Samples are as crucial to Chicago footwork music as they are to hip-hop, but footworkers, with the deftness that their name implies, stretch and chop source materials like they're inventing an entirely new dish. A singer's words, for example, can become the beat. As one of footwork's founding fathers, no one is better at switching up sonic contexts than RP Boo. He came up during Chicago's ghetto house years in the '90s and, thanks to his innate curiosity, helped invent a whole new sound that, more than 20 years on, continues to flex limbs and minds on dancefloors around the world.
On "What Am I?," a standout from RP Boo's forthcoming The Ultimate EP on Planet Mu, premiering below, he ekes new meaning out of Jocelyn Brown's 1984 proto-house classic "Somebody Else's Guy." Brown's soulful wail becomes an anxious siren, and the lyrics are shredded and multiplied to devastating effect: You are the one / You, you, you, you/ You are the one/ Ohhhhh, ohhhhh, ohhhh, ohhhhh/ What am I supposed to do?
Following RP Boo's insightful RBMA lecture in Montreal last month, we sat down in a quiet room away from the hustle and bustle of the academy to talk about being in music for the right reasons, what he admires about fellow producer Jlin, and what drove the making of The Ultimate, his last record for Planet Mu.
Young artists often need permission to break out of the mold of what everyone else is doing. You never needed that; where did that self-belief come from?
I noticed the first track I ever did, it was not considered to the average person that it would be the sound of ghetto house. Because it was more of a nice rhythm and a nice tempo and it sounded totally different from everybody else. And it was on Paul Johnson's label, and Paul Johnson complimented it then. But the next couple of tracks after, my tracks changed again. So that was the gift [I had] — where I could change without the focus.
What's happening with a lot of these DJs and with the music, [is that] it kind of sounds like it's trapped and it's not going nowhere. The issue is a lot of these DJs will have the so-called groupie fans. I heard this one guy said — this was in like 2001, 2002 — "Man, I'mma be a DJ and I'mma start making tracks cause I see y'all get a lot of girls." I said, "No, no, that's not it." But I kept that to myself. I said, "That's the problem. What are your intentions? Why are you doing this? What are you doing this for?" And everybody I see come in with this mentality. Seeing the in-crowd and trying to fit in and that was the problem, and that's with anything. Some people have broken away and became better. That's what I tell people: "If that's something that you like, you don't have to tell nobody that's what you do — do it." And don't wait years later, there's a lot of people that do that now. I call them the "all-of-a-suddens." All of a sudden you wanna do this. Well, we been seeing you and all you had to do was ask. We not gonna tell you no. Ten to twelve years later, all of a sudden you wanna be this DJ. All of a sudden you wanna make these tracks. That gotta be something that was in your heart from day one. If it's not, you're not gonna prevail. And the sad part about it, if there's a good listener that's not a DJ or producer, they hear it. They hear it. And they like, "Something ain't right."
So many producers have the same software these days. Does that flatten the regionality of music?
It flattens it, it does. Like my father said, he said, "You know what? It's not a lot of people [who are good at making music]." And we're talking about the people that create this music, and especially that's supposed to be a dance culture that's dealing with black people — it has nothing to do with outsiders, it's the focus on black. And the issue is, we don't hold nobody outside of this accountable, we hold ourselves accountable. And what my father say, he said, "You know what the problem is? Nobody have no soul. They have no rhythm. They have no sense of direction of what they wanna do." But that leads back to, why did you do this? It goes all the way back to that. He say, "The reason why a lot of people like you is because you deliver. Even if you do use a sample, you still lay down a groove within your music. You gotta have some type of groove and you don't develop the groove overnight, you have to let it mold within you."
For me, I was born with it, but I didn't know how to describe it. But as I start producing the music, that was the way of it seeping out. And the people that's on the dance floor, they react to it. It's the reaction. I don't just say, "Hey, you need to like this." Nah, I watch. And if that track is doing very well, I let it play.
“Making music ain’t got nothing to do with what you use. It’s all about what’s on the inside.”
What do you think about footwork music that's not specifically made for footwork dancers? Like Jlin, who developed her music outside of the south side of Chicago?
That's the good part. That's what I like about Jlin. It's a balance between me and her. And the thing is, Jlin is way friendly. Her music is capturing and it's so friendly to make you feel comfortable. And you ain't gotta try to kick a leg, just enjoy yourself. But it's hard. She come hard. And like Rashad told people, "When the source is so strong, that there's nothing wrong with it, it just keeps elevating." That's who I am, and I make other people change. Me and Jlin talk about this a lot.
