Image via Wills Glasspiegel
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Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
Ten years later, the cup runneth over. In 2013, DJ Rashad, an icon of Chicago’s footwork scene, released what became his magnum opus: Double Cup. Footwork—one of America’s great dance-music traditions, a whirlwind of claps and snares and samples chopped just so—was ascending across the globe at that point, but there’s always another dancefloor to convert. Double Cup was a hurled gauntlet for the genre: Hyper-regional club sounds wrapped around decades of dance-music traditions and launched into the stratosphere.
It was also something of a coronation. As a teenager, DJ Rashad had a slot on a local radio station’s airwaves, and he played—and danced—at a local roller rink. He knew footwork, juke, and ghetto house from a DJ’s perspective, but also from that of a dancer; with the House-O-Matics dance crew, he was partially responsible for throwing legendary parties in Chicago, filling up warehouses and filling rooms with motion. Double Cup was him pushing this sound he loved so much to a global stage, taking his crew with him and forging an entirely new crown in the process.
Death has a funny sensibility, though. Not long after the release of Double Cup, Rashad passed away of an accidental drug overdose. He had spent decades building up to this point, and, suddenly, his story seemed to come to a close. But his work lives on: It’s not every day that an album gets a ten-year reissue, after all. Prior to his death, Double Cup was already regarded as a monumental work in Chicago dance music; afterwards, it was monolithic. It became a testament to the power of local scenes, the importance of building an entirely new language with your collaborators, and the joy of setting dancefloors alight.
In the years since Rashad’s death, footwork has continued its slow-burn growth. Names like SHERELLE and Addison Groove are stretching the genre’s history into new forms abroad, while genre OGs, like DJ Manny and RP Boo, are offering their own takes on the Chicago club-music mainstay. But few names are quite as critical as DJ Spinn. The Chicago-born DJ grew up playing alongside DJ Rashad—in high school, they’d commandeer the radio during homeroom. In the years since Rashad’s passing, Spinn has picked up his torch. In his work with Teklife, a critical outpost for modern footwork, Spinn has helped shepard the genre into the future without losing sight of its roots.
This work—maintaining a legendary legacy without becoming a strictly archival project—might initially seem a bit fraught, but that’s what footwork has always been about. It’s about grabbing detritus from the past and cracking it into umpteen new forms, making something that feels radically new in the process. Ten years on, Double Cup represents a peak of the genre, and it offers a snapshot of countless crowded dancefloors. It’s 53 minutes of relentless forward momentum and a sweat-soaked celebration of communities. Somewhere in its folds, situated between the livewire samples and white-hot percussion tracks, lies an entire universe.
In advance of Double Cup’s reissue, we caught up with DJ Spinn, talking about dancing in roller rinks, hauling mixing equipment in the rain, the LP’s legacy, the future of footwork, and lots more.
(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)
So we were at the Rink on a Friday night, [and] Rashad was spinning up there. We were like, “Okay—there’s a young dude up there DJing. Okay—he’s playing that stuff we’re hearing off WKKC!” That’s the college station out there, 89.3. So I tuned in to that; there was a show called The Young People’s Network. I didn’t even recognize that this is the same DJ Rashad from the radio, but I heard his selection, and I was like, “Dude’s got some tracks.” I watched Rashad come down from the DJ booth with two records mixing. These are records—records! There’s no CDJs; this is about ‘95.
Anyways, I watched him come down and hit some dance moves—some real smooth and cool stuff. Then he goes back and starts DJing again. After that, I was like, “I’ve got to meet this dude.” I’d seen him around, but I think that night I actually asked him something. We didn’t get real cool until high school—freshman year, for me, when we went to Thornwood together. That’s when we really started to get to know each other.
With mixtapes, you really didn’t know when to change the next track unless you memorized the tape, so you had to memorize a person’s whole mixtape. They would leave a track open: You might not get it from the beginning, and you might not get it all the way to the end. But I’d queue it up. I mixed from other people’s mixes, and I mixed mixes together. They were decent! They were decent mixes. It wasn’t trash; it wasn’t a bunch of train wrecks. I knew how to mix tapes.
That was my first method of mixing. I had a pitch deck: A standalone little recorder deck that had pitch on it. I mixed songs in the car; I mixed songs on the radio; and I came across mixes and stuff like that. My mom had a radio with RCA input, and that’s when I figured out I could record onto the tape. I didn’t know anything about mixers at the time. I made it mix: From the tape that was already in there to the tape that I had with the recorder deck; I could record back to the recorder.
