chicago by August Prum March 6, 2018
Chicago footwork is one of the most vibrant music scenes in America, yet is left all too unexamined by those outside the Windy City.
In the ’90s, footwork started as a form of dance, more precisely dance battling. Battlers would square up to rapid, turbulently sampled, electronic beats, drawing from the remnants of Chicago house and Detroit techno.
For South Side Chicago kids, like King Charles, footwork represented a form of expression. The sounds can seem harsh to a novice listener, the ultra-high-BPM tempos can be hard to grab onto, the cascading drums and piercing samples are pretty unfamiliar to fans of hip-hop or dance music.
The late great DJ Rashad’s Double Cup is often pointed to as the project that brought footwork from the functions of the underground Chicago dance music scene to the masses.
Meaghan Garvey wrote for Pitchfork that Double Cup was, “a work that proved footwork could transcend the dancefloor functionality of its origins and flourish in the full-length album format.”
Rashad’s Double Cup is a seminal piece of dance music, repackaging Chicago footwork in a way that both honors the genre’s roots, but also pushed the needle forward, offering a revolutionary vision as to what footwork could be.
The man who brought footwork to the forefront would pass away of an accidental drug overdose in 2014, but Teklife, the label Rashad founded, has carried on his mission to keep the genre alive.
This is where DJ Taye comes in. Teklife’s youngest member released Still Trippin’, his first album, last Friday, and taken footwork to fascinating new heights, both sonically and formally.
DJ Taye’s Still Trippin’, much like Double Cup, pays homage to footwork’s earliest characteristics, but also expands on the sound of the genre, pushing its possibilities further into other genres.
Unlike Rashad, DJ Taye raps on his own beats. While producers voices have appeared over their production in dance music, it’s a new wrinkle to the footwork landscape.
DJ Taye’s Still Trippin’ begins with “2094”, the twinkling pianos and cascading synths rise and fall like a mechanical fountain. It feels like a sort of tribute to Rashad himself, “2094” would fit comfortably right inside Double Cup.
But Still Trippin’ is much more than a stylistic tribute to DJ Rashad. In many ways, DJ Taye takes Rashad’s mission and pushes it forward, adding new layers and new techniques, the most obvious of which is the presence of Taye’s own voice on the project.
With this, Taye offers this chaotic collision of hip-hop and footwork. On “Trippin'”, Taye raps over a wild, bubbling beat as the synths dart around.
Taye combines the unfamiliarity of rapping over footwork production with the more footwork-inherent chopping and screwing of his own vocals.
“Smokeout”, featuring DJ Lucky, sounds less like rapping-over-footwork than just a far-left hip-hop song of a Shabazz Palaces or Flying Lotus.
This is the same quality on “Get It Jukin'” with Cool Kids legend Chuck Inglish, until Taye mixes up the MC’s vocals with rapid drums that are as footworky as any.
Then Chuck is back to rapping. It’s a wild song construction, virtually making the chopping of these vocals as the song’s chorus.
There are levels to this trick; footwork rarely has typical “choruses,” but with “Get It Jukin'”, Taye inserts what is basically a footwork-derived chorus into a hip-hop song. The results are staggering.
“Same Sound”, with Montreal singer Odile Myrtil, goes even further.
With original recorded vocals, “Same Sound” imagines a vision of footwork production with pop, or more typical songwriting, elements.
All of this genre-blending begs the question of whether Still Trippin’ even qualifies as footwork.
While I think the necessity to categorize something into a specific box sort of misses the point, throughout Still Trippin’ DJ Taye brings us back to the ultra-BPM world of footwork without the frills of rap verses or more typical songwriting.
“Truu” is footwork at its boppy best with the urgently and chaotically chopped up sample and heart-racing drums that hit you at every level of your ear.
On another DJ Manny collaboration, “The Matrix”, Taye shoots glitchy, video game lasers that sound like they were mixed by A-Trak at the listener.
It’s as wild of a dance song that you’ll hear.
“Need It” clashes elements of deep house with a footwork sample. Even when Taye leans more towards the dance aspects of his music, he’s pushing footwork to the limits.
The post-dub synths on “Need It” sound like something out of 2011 UK dance music, while the sample and drums are straight Rashad footwork.
There are few things more exciting than a young, upstart artist bursting into a niche genre and blowing the whole thing up. That feels like what DJ Taye is doing on Still Trippin’.
It’s so rare for an album to be formally revolutionary and representative of that genre at the same time.
Still Trippin’ is set to be a footwork classic, not in spite of all of the extra layers the project adds to the fabric of Chicago footwork, but because of them.