On Saturday I found out about DJ Rashad’s death like almost everyone else did — on Twitter. For even the most casual listener of juke or bass music it was an unexpected punch in the gut nobody was braced for. Rashad Hanif Harden, 34, was on top of his game at the time of his reported overdose in Chicago. After toiling for years as an underground DJ/producer in Chicago, he connected with UK-based Hyperdub Records in 2013. The label presented his music to a bass-loving global audience that was developing a taste for the raw, slice-n-dice post-Dance Mania Records sample-based tracks he’d been producing for years. Rashad’s 2013 full-length Double Cup for Hyperdub transitioned him from single slinger to proper album artist. The full-length earned him artistic cachet though his association with Kode9‘s respected imprint and its clique of artists. While Rashad didn’t become a millionaire or anything as far as we know, he was able to climb a few rungs higher on the global DJ ladder. He gigged a lot more internationally and added festival dates to his tour itinerary.
Witnessing the outpouring of love for Rashad on social media — his name was trending on Twitter for almost two full days — was beautiful. So many fellow DJs, artists and fans paid tribute to the man and his musical chops, but I wondered how much of the hyperbole was lip service. Juke is an acquired taste even for even the most diehard house-music fan, and the footwork parties I’ve been to are always relegated to small clubs attended by only a smattering of hardcore fans. How could so many people love the man and the music but not fully support both?
I spoke with Detroit’s DJ Godfather to get some perspective on Rashad’s tragic death. While it was widely reported that Godfather broke the news about Rashad’s passing on Twitter (we got it wrong too), he says he did nothing of the sort. In this exclusive interview conducted on Monday afternoon, Godfather, who knew Rashad for over a decade, released a chunk of his work on his Juke Trax label and was scheduled to headline a party with Rashad and DJ Spinn in Detroit on Saturday, walks us through the timeline of how he learned about Rashad’s passing. He also shares how he met the Chicago phenom and offers some initial thoughts on how he might pay tribute to his late friend.
First off, how are you doing in light of Rashad’s passing?
DJ Godfather: I could be better, but I could be worse. I’m one of those guys that when things like this happens I just stay busy. I mean, it’s the only thing you can do. It is what it is, you know.
How did you learn about Rashad’s passing? You guys were supposed to play together on Saturday.
Yeah. Rashad and Spinn were my artists for a very long time. I released probably their first 60 or 70 tracks they ever did on my Juke Trax label. We still kept in contact while they’ve been doing things with labels overseas the last year and a half. It was actually a really good look for them, and we kept in contact. We were supposed to play this party together and then my partner at my label hit me up and said that someone he was with knew someone from their booking agency and she heard a rumor about Rashad passing. He didn’t know anything and was trying to figure it out. I got like tons of people in Chicago so I made a few calls. A few people told me [the rumor] was true and that they weren’t putting it out there yet. So I didn’t say anything. A few hours later I saw people tweeting [the news] so that’s when I told a couple of people. It seems like the tweet I did was picked up by every blog after that. It looked like I broke the news, but I didn’t. They asked me to keep it quite for a minute until the family found out. Then when I saw other people tweeting it I was like the cat was out of the bag. I had a conversation with another guy on my label, DJ Shortstop, and then everyone took that tweet I did and put it out there.
What happened next?
I had everyone calling me thinking I was at the scene, but I wasn’t. I don’t know what Rashad overdosed on. I don’t want to know.
“I remember when he’d give me tracks to submit he’d give me two and three CDs of tracks. I’m like, Dog this is so much shit! I couldn’t keep up with it!”
Where was the party you, Rashad and Spinn were supposed to play?
It’s called North End Studios here in Detroit. It’s an art gallery and they turn it into a venue sometimes to do underground parties. Me, Rashad and Spinn were the headliners. I called Spinn when I found out everything and he was just landing in Detroit coming from Canada. Rashad was supposed to play with Spinn the night before in Canada and Rashad got refused at the border in Canada. Being in Detroit I live literally five minutes from Canada — it’s just across the river — and you can have a DUI from like eight years ago or something stupid and they can refuse you [entry] at the border. I don’t know why they refused Rashad, but he went back to Chicago and Spinn did this party in Canada and right when he landed he told me he was hearing the same news that I heard. That’s when I made some calls to Chicago early in the afternoon around 1:00 or 1:30. I guess he was by a guy named Sam’s place — I don’t know who he is. They tried to wake him up but couldn’t revive him. They called the paramedics and from what I understand the paramedics said Rashad was already deceased before they even got there so there was nothing they could do.
How long did you know Rashad?
About 12 or 13 years.
That’s a long time. What went through your mind when you saw the outpouring of praise on social media and tributes? I mean, Rolling Stone even covered Rashad’s passing.
Well, when when juke music started coming out we took over when Dance Mania stopped putting out music in Chicago. We were doing the ghettotech thing in Detroit and were mixing records together. I got [to release] some of the records that Dance Mania didn’t release, and we started talking to artists. That’s when I met DJ Clent and that’s when I met Rashad and DJ Spinn. They were young-ass kids and I thought their shit was really good and started putting it out. Then they started taking the juke movement really big over the past year and a half and Hyperdub started putting it out. I guess they were treating it like it was a new kind of music. [Rashad] got a lot of notoriety from it but when people pass away you know how other people try to attach themselves to the situation even though they’re not really involved or close with the person. I just can’t stand that shit. A lot of people come out of the woodwork when someone passes away and act like they’re involved in the situation. I saw tons of that shit.
