House music, footwork icon DJ Rashad found dead on Chicago’s South Side
By BRANDON WALL, BECKY SCHLIKERMAN AND MARK GUARINO Staff Reporters April 26, 2014 9:08PM
DJ Rashad/Promotional photo
Updated: May 28, 2014 6:56AM
Rashad Harden — a house music and footwork icon who performed as DJ Rashad — was found dead Saturday afternoon on Chicago’s South Side.
The police suspect a drug overdose. Drugs and drug paraphernalia were found near the body, police Officer Ana Pacheco said.
Chance the Rapper posted Saturday night on Twitter: “Music lost a legend today. And he was my friend. Love you DJ Rashad. RIP.”
Harden was 34 and had a new EP — “We On 1” — set to be released on Monday and was on the cusp of what was expected to be a career breakout this year: With a fifth album that was his best reviewed of his career behind him, he was scheduled to play club dates all over the world.
He was found unresponsive by a friend around 1:30 p.m. Saturday in an apartment in the 2100 block of West 21st Street and pronounced dead shortly after. An autopsy is scheduled Sunday, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Rashad’s father, Anthony Harden, said his son had a prescription for Xanax.
Rashad, who lived in Calumet City, had been scheduled to perform Saturday night in Detroit with his friend and longtime collaborator DJ Spinn, who lives in Markham.
“It’s just a tragic loss of a great musical genius,” Spinn, whose real name is Morris Harper, said Saturday night before going onstage in Detroit.
Spinn, who met Rashad at the Markham roller rink when they were kids, described his friend’s music this way: “Instantaneous energy — that’s what his music gave off.”
Rashad was a pioneer of footwork — an electronic-oriented music genre that originated in Chicago and has been big around the city for more than a decade, named forits lightning-fast dance moves. It marries dreamy synthesizers, bursts of brutally fast beats and R&B samples to classic stepper’s movements and hip-hop dancing. It started out in high school gyms and neighborhood dances on the South Side and the West Sides and has long since crossed over to clubs and rock festivals.
Rashad was a big part of that. He started out as a DJ when he was 10 or 11 years old, his father said.
“Since he was a kid, he’s been doing this,” Harden said. “He knew what he wanted to do, and a lot of us don’t get a chance to make our dream come true.”
Rashad performed throughout high school with dance troupes before turning more to spinning records at parties and for WKKC, the Kennedy-King College radio station, and helping to develop footwork, which centers around dance battles. He was the most prominent member of the Teklife crew.
“I was dancing — that was the thing,” Rashad told Electronic Beats last summer. “It was like basketball, football, skating or anything else. It was something everybody did, especially when you were younger. You might have grew out of it once you got to junior in high school, or you kept going. I just loved to dance, and that’s how I met Spinn and everybody else. Then, I was like, ‘I want to DJ the music.’ A lot of DJs back then didn’t take me seriously because of the dancing. DJing back then was really serious: if you didn’t DJ on Technics 1200s, if you didn’t have records, you weren’t considered a DJ. Versus now, you could just be on the internet, say you’re a DJ, and there you are. You really had to prove yourself back then. It was really competitive. So I gave up the dancing and went straight for DJing, concentrated on that.”
Rashad released mix CDs, which led to global touring and collaborations. His profile rose last year due when he performed at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park and opened for Chance the Rapper’s “Social Experiment Tour.”
His fifth and last LP — “Double Cup” — came out late last year on the avant-bass UK label Hyperdub and was credited as pushing footwork — known in its earlier days as juke — to a wider audience.
Rashad had a 9-year-old son, Chad.
Rashad’s death follows the death late last month of another iconic Chicago DJ, Frankie Knuckles, at 59.
“He shared his music with everyone that would listen,” Rashad’s father said. “He’s been all over the world, taking footwork all over the world. He’s done quite a bit over his short time.”
Rashad told Pitchfork last summer that, even with his world travels, Chicago was still home.
“I pay my dues to Chicago,” he said. “The music’s still being played, and they know we’re out there trying to spread it even harder.”