DJ Rashad Okayfuture SXSW

DJ Rashad & Spinn at Okayfuture’s SXSW showcase in Austin, TX on March 13, 2014.

Chicago has lost another innovator.  Producer, DJ, musical genius, torchbearer of Footwork and Juke, godhead, ambassador, innovator, crew-founder, father. Rashad Hanif Harden (aka DJ Rashad) packed a lot into his 34 years.

Video by ORBITRON.

Born in Indiana and raised in Calumet City, Illinois, Rashad started DJing in 1992.  While in the 6th grade, he met his longtime collaborator and ally DJ Spinn in 1996 during homeroom class at Thornwood High School. He would go on to release his first tracks on vinyl in 1998 (D.B.C. Disko Baller Clique DM 255), mislabeled as DJ Thadz. Over the next decade, he would go on to perfect his skills as a DJ and producer, playing with numerous Footwork crews in and around Chicago.  After the release of “Itz Not Rite” on Planet Mu records, and subsequent inclusion on “Bangs & Works Vol.1” in 2010, Rashad became an in-demand touring DJ, traversing the globe, frequently with DJ Spinn by his side.

DJ Rashad and Spinn 1

As someone who helped develop the raw and driving sound of Footwork, it was only natural that Rashad would be an integral part of it’s evolution. Rashad brought a level of depth and complexity to Footwork production that pushed the sound to a whole new level, while never losing sight of it’s roots. The amount of feeling and range of emotion that’s packed into his productions cannot be understated. You can hear the yearning in the melancholy strings and vocal samples of tracks like “Let It Go” and “I’m Gone.” You can feel the tension and rage in tracks like “I Don’t Give a Fuck” and “Shoot Me.” But these tracks were only the opening chapter to what would become Rashad’s Opus, his 2013 album, Double Cup.

Released on Hyperdub in late 2013, Double Cup was a touchstone for Footwork production. Incorporating elements of Jungle, Hard Techno, Jazz, Soul, Acid House and Ambient into the mix, the record has a certain maturity and nuance that can only come after a producer has honed his skills. This an album that was produced by an artisan who knew his craft, who had put in the time and had clearly articulated his vision. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Complex and countless other music publications named Double Cup among the best releases of 2013, and with good reason.

Double Cup was the culmination of an artist who developed his talent at the fringes of dance music, in a hyper-local scene which he helped create. It was something that was greater than the sum of it’s parts, and those parts were an integral part of the process. Not only did the record prove to be a pivotal moment for the sound, but it was truly a group effort.  Spinn, Taso, DJ Phil, Addison Groove, Manny and Earl are all credited on the record which bore Rashad’s name. From the opening, to the ominously titled last track “I’m Too Hi,” the record serves as a testament to innovation.

DJ Rashad’s influence cannot be understated. He was the first DJ to play a set of Juke and Footwork on European radio (on Rinse FM). He released records on Dance Mania, Juke Trax, Ghettophiles, Lit City Trax, Planet Mu and Hyperdub. He played globally, at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, Brussels’s Regulate, Rinse FMs FWD>> in London, NYC’s MOMA PS1 Warm-Up &Turbotax, Austin’s SXSW Music Festival, and still maintained a gig on Chicago’s Southside every week at the Underground Track Factory. The man put in work, and it showed in his music and his steady and unprecedented rise to the top.

dj rashad

Listening to his records as I write this, there is one unmistakable characteristic of his work. It grabs you in an uncompromising way. Whether the gritty and raw elements of his early work, or the more nuanced and refined sound of Double Cup, you simply can’t ignore it. There is so much feeling, so much conveyed in the production that it’s hard to not have a visceral reaction. It is the raw elegance of the street, the message of a culture, the recognition of the fact that what can be created at the edges in a pure raw form can be elevated to the status of the Gods.

Sadly, the last of the great producer DJ Rashad’s work, the We on 1 EP was released on Houston, Texas-based label Southern Belle Recordings earlier this week, but his greatness will live on forever in our hearts.


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