When [Rashad and I] were in high school, we had homeroom together—we have similar last names. Our homeroom happened to be the arts and crafts room. There was a radio in there, and every Friday, the arts and crafts teacher said, “Y’all can play the radio! It’s a free-for-all. Every day, during the week, I get to play my music for y’all.” Basically, we took over the radio instantly. Nobody else vouched for it; they ain’t stick their hand up. We were like, “Alright, we got the radio, y’all.” The first Friday leading up to that, I was telling Rashad how I mixed, but I was kind of fronting. I knew what I was talking about as far as DJing, but I knew from watching TV and movies—Juice. I told him, “Yeah, I’m mixing.” And I was mixing records! But I didn’t have Dancemania records at the time. I only had some house records, or something like that. I’d mix on the top of the turntable and slow it down with my fingers. He was like, “Make me a mix! I want to hear something.”
The Friday [prior to that], they did another DJing gig at Markham Roller Rink: DJ Rashad, DJ Nehpets, Jana Rush, and Gant-Man. At the time, I didn’t know that these were all the kids from WKKC; I’m not putting this together. Nehpets was selling a mixtape called Space Age Pimp that night, and I’ll never forget it—It was purple. I bought that tape. I had a couple Deeon mixes, this, and a couple mixes from the streets. Like I said, I was mixing mixes together. I mixed a mix and brought it to school. At that time I had a mixer, so I could mix my records or tapes. I only had one pitch, so I had to accurately slow something down or speed it up. But I was cold at it.
I probably didn’t have the right counts, but all the blends were on point. I made that tape for the first Friday, and bro checked me out. There were some tracks playing, and he was like, “Man, how’d you get that track?”. I said, “It’s from that tape y’all were selling last week—the Nephets tape.” He heard some blends, and he caught me: He went, “Oh, you’re mixing mixtapes.” I said, “Yeah—I ain’t got no records.” He said, “I’m gonna invite you to my place—I’ma show you something.”
When Rashad invited me to his house, he called me while I was at work. I called him back, and it sounded like he was at a party. He was like, “You still coming over?” I said, “Where you at?” He said, “I’m at home.” I was like, “Man, what’re you doing?” He said, “I’m in here mixing!” I said, “What? You got turntables in there?” He said, “Bro, come over. You’ll see.” I’m geeked.
I got over to his house after school for the first time we linked up. I’m like, “Oh, man, they’re in a nice condo.” You’ve got to get buzzed in through the gate. Rashad’s funny, man: He was tagging the elevators. [laughs] He couldn’t help himself. He was just that type of dude. We were walking down the hallway after he tagged the elevators, and we got into the apartment. I’ll never forget that smell. I always loved that smell; it reminds me of success. I’m like, “Man, it smells good in here. It’s put together.” He says, “Man, come into my room. Forget all that.”
I’ll never forget the mirrors. To be a dancer, that’s the number one thing that you’ve got to have. There were mirrors almost everywhere in this house. It was cool: “We’re gonna get some practicing in.” He’s like, “Come back here.” He took me to his room, and he’s got everything I wanted, and even stuff I never knew about. I see the turntables. He had the DJ starting kit, the [Technics SL-]BD10s and the Gemini belt-drive turntables.
Then I saw his WKKC tag, and I said “What! Y’all have been on the WKKC?” He said, “Bro, I DJ on WKKC.” It all started coming together. He was like, “Man, go ahead and mix.” I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m wrecking over there, but he’s like, “Man, it’s all good. I know that you know what you’re doing. Let me show you something.” After we mixed for a bit, he pulled out a drum machine. He had a Gemini mixer with an 8-second sample on it. [laughs] I’m wild about this: I’m like, “I this is that stuff that I saw in those equipment books.” I forgot what it was called—Musician’s Friend?
One of my buddy’s grandfathers used to get those mailed to his house. We’d look at these books and see this equipment. It was real technical stuff. The only reason I could keep up with that language was: I used to read a lot of game books. I read a lot of Electronic Gaming Monthly as a little kid. So I’m reading these books, and I’m looking at this equipment: “How’d he get all this stuff? That’s $500!” I asked him, and he said, “Man, I DJ. Matter of fact—you can have this mixer.” I’m like “What?!”
After Rashad showed me his drum machine, we started doing a little dancing session; he was showing me some moves. It was a rainy day, and his dad came home early. Rashad ran to the refrigerator when his pops came in. When his pops came in and saw me, he looked surprised. He said, “Hey. How are you doing?” I’m like, “How are you doing, sir?” He says, “Rashad’s not supposed to have any company.” [laughs] It wasn’t a good first meeting. Rashad has his head in the refrigerator, and he’s like, “Where’s Rashad?” He took Rashad back to his room, and Rashad said, “You gotta go, bro.” I’m like, “Damn, alright. This was cool, though.”
