Review Summary: In Memoriam
DJ Rashad is dead. That much we know. He was found unmoving in a Chicago apartment yesterday, and could not be resuscitated. Authorities suspect the cause of death was an overdose, likely having something to do with the lean he professed to love so much. His death was wholly unexpected: he was supposed to play a show in Toronto on Friday, he has a new EP coming out on Wheez-ie’s new Southern Belle imprint this week, and people were starting to take heed of his music and the Chicago footwork movement as a whole. Hyperdub, the label to which he was signed, will release an official statement on Monday, confirming the tragic news with a tone of finality.
The ordeal - news outlets blowing up, friends posting anguished statuses, and the outpouring of support into the whole Teklife family - feels, for lack of a better word, really weird. I’m not going to pretend I had some sort of incredibly close relationship with the music coming out of Rashad Harden’s camp, but his death hits hard. For probably the first time in my (admittedly short) experience of musical awareness, a musician’s death has meant something to me. I hate to trivialize something as horrible as Frankie Knuckles’ death a month ago, but he has a long legacy of top-tier house music to his name and was already in poor health. What’s more, it didn’t feel like a “contemporary” artist dying, per se - as much as I know how innovative Knuckles remained late in his life (his phenomenal Boiler Room set last year demonstrates that), he had already put his stamp on electronic music irreversibly.
Harden, on the other hand, was still in his creative prime. His remarkable Double Cup
, released less than a year ago, is ample proof of that. It signified his breakthrough release, his first achievement of widespread critical acclaim which would have flung open the doors of the world to him. Now, instead of being a fantastic LP - the first of many fantastic LPs, maybe - it will forever remain his masterwork, the final full-length attempt from a beacon of light in the electronic music scene before his untimely death. The shock of his sudden death is - and will continue to be - devastating. DJ Spinn and DJ Godfather, two of his closest friends in the music world, have tweeted their shock. Kode9, head of Hyperdub, has changed his profile picture to Rashad to memorialize him. Dozens of artists, from Disclosure to Chance the Rapper, have expressed their condolences.
Which is where the weirdness sets in, I think. It’s one thing to have a close family member or friend die (and believe me, I know what that feels like), and in that case the emotions are easier to categorize. Grief is the obvious one, with anger, moroseness, and a few other interrelated sentiments thrown in. Again, not to trivialize the trauma of the death of a close relative, but it’s simply easier to know what you’re thinking in a situation like that - immediately after the death, grief alone is powerful enough to overcome all other feelings. However, here we have an artist whom I respect greatly and like a fair bit but whom I never got to know beyond his music. I can gauge the tragedy approximately, and I know how much this means to his close friends and family. I just don’t know how I really feel
, at least beyond the simple anguish that’s obviously less powerful than the anguish others are feeling right now.
I suppose the best word to use is “conflicted.” Here’s an artist in his prime who is prematurely gone from the world, and I don’t really know what to think. Am I feeling guilty because I pirated Double Cup
? I guess so. Am I a little uneasy because I think Twitter and Facebook can be kind of shallow and inadequate receptacles for outpourings of emotions? Sure, I think I am. Am I slightly troubled by the fact that even with all the support Rashad’s received over social networking, the topic isn’t even close to trending on Twitter and Facebook (far behind a minor baseball injury and a yearly cheerleading championship)? Maybe so. Am I apprehensive about the fact that most of my experience listening to DJ Rashad will happen post-mortem, in part influenced by the cold fact of his death? Probably.
I guess that the only real way I can make sense of his death to myself, aside from writing about it here, is by understanding it through his music. Much of Double Cup
takes on sinister undertones, colored by Rashad’s unforeseen passing: the haywire heart-rate-monitor synth in “I Don’t Give a Fu
ck,” the “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” mentality of “Drank, Kush, Barz,” the robotic vocoder repetition in “I’m Too Hi.” (Regarding the latter for a moment, the frenetic jungle breaks smack uncannily of the fifteenth anniversary of DnB maven Kemistry’s death, a day before Rashad’s.)
Listening to Double Cup
, something I’ve been doing a fair bit of over the past two days, is a bit of an existential crisis. So many musician deaths, as with all deaths, are completely and utterly random, be it because of a cat’s eye or one narcotic drug too many (and judging by the “narcotics and drug paraphernalia” found near Harden in the apartment, it seems as though this is the likely cause of death). What happens if something random like this strikes again, afflicting an artist I absolutely adore? What if fate decides to strike even closer to home - what if a family member dies because of something out of their immediate control, like a drunk driver or an addiction? I don’t think there’s any way to resolve those questions adequately, aside from knocking on wood and hoping nothing like this comes our direction anytime soon.
All this is why I think Double Cup
will be regarded as so important. Years after this, when some fuddy-duddy dance music historian comes back and unearths a copy of this album, he or she will no doubt find some sort of bullsh
it deeper meaning that was the foreshadowing of his death or something. Why I think it’s a necessary album, though, especially now, is that it’s a reflection of self, as all good art is. It embraces the kind of hedonistic lifestyle which, true to form, caused Rashad’s premature death, it’s a supremely social release, and it’s representative of the kind of drug-fuelled camaraderie that’s come to define much of the music coming out of Chicago today. It’s some of Harden’s final words, no more, no less.
And, to be honest, the simple fact that it represents DJ Rashad as an entity and (possibly) a person is why it’s going to be an essential release in the months to come. Although the 5.0 up above is mostly symbolic (and, sure, I guess I’d give this a 3.9 or a 4.3 or something if this were going up last October accompanied by a feeble drone of meaningless cliches), I really do believe that Double Cup
is a classic album. It’s impossible to tell whether the footwork scene has anywhere left to go now. Sure, Spinn and Traxman will keep putting out quality stuff, but this album likely will represent footwork at its peak, the defining album of the style. While I think the idea that an artist can fully live on after his death through his artwork is a bit simpleminded, there’s still truth to that aphorism. As we get used to referring to the producer in the past tense, we’ll turn to Double Cup
as not only the probable pinnacle of footwork but also his last words of sorts, the best way we can try to understand the mind of Rashad Harden. Rest in peace, Rashad. You will be missed.