Following the unfortunate, widely felt death of one of, if not the faces of footwork, DJ Rashad in April 2014, the long-burning footwork movement cooled for a moment as its artists figured out how to deal with the loss and continue making the music that bound them together. In Meaghan Garvey’s fascinating history of the genre for the Pitchfork Review, DJ Earl, one of the younger members of Teklife, stated, “I sat down and was like, How do I do this without Rashad?” DJ Spinn, Rashad’s closest collaborator, continued, “I didn’t know what to make a track about after that.” But in 2015, the genre churned forward once more, from Spinn’s Off That Loud EP to the globetrotting producer DJ Paypal’s promising debut Sold Out. But through it all, no release has yet to capture the magic of Rashad’s powerful artistic statement and love letter to Chicago, 2013’s Double Cup. Luckily, Bay Area Teklife affiliate Taso has come closest on his newest release, New Start.
Like the best footwork full-lengths, New Start might be billed as the work of a single artist, but the credits immediately indicate that this is a team effort. In addition to Taso on every track, DJs Rashad, Spinn, Gant-Man, Manny, Tre, and Taye collaborate throughout, with only one track, “Murda Bass”, being billed as a Taso exclusive. Thus it becomes at once apparent what direction Taso would take footwork on his own and how the genre works as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis in progress: the individual styles of each member comes together to form a movement-wide sound. And it is on these tracks that, as on Double Cup, the most transcendent music occurs.
The album’s title (also lending its name to the opening track) sends a message that Teklife is, for lack of a better phrase, having to start anew after Rashad. But this does not mean that he will be forgotten; instead, the opening, expansive synths recall the running melody on their collaborative opener to Double Cup, along with Spinn, “Feelin’”. The sample doesn’t hide the message, either, with the lone words heard being “New start / You left me broken-hearted”. It’s clear the sting his loss still radiates to this day, but Taso added in a whispery synth in the background that hints at hope. Inventive little flourishes like these – footwork Easter eggs, if you will – are what make multiple listens so rewarding; you come for the up-tempo hi-hats and reverberating bass, but stay for the details that make these producers as compelling as they are.
These nuances lead to a lot of quick snippets that build upon one another and disappear as quickly as they came. Over these nuances, however, are an ample number of shit-talking samples following the somber words of the title track. Case in point: track two, “Don’t Get Mad” with Gant-Man. “Don’t get mad, ain’t my fault / ‘Cause your chick on my dick” a pitched-down voice boasts almost immediately into the song, booming staccato bass moving into a more spacious use of the instrument with a juke-esque pace throughout. The current electronic paranoid breakdown — a rapidly increasing stringy synth that gets ever higher before a change in the beat – also makes an appearance to show the cross-genre appeal of footwork. “Bussin’”, the track that follows, takes a similar approach, but this time with an ambient backing. The range on New Start and how it all ties back into the footwork ethos is most impressive.
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Speaking of impressive, can we talk about never-too-early-to-talk-about-year-end-lists song of 2017 contender “In the Green Room” with Taye? The song begins with dripping synths a la creeping hip-hop production and an unedited vocal sample speaking slowly much like the calm before the storm. But when it breaks, oh, it breaks. Taso manipulates the words always for speed and pitch; sometimes complete thoughts form out of the words, other times, it’s just snippets carefully selected for feeling. The production behind it is at once danceable and introspective, a quiet guitar-esque riff morphed into a distant cry while the bass booms. It’s an enthralling experience and luckily placed fifth in the track list, or you would have good reason to replay the song ad infinitum.
The other tracks, however, are absolutely worth replaying. Even the experimental bent of “Murda Bass”, this album’s cohesiveness is what makes it so special. Like one of Arca’s mixtapes, were the song boundaries stripped away and each track played directly into one another, you would be able to sense certain breaks but never a continuity jump. New Start, like Sold Out before it, is a showcasing of footwork’s far-reaching appeal and a necessary addition to its canon. But the highest compliment that can be given is that even though Taso is based in the Bay Area, the feeling of Chicago never leaves.