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Review: DJ Rashad and RP Boo Make Footwork Feel Again on ‘6613,’ ‘Fingers, Bank Pads, & Shoe Prints’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: July 02, 2015
Label: Hyperdub

Footwork was never meant to be funeral music. Unwitting scene grandfather RP Boo has said that his earliest ghetto-house derived tracks were explicitly constructed so that he could perform at the after-parties of Illinois’ annual Bud Billiken parade — these were songs meant to make people, and specifically Chicagoans, dance. Decades later, footwork still mostly retains that early ecstasy, but just over a year after the death of godfather and guiding hand Rashad Harden — known only under the recording alias of DJ Rashad — it’s hard not to look back at his discography, and the whole of the sound he helped popularize, with a newly tear-misted lens. With sober reflection, even the narcotic highs of his 2013 masterwork Double Cup start to shatter into melancholic shards, like a glimmering house of glass that’s suddenly lost its foundation.

Harden’s longtime label Hyperdub is issuing what’ll likely be the first of many archival releases from his reportedly vast store of unreleased tracks. And even if not for the heartwrenching context, 6613 marks some of his most aching moments ever on record. Despite its galloping tempo, “CCP2″‘s bleeding heart is yearning electric piano parts and slivered soul samples. Occasionally, Harden would use the same ingredients to bristle with the same nervy energy as a panic attack, but though this track hints at a rave-up, it remains subdued and mournful.

The EP’s closer plays out like an especially solemn memory of one of his best known tracks — instead of not giving a fuck, he’s explicitly forbidding it. The grayscale environs of both “I Don’t Give a Fuck” and 6613‘s “Do Not Fuck” eschew Rashad’s usual for something more austere, but the latter track goes even more downcast. After opening with a synth line that’s as close as Rashad came to the overcast Twilight Zone score, the track jitters and judders with the ascetic thrust of its pitch-warped vocal. It’s disorienting and unsettling — heartbreaking even, given the circumstance of the release — but Rashad seems to be saying that those emotions are just as natural and human as his uglier, druggier bangers.

RP Boo, born Kavain Space, has traditionally been content to confine his activities to the DJ booth, but his latest album, Fingers, Bank Pads, and Shoe Prints — in a bit of poetic timing — arrives the same day as 6613. Culled from the entirety of his career, these tracks don’t bear the outward signs of mourning of Rashad’s release, but at their heart there’s a sort of solitude that only occasionally makes its way onto the dance floor. His compositions are skeletal and rudimentary in comparison to the work Rashad’s Teklife crew, galloping around with the gawky rapture of a newborn fawn.

But even as the stitched-together instrumentals strive upwards, he weights them down with the same instrumental ballast that makes 6613 so affecting. Even “Bang’n on King Dr” and “Finish Line D’Jayz,” the pair of tracks that most readily reference Space’s parade DJ roots, Boo undercuts the triumphant vocal samples with stutters and static. A line like “motherf—ck your favorite DJ” could be a battle cry in the hands of another producer, but Space unfurls another elastic vocal in the background and a series of jackhammering kick drums — rendering it lonely and sinister instead.

Throughout footwork’s short history there’s song titles that suggest the genre is about internal contemplation as well as external movement (see Rashad’s “Feelin'” and “Way I Feel,” Traxman’s “How I Feel,” DJ Spinn’s “I Really Feel,” and even 6613‘s “Cause I Know U Feel”) so these release are in some way, well within the genre’s tradition of processing what’s going on in the world outside of the club. So how does footwork move on from the tragedy of April 26, 2014? Boo and Rashad give answers here: dwell in that headspace for a moment, mourn when you can. And then you take the advice RP Boo offers halfway through Fingers: “Let’s Dance Again.”