The DJ and producer RP Boo is widely regarded as the godfather of a style of dance music called footwork. Born Kavain Space in West Chicago, he gained notoriety in the late Nineties for tracks where he’d push tempos to near-delirious speeds. On songs like “Baby Come On,” often considered one of the first-ever footwork tracks, a stuttering sample ratcheted up around 150bpm makes for a sort of transcendental experience. Naturally, dance floor denizens in Chicago were delighted.
But it wouldn’t be until the 2010 compilation Bangs & Works Vol. 1, from the esteemed U.K. label Planet Mu, that an international audience would catch on to the homegrown sound. And RP Boo only became a full-time musician in 2013, following his first album Legacy, when he was able to tour in lieu of a day job. Now, with his fourth full-length album Established!, you get a sense that RP Boo has reached a point where he’s exactly what its title suggests. It also means he’s decidedly grounded. Over the phone from his home in Chicago, he’s clearly proud of his new album, but he’s just as happy to talk about his wife Zee’s academic work towards becoming a grief counselor: “This is something that she been wanting to do for years, and now she finally there, she’s already a year and a half in, so every chance that I have, I’ll be here to support her. Because she supported me.”
It’s the same type of genuine energy that courses throughout Established!. The album is full of exuberant drum patterns and vocal chops that verge on motivational, like the voice insisting “Haters gon’ get hot” throughout “Haters Increase The Heat!” Elsewhere, there’s a track that builds a menacing groove from an early Eighties Phil Collins cut, and another that works with scraps of Snoop Dogg vocals from the immortal “Nuthin But a G Thang.” Both samples reflect on the lifelong DJ’s desire to hit the crowd with a familiar chorus.
RP Boo says he’s dedicated to helping foster the next generation of talent, pointing to a pair of more house-leaning tracks on the album that he sees as a bridge between footwork’s elders and the current generation. “The future of house music is footwork and what’s next to come is still connected.,” he says.
At one point, RP Boo even mentions an interest in audio engineering or teaching as he contemplates his own life after music. Of course, he also gushes about what tracks he’s got coming out next. The DJ and producer spoke to Rolling Stone about Established!, his favorite upcoming producers, and his favorite tempo.
When was Established! recorded? Are these all new tracks?
What’s funny is that we had just finalized [2018 album] I’ll Tell You What!. I just did “Haters Increase the Heat!” and I just kept making tracks, making tracks, making tracks. As soon as I came back from tour in 2019, I said ‘hey, I got plenty of new material.’ So I told Mike [Paradinas, Planet Mu label head] and we talked about it, because I learned about when to drop an album to help you get better tours, and better lineups, and gigs. So as that was happening, the tracks just kept building up. February of last year is when we said, ‘Oh, it might be a possible September or October.’ He was like, ‘Alright, let’s hold off one minute, just in case.’ Then, here comes COVID. I said just wait til next year because we don’t know what might happen. And that’s when I started learning about the things that I’d missed as I was traveling. Here’s streaming, now everybody’s doing online things. But I was so busy, not paying attention. I was walking into the future.
How did the title and theme Established! come together?
During the time when I’ll Tell You What! was still circulating, as I’m reading some of the comments, I read something like: ‘It seems that this is how he was feeling, this is what was on his mind.’ I said, ‘You people have no clue of what’s taking place.’ I’m like, none of that fit into what I do, at all. Nothing. So I need to come up with something that’s going to keep ’em stuck, and keep ’em stuck for a long time until they figure it out. So I named the album Established!. Because nobody knows the story that you live. No one can tell you how you actually feel, because no one can walk into your body and tell you how you feeling. So I say, ‘Established: March 11, 1972. The day I was born, I was already established. I just had to understand it as I go. So in other words, let me be who I am. And you do what you do with yours, and leave me alone.’
I’m not here to compete, I’m just here to express the things that I have created. It’s people here in Chicago that came from the footwork field of music, that still have no understanding of how I do it. And they’ve been here since day one. And they were like, ‘Nobody do what RP Boo does.’ And it is a God-given gift. I’m not the only one, I just know how to recognize it. It’s about understanding and becoming one with your talent, having a great relationship with it.
There are some pretty recognizable samples, including Phil Collins and Snoop Dogg. What led you to rework pop hits?
I had that Phil Collins thought about five, six years ago. I couldn’t get it the way I could imagine, because I wasn’t that friendly with the MPC. So, I was listening to the radio, and I’m like, ‘Let me try it again. Let’s try a different approach.’ I just wanted to swing a certain way. But what I did is what I played the record as the needle being pulled, the “eeer?” It was a bridge. I finished it, and I say, “Hey Mike, I got something for you. You might like it. Just for listening purposes.” He was like, “Oh, I love this.” Then next thing you know a couple of weeks later, blah, blah, blah, he says, “It’s going on the album.”
And then with the Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, I always liked that song. I just played around with it. And it came out the way it is, and that’s okay. And I’ve tested it out. Those that hear it, it’s like, ‘Oh, wow!’ I enjoy those listeners that have embraced footwork from what they heard, even though they don’t know how to dance to it. But it brings them in life, but it’s something different. I love the reaction.
The way I produce, a lot of people cannot identify how it comes out to be that way. The only person that really understood it, and built his own off it, was [DJ] Rashad. Rashad was trying to show anybody else, it’s hard, this is what we’re going to do to show you how to do it in other genres that you are already familiar with. It will change its course.
I read in an interview that you don’t actually love 160 as a BPM, you prefer 155. Is that still the case?
We are still on 155. There’s a lot of footwork that’s here in Chicago, from the era of what it first started, 145 to 150s. And what happened is that I watched them and I listened to them, and they talk about the tracks being at 160. They like it, they like it. But they still try to catch themselves wanting to dance and still enjoy the dancing. And I noticed that those that does like it, people of age, will wanna say, ‘Oh, I don’t exercise like I used to, but I still want to cut a rug.’ 155 is where they will stop at. The moves are still crisp and clean. It’s very few people that’s in Chicago, that’s from footwork, that knows how to control the 160. It’s too fast. 160 is for experts.
Are there any producers or DJs that you’ve really been tuned into lately that you are excited about coming up in the future?
DJ Corey, DJ Chad, DJ Acey, DJ Emo, DJ Roc, DJ T-Rell, DJ J.R. I just sit back and listen to these guys as they spin, \. We see each other if it’s a function, and I get to hear all of them play. Or they might argue amongst each other, talk crap to each other, “Oh I got this track for you,” blah blah blah. Greater opportunities await them. I’ll tell people, ‘you never know what you might be at, who you performing for, but be able to understand when the opportunity presents itself.’
Is there anything else about the album you’d like to talk about?
“Beauty Speak Of Sounds” as well as “All Over” is a dedication to the house community, and it was built to show them, “Hey, if I can do it, I have the opportunity to get this pushed out, that means it’s still a future in this business, with house music.” It’s going to help them be able to now have a better relationship with the younger generation. The future of house music is footwork and what’s next to come is still connected. I’d tell people, enjoy this album, and there will be more to come.