It’s a sad but unavoidable fact that any discussion of We on 1, the new EP by Chicago DJ Rashad Harden, will inevitably be overshadowed by his tragic death last weekend at the age of 34. But this won’t be another eulogy–not least because I’m hardly qualified to write one. I’m no expert on Rashad, nor on footwork, the house-derived street dance music he is widely credited with innovating. But I did think his breakout album, Double Cup, was one of the best records I heard last year; and I think We on 1 stands as further proof of a talent that will be sorely missed.
Footwork is of course first and foremost a dance music, so take this cloistered academic’s perspective with a grain of salt; but what I find most appealing about the genre is the way it strips its various constituent styles down to their barest elements, exposing their innate absurdities but also, and more importantly, what makes them tick. Both We on 1’s title track and “Come On Girl,” a collaboration with Rashad’s Teklife compatriot DJ Spinn, demonstrate this tendency in spades: they’re stark and darkly humorous, driven by throbbing basslines and sped-up house beats with repetitive vocal samples that manage to stay on just the right side of “annoying.” “Do It Again,” also featuring Spinn as well as DJ Manny, broadens the sonic palette to include a sample of “Again and Again” by L.A. indie pop duo the Bird and the Bee: only sped up, chopped to pieces, and rearranged until it is practically unrecognizable, replacing the original song’s hip Wes-Andersonian retro-moodiness with a knowingly empty hedonism. “Been fuckin’ her for hours, been fuckin’ her for hours, been fuckin’ her for hours,” the voice (Manny?) repeats. It’s as blissfully exhausting as it sounds.
Finally, the most accessible track of the bunch, “Somethin ‘Bout the Things U Do,” may also be my favorite. A collaboration with Chicago ghetto-house DJ Gant-Man, it’s a deconstruction of Chaka Khan‘s 1984 Prince cover “I Feel for You” that retains the funk and the joy of its source material. And, while I hope to resist the critic’s tendency to look for significance in freak coincidences, the joy especially is a nice thing to hear. DJ Rashad’s life and his music career were both cut tragically short last weekend; but “Somethin ‘Bout the Things U Do” ensures that the latter, at least, was able to leave us with a smile on our faces.
We on 1 is available now on vinyl from Southern Belle Recordings, and will be available for digital download on May 13. Stream via Soundcloud below: