The Origins of Footwork: An Interview with RP Boo

Sam Ribakoff connects with RP Boo to discuss the track that broke footwork, DJ Slugo's thievery, and where the genre's headed.
By    October 1, 2015


Photo by Will Glaspiegel

Footwork is one of those styles that comes in and out of the music blogospheres’ collective consciousness. But the OG footwork DJ/producer RP Boo is here to tell you Internet nerds that the music and culture of footwork is anything but dead. Starting out as a dancer and a DJ in the mid 80’s with the legendary Chicago dance crew House-O-Matics, RP constructed the sound of footwork in the early 2000s with his track “114799,” by feeding the restless energy of young dancers wanting a new, fast sound to dance to.

That sound took the best bits of modern black dance music like Chicago house, Detroit ghettotech, and Miami bass music, and a DJ’s ear for inventive sampling of classic Chicago and Philly soul (and later British drum and bass), and created an irresistibly danceable mashup–Even if you can’t do that intricate footwork the style takes its name from.

As the years have gone by, footwork gained a degree of interest after the release of DJ Rashad’s album Double Cup, which sent him off touring around Europe and Japan, spreading the gospel of footwork to these far off places where the genre has now spawned satellite mini-scenes, while RP stayed in Chicago, taking care of the culture at home in Chicago. Now, after the passing of DJ Rashad, after the hype, and after the release of his second album on Planet Mu records entitled Fingers, Bank Pads & Shoe Prints, RP is ready to continue to spread and evolve the sound and culture of footwork, as well as cement his own legacy as one of the greats. — Sam Ribakoff

Correct me if I’m wrong but your new album Fingers, Bank Pads and Shoe Prints is your first non-compilation album, right?

RP Boo: No it’s the second. The first one was Legacy, which came out in 2013 on Planet Mu Records.

Really? I thought that Legacy was a comp because the new album feels a lot more cohesive.

RP Boo: Yeah, there was a different approach with this one. We did an EP back in May which was called Classics Vol.1 where we did six track dedicated to the fact that I was seeing interviews of other people such on Planet Mu and Hyperdub talking about [DJ] Rashad and other things where they were trying to figure out what was the music sounding like before the so-called genre of footwork came out, how was it birthed. So I felt like I needed to present, for that album, the sound of what it was really like before Rashad, [DJ] Spinn, and before I really introduced myself as RP Boo. So I was giving them the birth of RP Boo. Fingers, Bankpads and Shoeprints was recorded with a different approach than Legacy.

And that music was more Detroit ghettotech?

RP Boo: It’s the beginning of footwork. Ghettotech, It’s still footwork, but in Detroit it’s called Jittin, it’s the same form, just a little bit different. I was introduced to ghettotech when we were trying to push other labels other than DanceMania. And that’s when I did “114799,” when me and DJ Slugo were cool at the time, and I had always done what he had asked me to do. It was more of “hey, do you have anything to help build these labels.” So I gave them “114799,” and that was right around the time that ghettotech was being done.

It was nothing new to me because it was like a transition. I never stopped listening to new music, and I tried to listen to it and adapt to it. When we started making those types of tracks, like “Baby Come on,” “Ice Cream Truck,” “Take it Like a Woman,” DanceMania refused to have anything to do with it, and Slugo was trying to push that. I had released a mixtape called DanceMataz, and those tracks were on there and Slugo asked if I’d like an opportunity to put those out on DanceMania, because he was the one behind the scene trying to make opportunities, and that’s why anything that he asked for was no problem with me.

So I gave him “114799,” then I got the information back that he was trying to take full credit for the original version. That’s when everything just went south. So the first time when my name really got put out there was when Planet Mu decided to do Bangs and Works Vol.1, that’s when I started to get credit for everything I was doing, which must have been 2009 or 2010.

That’s a long time between then and when you started DJing and producing, right?

RP: Yeah, In between I was DJing and letting my tracks be heard in Chicago. I was working for a company that set up sound systems, and while I was setting up these systems I was able to make good relationships with all these dance groups and they would always let me play my tracks. That’s how I was able to get my music out without having to be hired. People would say you need to play a club and I was like no, because I get to play my tracks all the time at these community spaces in Jackson park and stuff.

It got to a point where I’d set up and the dancers would go “we don’t want to hear nobody else, we want to hear RP Boo’s tracks.” So even if I wasn’t performing or playing my tracks, I could hear Rashad or DJ Clent play their tracks. But even if I wasn’t performing, I’d do the test runs on the speakers, to make sure they were all good, that’s when I’d play my tracks. I never stopped. I had plenty of opportunities to play.

These were community center for kids?

RP Boo: Yeah. Dance groups would put on dance competitions between dance groups in Chicago park facilities. These were teenagers, but a lot of their parents would be there to support them. We considered it to be more of a community activity.

