When Frankie Knuckles died, there was a sense that Chicago house music had lost an invaluable piece of its history. Juke and footwork innovator DJ Rashad’s death hurts in a different way: As the dance music community grieves for the 34-year-old footwork producer, it’s beginning to sink in that, this time, we’ve lost an unfathomably large chunk of the music’s future.
Rashad had been recording for at least a decade, but it was just in the last few years that he really began to take off. And as he rose in popularity, his music just got better, weirder, more original, and more jaw-droppingly out-of-left-field. Rashad took footwork, a rigidly utilitarian music crafted primarily for battle dancers, and turned it into a field of limitless possibility — a zone where rap and soul samples collided with house and jungle and YouTube jokes, and where party jams joined with deep pathos. Where so much dance music feels like it’s running on fumes, Rashad gave us a sound that felt genuinely, thrillingly new. The sound will live on, and it will keep “Footworkin’ on Air,” as one of Traxman’s songs puts it, but no one made it soar like Rashad did.