RP Boo: Paid Dues
“Nobody fuckin’ with meee in these streets,” proclaims RP Boo’s aptly-titled song No Body. The track, which kick-starts his new album I’ll Tell You What!, pulses on frenetic deep bass while sampling Broadway performers Jenifer Lewis and Roz Ryan singing gospel with 90s R&B icon Brandy. The audacious statement is fitting, because few underground electronic musicians command as much respect as RP Boo.
But despite the combative style of the footwork pioneer’s music, in person RP Boo – real name Kavain Space – is reputably down-to-earth. “Before I started doing albums for Planet Mu, I always had a job,” Space tells me with a friendly grin through FaceTime, as he sits on the stairs outside his Chicago apartment. “I was getting smaller underground gigs here and there in Chicago, but that was if I had the time to do it. If I had an off day or it was late at night, yeah it was fine, but I would have to get up in the morning after and go to work. I was just so used to being a working person.”
It took Space 16 years to release his first full-length – a career-spanning compilation called Legacy – in 2013. The so-called ‘Godfather of Footwork’ comes up behind his peers and trailblazers DJ Spinn and the late DJ Rashad as globally recognised names in the Chicago-born genre. Given these are the artists who made the syncopated rhythms, rapid BPM and impulsive sampling more palatable for an international audience, it makes sense that they’d be better known for producing footwork. The only thing is, RP Boo actually invented it.
Footwork is an approach that emerged in Chicago in the empty shop fronts and school halls of the city. Dancers would compete with each other, moving and contorting to sample music played at impossible speeds by a DJ. Space was just one of these DJs, playing ghetto house tracks that progressively got faster, upping the stakes and finally producing 1997 proto-footwork track, Baby Come On. It features a slower tempo and funkier groove than most contemporary forms of the genre, but it’s what many consider to be the first of its kind – a blueprint for the musical mutation we call footwork today.
“If [footwork music] was identified from the tempo, a lot of people wouldn’t know that it was created from 135 BPM in its beginning stages, before it went into what we would consider the first generation when the South Side started expanding it,” Space breathlessly recalls, with the authority of a leader who has seen it all. “Once it got expanded, it went from 140 BPM to 145 BPM. Then, when it got its notice worldwide, it was at 160 BPM.”
© Cooper Fox
Space was laid off from his job at Lowe’s – a big box home improvement and hardware store in the US – two months prior to the release of Legacy. Since then, his life has changed considerably. Space’s three children are all grown up and it’s just him and his wife now in Chicago. In 2013, he travelled outside of the US for the first time ever to perform at Unsound festival in Poland. Now, touring has become both part of the job and a source of inspiration for his musical output.
“The travelling gives me a more open perspective,” he says. “I’m always visual and I love to hear things. Travelling gives me a better chance to incorporate what I see and what I hear to help me broaden and make my tracks come more to life, and be more able to share with the people in the world.” You can hear it in I’ll Tell You What! track Flight 1235, where chaotic beats and a sliced, clipped and cut-up vocal sample plays over the sound of a jet engine.
RP Boo’s psychedelic mindset leads him to explore the most abrasive and avant-garde fringes of his genre, making his catalogue more comparable to artists such as his protégé Jlin – who’s collaborated with experimentalists like Holly Herndon and William Basinski – than smoother sounding footwork releases like the classic DJ Rashad LP Double Cup, or DJ Taye’s recent album Still Trippin’.
“One of my main goals was to create more music with nothing but originality”
The ethos of broadening RP Boo’s sound palette extends to Space’s vocal performances – his voice is noticeably prominent on I’ll Tell You What! and he’s developed a penchant for lyrical pastiche. “That was the mystery for people to catch,” says Space, explaining the track Bounty, where lyrics from Blondie’s One Way or Another meet James Brown’s Get Up, and more. “To be able to say the way I’ve quoted it will fit into another realm; [so] when you listen, you learn from what came before you.”
But for all the referentiality of his music, Space is becoming decidedly less dependent of sampling. “One of my main goals was to create more albums to be nothing but originality”, he says, audibly proud of I’ll Tell You What! – which is his first full length of brand new material. “That’s all me, from the voice to the beats, everything. That’s the gift that I have and what I need to express.”
I’ll Tell You What! is out now via Planet Mu