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Tribute: DJ Rashad

by Philip Sherburne

Tribute: DJ Rashad

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It's been a tragic couple of months for Chicago house music. First Frankie Knuckles passed away, and now we lose the pioneering producer DJ Rashad, who was found dead in his home over the weekend. Rashad was one of the key players in the city's footwork scene, a hyperlocal community of DJs and dancers who came together around dizzyingly fast 808 beats, tricky syncopations and vocal samples looped until they begin to play tricks on your brain.

Footwork was hyperlocal until DJ Rashad came along, anyway; around 2010, Rashad and his peers (DJ Spinn, Traxman, RP Boo and others) became global ambassadors for the sound. A style that non-Chicagoans formerly could find only in YouTube clips of dance battles spread quickly across labels like London's Planet Mu and Hyperdub and New York's Lit City Trax; and Rashad toured the world, schooling newcomers in the dazzling intricacy of footwork at its most euphoric.

Rashad had been putting out records for a decade, but it was in just the past couple of years that he really hit his stride. As he reached beyond the genre's ghetto-house and hip-hop roots, he began incorporating a wider and wider array of influences in his music -- classic R&B, Detroit techno, acid, classic house, jungle, film dialogue, even YouTube memes. No two Rashad records sounded exactly alike, but they all bore his unmistakable signature: hypnotic, heady and sometimes tinged with melancholy. Rashad's records made it clear that footwork isn't just a style, it's a lens for viewing the world, and he telescoped across great distances with it.

His passing hurts in a different way than Knuckles' did. When Knuckles died, we lost a piece of Chicago house music's history. But with Rashad's death, we lose an immeasurable piece of its future. In his honor, we've put together a playlist of some of his best work.

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