In Memoriam: DJ Rashad

“I think we should ask DJ Rashad.”

KXSC Concerts Director Mikayla Cowley sent me this text message last November. The planning of KXSC Fest 2014 was in its early stages, and the two of us had been spitballing ideas for this year’s lineup.

“That would be so fucking dope.” I replied eloquently.

Mikayla knew I’d be into this suggestion. In early October, the station received DJ Rashad’s album Double Cup in the mail for airplay consideration. I had been a casual Rashad fan for some time, so I was excited to hear his latest stuff. I wasn’t quite prepared, however, for the swooning adoration and wonder I would feel as the hazy opener “Feelin’” revved into gear. Rashad’s previous work was often difficult and abstract, a dizzying avalanche of sound more suited for Chicago footwork circles than laid-back Sunday drives. On Double Cup, Rashad borrowed sounds and tropes from a host of different genres, transmuting footwork’s basic energies into something that could connect with a much wider audience. 

As cliché as it is to say, this record had some serious soul; tracks like “Only One” and “Let U No” featured tender expressions of monogamous devotion that stood in contrast to the misogyny embedded in earlier singles like 2004’s “Girl Bust Down” (with “That Booty” on the B-side). Perhaps the best thing about Double Cup is how it cast new light on that earlier material, tracing a lineage from juke to footwork to the distinctly individual sound manifested on his most recent efforts. Rashad was growing as both artist and human being – I was positive this album was only a hint of the genius that would emerge later.

As KXSC’s music director, I naturally felt compelled to share these ideas with anyone who had the patience for my unbridled enthusiasm. With the help of our LA music director Henry Begler, another longtime Rashad fanboy who proselytized in equal measure, word began to spread around the station. The support was exciting and unprecedented; Double Cup was our most-played album for three straight weeks on the CMJ charts. As the record continued to seep into KXSC’s collective consciousness, I took it as a sign that Rashad’s grand experiment appeared to be working: he was bringing footwork to the masses, or at least the weirdos who congregate around college radio. The next logical step, as Mikayla foresaw, was booking the man himself for KXSC Fest, thereby sharing our newfound passion with both USC and the greater LA area.   

On March 29th, nearly 1,500 KXSC Fest attendees experienced one of Rashad’s final gigs, a characteristically intense journey composed with equal parts finesse and fury – the subwoofers rumbled with a force powerful enough to motivate the San Andreas Fault. As he blazed (in more than one sense) through a 45-minute set littered with Double Cup tunes and hyped-up remixes, Rashad looked at home on stage at E.F. Hutton Park. He swayed with confidence to the sound of his own tracks, knowing exactly when to tease the crowd and when to drop the hammer; there was nothing he’d rather be doing. I will never forget dancing side-stage with my fellow KXSCers and screaming the wordless vocal yelps in “Feelin’” at the top of our lungs. We had all imagined what it might feel like to bring DJ Rashad into our home and have him play for us; now we were living out that dream after months of tireless work. It was, for lack of a better phrase, so fucking dope

In the moments after the show, I embraced with my closest friends/co-workers, still in awe of what we had managed to pull off. I screamed “Teklife till the next life!” at anyone unfortunate enough to make eye contact with me. I shook hands with Rashad and thanked him for doing what he did best. I asked if he knew how to get back to the hotel.

And then he was gone.

That Rashad passed so soon after his appearance at KXSC Fest has made the news all the more shocking and inconceivable to us here at the station. Just minutes after the disturbing rumor began to spread over Twitter, I called up a few of our staff members in disbelief. We were crestfallen and speechless; it felt like Rashad had been a member of KXSC too for the past semester. As a station, we heard something new and exciting in this man’s music, and Fest had united us with the purpose of sharing that excitement with the larger world. What did it mean for him to be removed from that world so suddenly?

I am not sure what place Rashad Harden will eventually occupy in musical history. After Double Cup, many different corners of the music community were paying close attention to whatever Rashad would cook up next. In one fell swoop, he had blasted the walls of footwork wide open and invited everybody else into the party. That kind of boundary breaking signified an artist who could do nearly anything with his power; unfortunately, he never had a chance to expand on those achievements before his untimely passing

But I think I have figured out why this radio station shares such a special kinship with DJ Rashad. After years of cultivating a hyper-local footworking scene in the South Side of Chicago, Rashad yearned to share his passion with the rest of the world. Here at KXSC, we spend most of our time holed up in a small basement within the Campus Center; KXSC Fest is the best chance we have to show what we’re all about to a wider audience. By bringing the unbridled joy and energy of footwork to the USC campus last month, I’d like to think that Rashad and KXSC were helping each other out. It was a true honor to have the man’s name at the top of our bill, and we would like to express our condolences to his friends, family, and admirers around the world. The innovative and kind-hearted spirit of his life’s work will emanate from our airwaves for years to come.

-Zach Nivens, Music Director

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