From the day she got her first ghettoblaster while growing up in Chatham, Jana Rush—aka JARu—has always been connected to Chicago music. Her ascent into the scene reads like folklore: at ten years, she called Kennedy-King’s WKKC 89.3 FM to schedule an audition. “Once they were done laughing,” Rush tells me, the DJs showed her the ropes, and juke icon Gant-Man took her under his wing. By 1996, Jana had put out a single and a split 12” with DJ Deeon on the legendary house label Dance Mania, where she was billed as “The Youngest Female DJ.”
But in the two decades between The Armageddon 1996 and last year’s MPC 7635 EP, Rush had been away from the public eye and, for the most part, out of the scene. “You know, I’m not much of a communicator—typical engineering student,” she jokes.
Rush had been busy “adulting”—she settled upstate in Antioch, started working as an X-ray technician and volunteer firefighter, and put herself through engineering school. Between the jobs, the homework, and the four-hour commute to UIC, there wasn’t much time for producing.
And yet, even the late DJ Rashad was asking her when she was going to get back to music. “I think he was ticked off [that I wasn’t creating], but he was like, ‘Okay, you come back when you’re ready.’ And even then, I knew: it wasn’t time for me to do anything, it wasn’t time for me to say I was committed, quote-unquote. Because I really wasn’t! But I think it worked out for the best.”
In the early 2010s, Rush returned to Chicago’s near West Side, graduated from UIC, and started releasing tracks again. “Once I wrapped up that part of my life, I knew it was time to do what I’d been wanting to do forever. I was like, right now, this is my time. I don’t have to do anything else for anyone, so I’m just going to do it for me.”
Then, she got a message on her Soundcloud from Lara Rix-Martin, the head of Objects Limited—an up-and-coming label “focused on female identifying/non-binary electronic musicians.” Rush says “she made me realize that this music world is mine if I’m serious and want to take it.”
Rush is serious, and people are paying attention. In July, Objects Limited released her debut LP, Pariah—a off-kilter blitz through juke, acid, hip-hop and footwork. Now, she’s working on a sophomore album, crowdfunding a vinyl pressing of Pariah, talking with booking agents, trying to get her passport sorted out for an upcoming European tour—and working at an oil refinery and as a CAT-scan technician.
Still, Rush made time to stop by WHPK 88.5 FM for a track-by-track conversation about Pariah. Our talk is excerpted below.
I did this one way, way back, when I got my MPC 2000 XL* after my first X-ray job—so that was probably 2004. For then, it was too weird! I had some obscure jazz CD, and I just took it and started playing with the filter—basically, what I’m trying to say is that the jazz track sounds nothing like this at all. And I just kept working on it; this track didn’t come together in one day. Actually, I dedicated this one to my uncle. He had passed away in like 1995; all of a sudden he just fell out. I think this is appropriate for him.
*An Akai sampler popularized in hip-hop production
4. “??? ??”
So, this is a funny name for a track…
Well, I don’t really want to say too much, because this is a sample [laughs]. It’s an obvious one, too. But I just decided to juke it out!
Speaking of juke––something that stands out to me about Pariah is how it runs through so many uniquely “Chicago” styles.
Well, I’d say I hadn’t settled with a genre yet! You know, me with music, I’m just gonna keep going until I figure out where I fit most.
My presence is kind of lukewarm with the footwork community—though you have some people that know the history, know where I stand with Rashad and the Teklife crew—because I didn’t really come around on the scene very much and didn’t put many tracks out. [But] I guess what I’m trying to say is that footwork isn’t the end-all. If it doesn’t work out with footwork, I’m going to do something else! I like music in general. One of my favorite producers isn’t even a footwork producer, it’s Timbaland! You know—whatever happens happens.
5. “Break It”
“Break It” was a track I made under pressure, and the deadline––well, I wasn’t going to make it, basically. But I got to the studio and pushed that track out in about twenty minutes, had it mixed and everything! When I come from work at the oil refinery, and I’m tired as fuck because I’ve been out in the sun all day, I just go: ‘This is what we’re going to do.’
I kind of work backwards: a lot of people start out with the sample first, they cut the samples and they get that all situated. I did the drums first, then I found some vocals and started pounding it out.
Do you think there’s a common thread to your production?
Well, what my music has in common is that it’s typically crazy—and it sounds chaotic, but it’s not. In my mind, it works out. I guess that’s one reason why I like Venetian Snares. When my mom listens to his tracks, she’ll be like—“what is this noise?” But you know, it makes sense to me, and that’s how my music is.
There’s a recipe for footwork; there’s a recipe for the subgenres of footwork. There are recipes for everything, but I don’t typically follow the recipe, with the arrangement, with the beat. Like I said, some of this lukewarmness is my fault, so I’m not going to bitch and moan about it.