It seems like from the outside that footwork was really pushed forward by teenagers, was that true?

RP Boo: When I was in House-O-Matics I was in my 20s, so I got in there late, and the other people I met started out [in House-O-Matics] as teenagers, but when I met them they were adults, young adults. Then they started bringing up the younger generation, and the teenagers started liking it. But when it really got there it was adults doing it. You can say that it was a youth thing, but the youths saw that the adults were having a lot of fun doing it and that’s when they started grasping onto it.

And House-O-Matics was a dance crew that danced to house music?

RP Boo: Yeah.

Did you grow up listening to house music in Chicago?

RP Boo: Yes. It was something I grew up listening to every Saturday night. What really made me grasp onto it was that it wasn’t music being played individually, it was music being played for hours by being blended together. That was what I caught onto. And I started saying “How were they able to do that.” I was just more of a listener back in the early 80s, especially to the radio.

One of the radio guys was Keith Funkin Farley, later called Keith Jackmaster Farley, he was one of the best DJs on the radio at the time on this radio station called WBMX. I learned later on about Frankie Knuckles, but the radio stations were promoting Jackmaster Farley. Years later I learned about Ron Hardy. I was just mesmerized. There was nothing else in between that.

How did house music transition into footwork?

RP Boo: The transition was more of the tempo speeding up. House music was at 120 [BPM], 125, then with ghetto house and booty house it went into 145. And how footwork went from 145 to 160, it was due to Chicago’s different dance groups wanting to try something totally different.

And the dancers wanting to compete with one another would take a record that normally was played at 33 [RPM] and take it up to 45, and being creative and just dancing to these crazy Mickey Mouse haywire tunes. Producers just started looking around like, let’s try and make that.

It was producers like DJ Clent as well as Traxman that really started to put it out there. I was still doing 145, 150, and I was comfortable with that because that’s what I could visualise for the dancers, but eventually 160 got more popular for the dancers, but I was okay with that, that’s just switching tempos. The times was changing. I was a dancer myself, so I didn’t want the dancers to look sloppy, a lot of them still look sloppy, but I love to see people look good doing this. 160 is hard, but I learned to smooth it out with the transitions to make the dancers look good. It took me a couple of years to master that, but I got it.

How did people react when you started playing those first footwork tracks?

RP Boo: Wherever I went and played, they loved ’em, no matter where I went. I started in ’91, and by ’93 I was damn good, I wasn’t making any tracks, I was just mixing Chicago styles, house, soon to be ghettotech, booty house. I was unstoppable.

You said that DanceMania, the large house music label connected to House-O-Matics, didn’t want to release the tracks you were making at that time. Why was DanceMania so apprehensive about putting out the music you were making with DJ Slugo?

RP Boo: I guess they weren’t used to the sounds constantly changing. But I remember when Slugo asked them for an advance, and they said no because they didn’t think the music was going to make a difference. But the label itself was having troubles with the federal government, taxation and stuff, but at the time it was more political, you know, it’s Chicago.

But me and [DJ] Rashad had nothing against DanceMania because that’s where we started from, but they never really cared about the new styles that were passing them by, that’s why DanceMania is where it is today, still producing nothing. I don’t know who’s bright idea it was, but now they’re trying to say they were the innovators of footwork, but I tell them no because they never gave us the opportunity, we’ll still shout them out, but they can’t tag footwork as their own.

How were the first footwork tracks released?

RP Boo: The track that actually did it was “114799”

That was the first footwork track?

RP Boo: That was the first footwork song that the world started noticing. There were other footwork tracks that were before that, but due to that being on Database, DJ Godfather’s label, that’s what lit the spark. After footwork got a little more popular, people were able to trace it back through Myspace. But that’s when it was still credited to DJ Slugo. Those who were in Chicago would get on the Internet and say no, that’s not Slugo, that’s RP Boo, that’s how Slugo was able to get away with so much before the Internet came. The Internet exposed him.

Back then a lot of DJs had to put out mixtapes and hustle to put food on their table, not me, I had a job, but a lot of these people’s mixes had other peoples tracks on them, and they’d never give out credit. Like one day this lady called me and said she was listening to the radio and they played my track and announced it was someone else and she called into the radio station and told them ‘no, that’s RP Boo,’ and I was like, ‘there you go.’ And I was not taking that no more, we were forced to make tracks on our own, that sounds selfish, but I don’t like being selfish.

You were talking about these community spaces out in Chicago parks that you were playing as being an important element in the growth of the culture, but a lot of people outside of Chicago following the culture have this name recognition with this place called Battle Groundz. What is Battle Groundz?

RP Boo: Battle Groundz was just a house that took a chance, because before there was Battle Groundz there was War Zone, which was one of the first places that actually did it, but they were more of a traveling, going place to place renting out storefront properties to do these events.