When I first heard her, I heard she was with this squad called BOTC. And when she first came in, I heard the tracks. So I'm like, she sound nice. But I thought about what I been through — with the bad deals, with people taking tracks — and I said, "She gotta be saved. She got to be saved." So I talked to her and I told her how to be her own person. And be prepared just in case. I said, "You gotta be able to step away and do this on your own." And it worked.
When her album comes out, she's like, "I got all these press interviews, but then I got people that want me to come DJ, but I'm telling them that I'm not a DJ." I said, "What you wanna do? Do you want to DJ or you gonna stay at work?" She said, "My job is doing pretty good." I said, "That's a decision you gotta make because that's the game, that's the business. You would get tours off of this, but is that what you wanna do?" She said, "Yeah." I say, "I'll just tell you what to do. Always work with the crowd. The crowd is your house. You gotta make sure they have a nice time. I'll show you how to mix without even showing you." She's like, "Okay, cool." And she started watching tapes of me and she started figuring it out, so she got her controller. And I say, "Come over to the house." She comes to the house, and I gave her a little tutorial, I showed her how to do it. i even showed her the difference between the controller, the CD player, and the actual turntable. She say, "I can't use the turntable." And I said, "Don't worry about it, [making music] ain't got nothing to do with what you use. It's all about what's on the inside. That's all it's about." When I seen Jlin play for the first time afterwards, [I was like,] "Oh, I see you. I see you very well. You got it."
Where did your drive to mentor come from?
Because I know it has to grow. It was meant to grow. It's like a planet, it has to grow. It has to breathe. That's why I mentor and I used my life experience dealing with the no contract signing, the trusting in people to do certain things, and being disappointed. I was like, I never wanna see nobody else do hard work and don't get credit for it. So that's when I just started mentoring people. I said, I have to do this because I want people to live a long age and have a good time doing it. So that was my drive.
For you for this new record, what was your guiding light for it?
It was supposed to be a second Classics. Because it's so much music that Planet Mu has of mine to where they was like, "We can't release it all at one time. We wanna do half and half." And [Planet Mu founder] Mike Paradinas and Jlin was talking and they were like, "Do you think he should do all new stuff?" I'm like, "Know what? Let me stick to the contract. I'll give you some new stuff." So I sent them "Electric Energy" first. I was like, "Do you want me to shorten it up?" "No! Leave it where it's at. That's fine!" Okay, then this year, brand new, I gave them "Bang With The Funk," "The King," "The Ultimate." With "The King," I was watching a movie. One of my favorite movies, and I'm watching it and Samuel L. Jackson start talking. And I'm like, Listen to what this dude just said. Man, nobody caught this. I played with that. Then when I was in Shanghai, China, I heard this rap, and the dude sampled "Somebody Else's Guy." It just kept going, "What am I supposed to do, baby?" And I'm like, this is nice. I was in Austria at some festival in late May, early June, and it just came out. I was in my hotel room, and I was like, let me go try it out at this party. Soon as I played it, they went nuts. I said, "Okay, got me a hit." When I got back, I [finished] "What Am I?"; that worked out good.
Then I did "The Ultimate" when I was in Porto, Portugal. I was sitting there right before I performed that night, just started playing. And I said, I'm gonna see how I sound. So I played it to my agent, Pedro. Pedro was like, "This is real nice." Pedro has an ear for music. And when I played it that night, the crowd just went nuts, and he was out there having a good time. So Mike said, "Hey, what's up with the EP?" I was like, "You ready for the EP?" He was like, "Yeah." When he heard "The King," he was like, "Man, I love 'The King.'" Then I did "Bang With The Funk" — I just threw that on SoundCloud because I don't too much SoundCloud. And he was like, "Ay, what's with 'Bang With The Funk'"? I said, "You like 'Bang With The Funk?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Let me finish it." Day later I finished the tour. He said, "You know what? We got an EP. Let's do it." I was like, "C'mon, let's do it." That's the last EP [for Planet Mu], so now I get to really play around.
Do you think you'll do more stuff for Planet Mu in the future?
Who knows? Who knows?
You seemed excited about freedom.
I'm free. And that's what I been waiting on, to be free.
So now you're gonna go where the wind takes you?
Yeah. Planet Mu, I have a good relationship with them. It's just there's other opportunities. See, one thing about Planet Mu, when I did Legacy, even Mike Paradinas mentioned, he said, "Never be surprised if another label that's bigger come. Always be prepared cause I know it'll come."