Footwork crews battle at a community center in Chicago.
There is one thing I can say in this interview…all I got to say is, a lot of people used to come to guitar center when it was on 81st and Cicero. My actual R-70 was a display model. When I bought it, it was the last one there, I didn’t buy it new, I bought it used. So a lot of people in the world already programmed those sounds. You never knew who touched that R-70….but to the time I’d like to thank y’all for putting your work in…but you just couldn’t do what I did!
From Dave Quam’s interview with RP Boo,which is not on his blog at the moment, but was fortunately saved in my RSS reader. Dave’s been doing some sustained excavating of Chicago’s ghetto house/juke/footwork history, and it’s no simple task. Obscure underground releases rub up alongside circuitous oral histories, interwoven with memories of past slights and fantasies of future success. One difficulty I’ve encountered in similar work I’ve done in Detroit is the challenge of breaking scenes down into constitutive individual artists. This is, of course, the typical way music history is told — genius makes breakthrough, alters course of music 4-EVA.
This individualistic hard-working ideology is as pervasive as ever, and there is no doubt important developments in terms of individual records, unique personalities, and lots of thankless time struggling in the studio. But scene histories rooted only in individual artists fail to capture the whole picture. Not only are they inaccurate, but once the myth becomes reality and certain individual artists are cherry-picked by a globalized audience, putting out artist albums, their work often falters. Their genius was never completely their own. RP Boo may be the inventor of the footwork tom skitter, but a lot of people in the world already programmed those sounds.
Me and Rashad have always been cool but a lot of guys get us mixed up. I’m more of an originator when it came to samples. Rashad is the type of person to where I can come up with an idea and he can feed off of it. He can take an idea and turn it into a different version. He’s like a grimy version of what I am. I’ve been quiet for two years, and a lot of these cats out here right now are hungry, they are fucking hungry because they are waiting to see what I’m gonna do. Every time I do something that’s what they feed off of. They’re like pilot fishes, the pilot fishes are the ones that follow the shark and eat up his leftovers.
Inidividualized histories play down this type of collaboration which is often crucial to underground production. Independent artists struggle to make ends meet. They share their resources, material — acid house pioneers literally passing around drum machines — and creative. DJ Assault’s classic work, which helped to crystalize a specific Detroit sound, was really the dialectical tension between Assault (the grimy one) and his collaborator, Ade (the musical one). As increased wealth beckoned (particularly in the form of DJ gigs), Ade was cut out of the partnership. By most accounts from Detroiters, both men’s productions suffered. They fed off each other until they each fed off somewhere else. Music scenes are ecosystems that require the mutuality of shark and pilot fish to last.
Kayne West, I like him, but from what I hear, his style comes from listening to old tapes back in the day. … He studied the style. Basically I would say he studied the style but he didn’t copy me, I just gave him a source of reality. The man was fucking smart! I’m not gonna knock his hustle because it’s nothing to knock! He was just fucking smart. It’s a style of Chicago and that’s all it is. If you can feed off one, you run with it. If you can patent it, OK cool! I have no business about it. But when it comes time to it we still have different styles, and if I went into the rap business I could take a sample, and fuck him off the first one! But what is it? I’m not here to compete. I’m here to let it be known and share what it is.
Kanye, as pop star and celebrity, perhaps the apogee of the autonomous individualism type, is implicated in this. RP Boo gave him a source of reality, and he was fucking smart enough to take it beyond Chicago, a city in which he no longer lives. Boo won’t knock Kanye’s hustle, his ability to take production innovations outside a local scene to global pop artists. But Kanye is no longer part of Chicago — he can exist in a landscape in which Chicago does not register, although the city’s imprint may have influenced his technique (Kanye himself has credited NYC’s RZA and L.A.’s Dr. Dre as influences). Boo works a different register. He is here to let it be known and share what it is, to instantiate the energies and creative force of Chicago’s streets, channel them, to feed and let others feed off of categories labeled, by outsiders, ghetto house, juke, footwork. “The tracks back then didn’t have a name for it…it was just considered local artist’s music….and it never had a name back then.” They aren’t genres, not genres-as-marketing categories. Those reifications come later, when the music and the figures involved become export commodities. “It was just more of a saying of what the dancing or what the atmosphere of the party was like.” The genres are not sounds — they are social worlds themselves, assemblages of DJs, producers, hosts, dance crews, cameramen, promoters, hustlers, partiers formed through local infrastructure, global economics, and idiosyncratic technology. Structures of feeling. Atmospheres. This is the hardest part of writing this history: finding the subject.