The people that came up with the actual idea for Battle Groundz was DJ Spinn, DJ Rashad, and AG from Terra Squad. A lot of people don’t know that. Those three were the ones that came up with the concept. But Battle Groundz is just a house, that’s all it was. Battle Groundz is not the mecca of Chicago, it’s not the mecca of footwork, it’s just a place where people could come in and showcase and whatever else. It’s just a place where a lot of these kids can go to and get they footwork on.

You mentioned [DJ] Rashad. When Rashad released Double Cup in 2013 there definitely was a lot of hype around the record and footwork from people and media outside of Chicago, and even more so after Rashad passed, can you talk about what it was like in Chicago then? Did you benefit from the success of Double Cup?

RP Boo: No, because my album, Legacy, came out before Double Cup. I was standing on my own two feet. But it hurt me, after Rashad passed, because he wasn’t really able to enjoy the success of Double Cup. That’s something that Rashad would say if he were here right now, not every man for themselves, but every man be able to stand on their own two feet, because that’s what I tought him as well.

After Double Cup came out, a lot of people thought that Rashad had lost his touch, and we were like nah, Rashad excelled. That’s what me and Rashad knew how to do, we knew how to excel past or change styles, but it’s not no overnight success. And that’s an issue that’s still going on over here in Chicago. I still know what’s going on here in Chicago, I still read in-between the lines. There is so much hatred for what Rashad had done with Double Cup. They thought that Rashad was a sellout.

Why is that?

RP Boo: Because his sound excelled. His style excelled. He thought, when you grown, you excell, that’s what they don’t know in Chicago. Rashad was on a whole ‘nother level. I was on a whole ‘nother level. We tried to explain to these people in Chicago that when you’re an artist you grow, you don’t stand still. You travel, you learn from other producers, your style gets smoother, and that’s a thing that a lot of people in Chicago still don’t understand.

Now, two years later, footwork seems to be creeping back into a sort of underground consciousness. Chance the Rapper invokes footwork in his music, and Dj Spinn’s remix of Kanye West’s “All Day” has been getting some traction. Where do you think footwork and the culture is going? Do you think it can gain a foothold in the wider public’s consciousness?

RP Boo: It’s growing. I’m in L.A. right now dealing with Juke Bounce Werk, a juke crew out here. It’s growing. In New York it’s growing. And that’s the part I love. A lot of people are grasping onto it. Now dealing with the culture in terms of dancing, especially in L.A. with groups like Creation, it’s grown tremendously.

Really? Like people are actually doing footwork at the shows?

RP Boo: Oh yeah! Especially here in L.A. It’s amazing. Even if three or four people were footworking, it’s still amazing. It’s like, you’re not from Chicago, but you sure know what you’re doing. People from Chicago have been coming over and teaching people like King Charles, and his students are dangerous, I give them props, they doing a good job out here in L.A.

What if you just can’t footwork?

RP Boo: What I tell people is, well it depends on the DJ, but especially me, I look at them and I’m like, if you can’t footwork, don’t worry about it, I’m watching you. If I got you in a groove, even if it’s just bopping your head, or if you just move a certain way or just jumping up and down, that’s what I want you to do. You’re still moving your feet, and that’s footwork to me. That’s your footwork, and I accept.

One last question, who are some young footwork producers we should be looking out for?

RP Boo: Jlin. I listen to people that are in The Panic Room. EQ Why. DJ E-Dub, sometimes known as Stoney Park, he’s still trying to figure out what name he’s going to use. Those are the ones, but I know there’s more. I always got my eyes and my ears open because I know they’re out there, but they’re being overshadowed by people at Battle Groundz, and it’s still the same politics of “my name is bigger than yours so you can’t spin.”

I’m going to always keep my antennas up to see how are the up-and-coming producers because a lot of them are out here, but they’re being overshadowed by bullies. Footwork is a style that will always be embraced by others and is willing to embrace other genres, and we just love to see people have a good time and as long as I’m alive I promise to do my best and bring other projects to life…

A lot of people are saying footwork is dying out, but those are people that are not really involved in it because the sound has grown beyond what people thought it could be, the style has evolved and moved onto places like Japan and Poland. There’s people in Denmark that’s willing to learn. Those of them in Chicago don’t want to see it grow. They want to take claim of something they don’t have anything to do with. It’s hard. This new generation of young ones aren’t being led the right way, and the people that are able to lead them are in different positions such as myself. Because I have to tour, I can’t be at home in Chicago. Touring is my job now, and that’s how we spread the sound, and even the culture of the dancing.

RP Boo’s new album, Fingers, Bank Pads & Shoe Prints,
is out now on
Planet Mu Records.

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