I took the bus back in the rain, but I had this mixer. I didn’t have an umbrella, and I was trying to not get it wet. I’m geeked. All I want to do is [use the mixer]—say, “Shit, shit, sh-sh-sh-shit. Bitch, bitch, bi-bi-bi-bitch.” After two weeks of just being at the house with the mixer, Rashad was like, “Man, you can use the drum machine.” We were rocking with each other from that day forward.
It was a huge building. When I think about it now, I’m like, “Was this place even operable?” I don’t think it was up to code. We had windows open, and big fans [running]. There was electricity in there, but I don’t think we had air conditioning. But we were kids; we were 15 years old. We were happy to have a home to DJ with our dance group and to represent. That’s all we wanted to do.
Let me show you something: This was the pinnacle, to put our name on a flier like this. These colored flyers: It was an award to see this around the city. This was in ‘97 or ‘98; it was a Bud Billiken Parade afterparty. Those were the biggest parties to be at, back in those days. After the parade, we’d throw a big party. Those were the days right there.
In the late ‘90s, radios would do a thing called the “30-Second Workout.” It got extended to 60 seconds, and then it got extended again. DJs would submit their own mixes. It was a drastic shift from ‘95, when Rashad was DJing on WKKC: In ‘99, none of the younger guys were a part of those programs anymore. Working on the radio seemed far-fetched to us; it was way older guys. We were happy about the workouts, though: At least we got something on the radio.
After a while, though, it was like, “They’re playing us. What are we really getting from this?” So we started making a bunch of underground renegade music: We focused strictly on the footworkers. That’s the birth of footwork, when ghetto house was in its decline. When it was juke, we were making ghetto house—it was just faster. We were still dancing a bit up to 2000, and we were like, “Let’s change this up.” The technology was changing, too: We had the opportunity to timestretch. We could speed something up and make it sound like a chipmunk, or we could make it super slow. Once you could take a song and manipulate its pitch and time, we started sampling everything. In the early 2000s, it was no holds barred.
Without us being overseas in London, we’d have never gotten that opportunity. We went to Chance’s show [in London], and we were the last people to get in. Our homie was DJing for Chance, and we got in contact with him. He told us we were on the list; we weren’t on the list, but I ain’t mad at him. We finessed our way in. The security gave us that look like we were somebody; they knew we wouldn’t do any harm. We went in, and Chance was immediately like, “What’s up? Would y’all like to go on my first tour with me?”
Mind you, I thought my buddy would be DJing [too]—opening it up with hip-hop, and then we’d close it out with footwork. My buddy didn’t go on that tour, though, and we ended up getting two slots: We got to open up and we got to close. At that time, we weren’t tripping about closing. But then I saw the superstar thing happening, where Chance would smash it. It was like, “What are we supposed to do after that?” [laughs] But we still did our thing. That was one of the best tours I participated in.
I had an album or two that got lost with break-ins and my computer getting stolen in Peru. That had some of the last tracks Rashad and I worked on. It was incredible, and I can’t even start to put those pieces back together, because it was all about being in that place at that time. I keep that in my memories, but now, I gotta make something better.
When a person like myself gets to meet all these young artists, and once we get relationships going, I believe things will get a lot clearer, and we’ll be able to set bigger goals. I’m the one that’s going overseas; I’m the one that’s done this. They can take this to the next level, and that’s a whole new check. It’s a whole new way to entertain people. I don’t think the kids from Chicago understand that they can have that impact. They’re happy to perform, make their videos, and get some shows out of town. When I tell them they could go global, I think it scares a lot of people.
When The Era started coming with the rap mixtapes, I was like, “Okay! Y’all for real about this!” That’s what it’s about: It’s all about showing that you’re serious. Once you show somebody that you’re serious and consistent, you’ve got a thing going. If we stay serious and consistent, and people hear the work, then they’ll say, “They’re serious, and they keep it coming, and they keep feeding us!” But in this day and age, you’ve got to feed people a lot. [laughs]
There’s so many labels. There’s Moveltraxx. There’s labels devoted to strictly footwork: Duck n’ Cover from Japan, there’s some guys from Poland putting out juke. That’s what it’s about: Genre solidification. That’s the dream. I’ve said it quite a few times, but to one day have that DJ Rashad award, or, one day, a DJ Spinn award. That’s the legacy I’m looking toward. I’m confident with how we make music. I’m 42 years old, but I swear, I don’t feel a day past 22 when it comes to making this music. I can do this on the lickety-split. At this point in my life, I’ve got the responsibility of my kids; I can’t be a wild man out here. At the same time, I want to be a creative man. I could be a TikTok star; I could make TikTok music in a heartbeat. But come on, now. That should be kids doing that. That’s not for me. I want to make young music for grown people.