A lot of critics love that you broke those formulas—how do you respond to that buzz?
I mean, I love it. I got to the point one day where I just felt like crying. And I’m not one to be on feelings-type stuff, so for me to feel like I wanted to cry—to be getting recognized […] I feel like an imposter, basically, and I definitely don’t feel like this is my best music. But it’s very inspiring to be better, and just keep going at it, and stop being defeated all the time!
6.“No Fuks Given”
This track right here, I didn’t even like it when I did it. I just gave it to Lara. [But] this was when she was like, “let’s do an album this time.” I had just bought some 303 emulator* and I was trying to figure out how to work it, how to put it together with the drums and everything.
*A “squelchy” Roland synthesizer made famous by acid house
Is acid house a big influence for you?
First record I [owned] was an acid track—that was “Land of Confusion” [by Armando]. I was really heavily into acid house when I was a teenager—like Acid Tracks Vol. 3 , that was the shit. They had a track on Vol. 2 called “Box Energy” [by DJ Pierre], that was killer. Plus, all Tyree’s stuff, like “Video Crash.”
Do you normally produce in a home studio?
I produce a lot in my home studio, but I try to have a setup where I can produce anywhere. I take my equipment around with me a lot [because] I look at my equipment like a sketchpad—you know, if you’re an artist, you take your sketchpad everywhere. I sketch when I’m out, and when I come home, I’ll listen to the projects and pull it together.
What’s the strangest sample you’ve ever used on a track?
I used a Minnie Riperton sample in a track on my Soundcloud—she’s the lady with the high voice that Mariah Carey tried to emulate! Again, no one would know that was her, but that was one of her tracks—I don’t even know which one it was now! I love her sound; I love her band from back in the day.
In terms of sampling, the person whose footsteps I’d want to follow is J Dilla. The way you flip a sample can do so much for a track. To me, messing around with samples is not just finding a sample and pushing a button and saying, “Ah, yeah, I got it up to 160 BPM.” I like to play around with it.
9. “Acid Tek 2”
I made this last year for a little Bandcamp comp. I wasn’t floored by it—I was just like, “This is a basic acid track,” while everyone was like, “Oh, this is cold!” But I really recognized that people like this and it’s a good track when I was out in LA and going to a party, and as I entered, they were playing it! I didn’t know the DJ or how he got the download, but it was going off.
Traxman was on me about it too; he was like, “Sis, I am playing this in Japan, they love it!” And I was, like “Whatever!” But in LA, I was like: “Hey, this is something.”
Does the “Tek” in the name have anything to do with Teklife?
It has nothing to do with Teklife. But I guess it would’ve been cool to lie and say yeah [laughs].
11. “Chill Mode”
I like the seductiveness of this track. You know, this is one of the last tracks that I did for [Pariah], so I was under a lot of time constraints. I feel like this track could’ve grown a little bit more, but at the same time, I like the simplicity of it because I hate when tracks are overproduced. You can tell when something’s been over-fucking-cooked!
What’s your mindset when you sit down to record something?
You know, a lot of the time, when you start making [a] track, it’s not time to actually make the track. Your best ideas don’t come when you’re thinking about it, or when you’re like, “I need to come up with an idea.” It comes when you’re playing around, and end up like—“Man, this is awesome!”
12. “Frenetic Snare”
There are a ton of breakbeats on this one—do you think of it as a jungle track?
It’s jungle-y, but no, not a jungle track—because in that scene, they’re very particular about their sound and their snares. So if you throw an amen break* on a track and be like, “Ah, I’m a jungle producer now”—you’re gonna get disrespected. So I call it what it is: jungle-y, breakbeat-y. Still, I really like this track!
* A drum break from “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons, widely regarded as the most-sampled record ever.
So, what’s next for you?
Well, at the beginning of the year, I’ll be getting over to Europe—so where my mind is right now is getting a passport…. I’m excited, but I also know it’s hard work, and that touring can beat you to death. So I’m trying to take care of myself more, and actually get to the gym instead of just talking about it—because if you think about it, you’re just performing, but DJing is an endurance sport. If you show up and you’re not ready, you’re gonna crash.
You don’t want to do that in front of your fans…. You might think that fans come and go, but in reality, people invest in you. If you’ve got people investing in you and you are fickle about what you’re doing, then it’s harder to get people interested, because they don’t know if you’re playing or not.
So I just want to give my all, give one hundred percent to the people that got me to this point. I didn’t get myself to this point. I made the music to get noticed, but the fans are what sustain you—so if you can’t put in for them, then you’re dead [laughs].
Jana Rush will perform at Laura in Wicker Park, 1535 N. Ashland Ave., on September 9, 10pm–4am. Tickets $10. Info at facebook.com/ThemFlavors. She will also perform at the Hideout Inn in December.
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