For me to see a lot of mainstream publications talk about juke and how Rashad was an innovator confused me in the sense that they’ve never paid much attention to juke. It’s like they recognized him only because an event put his name in the news.
I agree. Even labels that are putting juke out now act like they brought this music there. I was DJing overseas 20 years ago and was playing ghettotech when they’d never heard ghetto anything. I was 19 years old, and I’m 38 now. Everyone’s talking about this music…it’s kind of techno-y. Back then we weren’t even trying to do a genre — we were mixing techno records with Miami bass. When we all started learning how to produce records — me, DJ Assault and a couple other guys — we started taking what we liked from different genres and started fusing it together. Then we started making the records that way instead of mixing the records that way. When I got turned on to a lot of the Chicago guys, then the younger cats were doing this thing called juke music because that’s what they called the footwork. In Detroit they were jitting. You’ve got these labels now just releasing this shit and they’re kind of taking the credit and it’s hilarious to me because I was playing that shit and going over there before any of those guys even heard the music. It’s funny and I don’t bitch about how people are or rant and rave online about it.
During Red Bull Music Academy’s video interview with Rashad and Spinn he was asked how he makes tracks. Rashad said that in a given day he could finish five or six tracks. Was he really that prolific?
Yeah. You also have to consider the kind of music he made. There’s a lot of guys who could do the same but Rashad was very fast. It’s drum-driven music with a lot of old soul samples. So pretty much if you have an MPC 2000 or 3000 and a pair of headphones then you can do a record. There weren’t too many synth sounds and even if there were the focus was on the drum machine. He was definitely a monster who could crank out a lot of shit.
“I remember when my friend Proof from D12 passed away and there was so much ridiculous shit. I’m starting to see a lot of that with Rashad’s passing and I need to step back and steer away. Let’s have the smoke settle and see who’s really there for him and who’s just trying to jump on the bandwagon.”
I remember when he’d give me tracks to submit he’d give me two and three CDs of tracks. I’m like, Dog this is so much shit! I couldn’t keep up with it! When I first started putting out Rashad we were releasing vinyl before digital got really big. It was right before that transition. We were putting out vinyl, and I was like, Dude, we can only put out like four of your tracks. Otherwise, the more you go over 12 minutes on one side of vinyl the volume gets lower and the grooves get smaller. I tried to keep under 12 minutes, and he was giving me 17 tracks! [Laughs.] I tried to keep up with him. When things went digital I was able to put out more of his stuff. He was definitely cranking them out that’s for sure. I was really proud of him and his success and it was good to see him start to travel. It reminded me of myself back in the late ’90s when I started traveling abroad playing ghettotech overseas. Now in Detroit there’s under five people making the music now but in Chicago there’s so many people doing it. And they’ve influenced a lot of people around the world to start making it.
In total, how many of Rashad’s tracks did you release?
Shit, that’s very hard to say. We released 208 vinyl releases and those all turned digital, and we literally did a couple thousand releases after that. I would say approximately 60 or 70 tracks of his. Then we did about 40 or 50 of Spinn’s. Those two were like best friends.
What was at the core of your connection with him?
DJ Clent introduced us all. I had reached out to him because I loved a lot of his tracks. So Clent started driving from Chicago to Detroit — it’s literally a four-hour drive. So Clent would start coming to Detroit a lot and a couple of times he brought Rashad and Spinn. They’d come kick it and stay at my house. They didn’t even have a party to do — they’d come and hang for a few days and stay with me. They’d come to my parties and then come back to my house and have a party. It wasn’t one thing particular; we all just started hanging a lot. I’m not a party promotor but I got them on some parties here in Detroit and then I got them all involved in Movement festival [Editor’s note: the photos DJ Godfather provided for this story are from Movement 2007]. I got Rashad, Clent, Chi Boogie along with some Detroit guys in. When they stayed with me I would be upstairs and they would be banging on an MPC in my studio.
Do any memories stand out from the time you spent with Rashad?
I had a lot of respect for Rashad, Spin and Clent from day one. They always saw that I was releasing their stuff because it needed to be out. At that time with Dance Mania shutting down there really was no outlet for a lot of ghetto house and juke music. There was so much music that they were the reason why we came up with Juke Trax because were releasing a lot of our stuff on Databass.
Do you have any unreleased tracks of Rashad’s?
I have CDs upon CDs. We released so much stuff that I’d literally have to go through the CDs and check the catalog and see if we released it.
When Frankie Knuckles passed there were many tributes. David Morales did an event. Dimitri From Paris did an amazing DJ mix in his honor and Jimmy Edgar did a remix of “Baby Wants to Ride.” Are you planning on doing something like that for Rashad?
I’ve been thinking about it but it’s not right at the moment. I’d like to take the catalog he did for us and do a straight DJ mix and take the profits and put them away for his son. I’m not trying to do anything right away. Like I said before when people pass away everyone jumps on a bandwagon a day later and it’s way too soon for that stuff. Let’s process what happened and do something properly, not jump on an opportunity because of the hype that someone has passed away. If I’m going to do something, then I want it to benefit him and do it the right away. I haven’t even talked to him about it but I’ve been thinking of asking Spinn to come and host the party and MC it, and I’ll get on the turntables and record the mix and do what I do.
And hopefully all of the people who expressed their love for Rashad will step up and buy it.
I agree. I remember when my friend Proof from D12 passed away and there was so much ridiculous shit. I’m starting to see a lot of that with Rashad’s passing, and I need to step back and steer away. Let’s have the smoke settle and see who’s really there for him and who’s just trying to jump on the bandwagon.
Images of DJ Godfather and DJ Rashad from Movement 2007 courtesy of DJ Godfather