I have but haven’t used yet still haven’t came afloat. So, I say, “Okay, I guess everybody waitin’ on me.” So, if you waitin’ on me, okay, I’m a give you how I feel. The next one, I purposefully have some tricks up my sleeve. You gonna hear a lot of my voice.
MP3: Fact Mix 384 – RP Boo