Footwork is from Chicago—there’s no other way to say it. It’s a musical movement that comes from joy, to be sure, and the pleasures of motion, but the artists behind the genre see Chicago not just as a city but as a place to nurture creativity, expression, and community. When exposed to the quick and rhythmic sensations of footwork music, dancers are compelled to move in new and exciting ways.
Every movement is carried by someone. Footwork’s most important icon was probably the late DJ Rashad: he founded the influential footwork label Teklife, and his legendary album Double Cup (its cover shows an aerial view of Chicago by night) transformed footwork forever and dictated a notable shift in popular music generally. That’s why his death in 2014 delivered the movement a substantial blow—the genre had lost one of its greatest patrons.
In an effort to preserve Rashad’s legacy, Afterlife was assembled posthumously and released in April. It’s a compilation of fifteen unreleased songs created before Rashad had finished Double Cup. A listen through the album reveals footwork’s dynamic nature, showcased through looped vocal samples and jittery hi-hats. The music also demonstrates a unique honesty and a desire to portray emotion in a frank, exuberant manner. Lyrics such as “smoke like a junky and fuck like a nympho” prove that DJ Rashad wasn’t interested in creating art that didn’t represent who he was, or that adhered to conventional standards of politeness.
Critics have argued that the tracks on Afterlife are too independent of one another, and that the resulting incoherence diminishes the work as a whole. But when we consider DJ Rashad as an individual, this independence becomes one of the album’s greatest strengths. Many who knew DJ Rashad credited him for his inclusive attitude towards his peers, and his willingness to integrate their work with his—he was described as an artist who was always open to collaboration. It’s this congenial personality that also accounts for how heavily Rashad influenced the growth of footwork as a movement. Every song on Afterlife has at least one feature, reflecting Rashad’s unique ability to make his art communal. In that sense, the album is just as much a Teklife production as a DJ Rashad one.
This fact is underscored by the presence on the album of younger Teklife producers like Taso, DJ Taye, and DJ Earl, who show off the varied directions footwork has been taking recently. Though each song on the album certainly fits squarely within the footwork genre, many also contain unique components that make them distinct from the genre’s traditional forms. For example, while “Roll up That Loud” contains traditional elements of footwork, layering hi-hats and synths over looped vocals, “Wear Her Pussy Out” stretches the role of samples by having them transition from the forefront of the song to an accompaniment position. The list of variations goes on: Gantman, another producer, utilizes sprinkler hi-hats and drum rolls during “Ratchet City,” while Tripletrain, a New York footwork duo, harness the melodies of smooth synths during “Pass That.”
From Traxman’s digital melodies on “Lost Worlds” to DJ Spinn’s brooding rhythms on “Oh God,” many original pioneers of footwork also contributed to complete DJ Rashad’s posthumous project. Through the diversity of his features, DJ Rashad played a crucial role in linking the past with the present, and this album shows just how well-suited he was for that role. Although Afterlife may not be as cohesive as Double Cup, its variety and potential to inspire new innovation will probably promote footwork’s future overall.
Despite his recent death in 2014, DJ Rashad is often credited as the man who revitalized Chicago footwork. As shown in his breakout album Double Cup, Rashad managed to prove not just the potency of the dance form in battle-oriented environments, but also the many familial aspects underpinning the genre. He was also known to be someone extremely open to collaboration—his tour bus would not only hold musicians and other DJs, but also dancers. In that sense, Rashad didn’t just define footwork’s boundaries, but also broadened its definition and scope.
A partner and longtime collaborator with Rashad, DJ Spinn has also put his personal mark on the international footworking community. As the current figurehead of the Teklife label, he’s working not only to continue the legacy of DJ Rashad, but to sustain footwork’s modern appeal by signing several newer and lesser-known artists.
A member of Teklife since 2012, Taso’s musical abilities extend further than just being a DJ. He is also a multi-instrumentalist who has a degree in audio engineering. His diverse skillset shows that Teklife has the experience to push Chicago footwork forward.
A high school science teacher by day, Boylan moonlights as a member of both Teklife and the Ghetto Teknitians. With over a decade of experience as a producer and DJ, Boylan is another example of Teklife’s depth.
Based in New York, the duo known as Tripletrain work to develop footwork’s increased influence throughout the United States. Both of its members, DJ DBK and DJ Mel Gibson, have substantially influenced the electronic footwork scene in New York and elsewhere.
Traxman started off producing ghetto house, influenced by the sound of Ron Hardy. However, as time went on, Traxman developed his own identity and became a central figure in the Chicago footwork scene. Nicknamed “Pacman Juke,” Traxman’s ability to integrate sounds from 8-bit videogames into his music gives his work both a unique sense of identity and a tie to digital culture.
While he got his start in dance battles, DJ Earl became involved in footwork after meeting DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn. Soon, he joined the Ghetto Teknitians, a group of footwork DJs who are also a part of the Teklife music label. He’s since become an important player in the next generation of Chicago footwork.
After bonding with his high school friends over the allure of footwork, DJ Taye began producing beats of his own. He reached out to both DJ Rashad and DJ Manny, and managed to clinch a spot on the Ghetto Teknitians. He continues to make unique and innovative music through Teklife.
Hailing from Harvey in Chicago’s south suburbs, DJ Manny mostly grew under the mentorship of both DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn. Footworking and DJing since the age of ten, the twenty-one-year-old has long since established himself as one of the genre’s most respected up-and-coming talents.
Berlin-based DJ Paypal acts as an integral member of Teklife abroad. He’s also contributed towards the experimental hip-hop and jazz label Brainfeeder, whose members include Flying Lotus and Thundercat.
Although Chicago-based DJ Gantman is thirty-seven, he has been producing since the early eighties—thus, the community knows him as the “The Youngest Professional DJ.” Gantman dropped his first EP by the age of fifteen and began touring around both the U.S. and Europe at eighteen.
A founding member of both Teklife and the Ghetto Teknitians, DJ Tre didn’t always work as a producer—rather, he began with a focus on dancing, heavily attracted to the juke and footwork scenes but eager to put his own spin on them. Later on, Tre discovered his abilities as a DJ and began working with DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn to pioneer a new sound.
DJ Phil is another member of the Teklife collective. His music works to not only maintain his local roots, but push Chicago footwork on an international scale through his affiliation with Teklife and their goal in globalizing the genre.