DJ Taye is spreading the gospel of footwork
The young Teklife artist’s debut album Still Trippin’ combines footwork, rap, R&B, and more, pushing Chicago’s homegrown sound to new heights.
When we walked into DJ Taye’s Airbnb, he ran to turn the kitchen faucet off: he had left it on when he met me outside, and the sink — which was full of dirty dishes — was about to overflow. “I’m so embarrassed,” he said sheepishly, as he set his blunt on the counter. “They won’t let me smoke inside the apartment.”
The 23-year-old Chicago rapper, producer, footworker, and Teklife member was back in his hometown for a short spell in between tours. He had just returned from a national run of shows with New Jersey-based producer Flamingosis, to perform at the Chicago venue the Empty Bottle. A couple days later, Taye would head to New York for a show; and this week, he’s flying to Europe, where he’ll play shows with DJ PayPal, Taso, and DJ Haram. Taye tours constantly, doing his part to put footwork, Chicago’s on the map. Now, he’s preparing for the release of his debut album Still Trippin’, which drops March 2 on Hyperdub.
Taye, real name Dante Sanders, was born on Chicago’s South Side before first moving to the southern suburb of Calumet City, and then to the suburb of Harvey, just a short drive west. He started making beats when he was 11, and picked up rapping around the same time. He came across footworking in elementary school, but didn’t learn the dance himself until around 2007. When he was 16, Taye went to Chicago’s famed footwork function Battle Groundz for an open tryout for Teklife, the production collective founded in 2011 by the late DJ Rashad as an international extension of DJ Spinn’s Ghettoteknitianz crew. Impressed with the young producer, Rashad and Spinn took Taye under their wings.
Still Trippin’ is Taye’s most accomplished work to date. The album spans many genres, drawing in listeners who don’t necessarily have an ear for footwork production, through its palette of current rap, R&B, and electronic music (specifically New Jersey and Baltimore club), while also raising the stakes of songwriting within the footworking genre. Before the release of his album, we caught up with DJ Taye—who was dressed head-to-toe in a black Teklife sweatsuit—to learn about his entrance into Teklife, how deeply Rashad impacted Taye’s music, and why it was important for him to bridge rapping, producing, and footworking.
How did you first find out about footworking?
Me and my friend had come upon a CD — my friend who made “Burnin Ya Boa,” that video; we grew up together since we was babies, and our grandmas live next door to each other. I don’t know if it was on the ground, or we found it at school or something, but it just had some old Bud Billiken Parade footwork tracks. This was like, 2006, 2007, around the same little era. I was just like, This shit sound crazy. I remember hearing some of it on radio around the same time, too.
People was doing it at school — elementary school, as early as I can remember. Then I remember meeting Manny around my neighborhood in Harvey, and like my friends who was footworking, they started listening to Rashad and Spinn and Ghettotek. That’s when I realized who was making the coldest shit, and then I went online, did my research myself. Now this was around 2008, 2009. And I’m like, Damn, why is this like the coldest electronic music in the world, why this shit ain’t in everybody face? I just didn’t understand, so that’s what drove me to make it.
Do you think there’s been a revival of footworking in Chicago?
We always had a scene, like in a sense on the [north] side, but when I talk about footworking in Chicago, it makes me think about the people listening nowadays, the people who just listen to footwork because before, to me, it was nobody who would just listen to it because they fuck with [the] music. If they don't dance, they don't listen to that shit. That’s what I mean. Usually everybody who used to listen to those tracks back then, they would dance.
How did meeting Rashad and Spinn impact your career?
When I first started, I didn't know who they was. I was pushing music and I talked to a couple people, I guess you could say bigger artists, at the time, but I didn’t really trust the way it could possibly go. I was like man I don't really know who these people are or what they really about, [but] once I got with [Teklife], I was just like, Damn, it’s trustworthy people — OGs who are really about handing it down in a way to where we ain't gotta go through all the bullshit that they even had to go through when they started making music in the ‘90s.
So, it’s like they taught me a lot about shit, everything. That’s why Teklife is more of a lifestyle. And then like musically, they just kept me on my shit. I would always come show them shit, and I would just have to keep reforming my shit over the years, years and years and years and years — keep reforming my style, making it sound better, making it sound crisp, like a clear picture.
You cover a lot of different genres on Still Trippin'.
Yeah, so the album is just trying to display that message of like, all my experiences. Music before I met [Rashad and Spinn], how they inspired me, and honestly this is a record of what I would like to think, what I haven't told nobody — this is the music that I would’ve liked to make with Rashad, like this is the sound of me and Spinn sitting back and working on different stuff and elevating it.
Was Rashad’s death a catalyst for this album?
I think I still would've gotten to this point if he was still here to this day, and I think it would be way better. I think it would be way better just ‘cause like… we made the sound and we were just headed in a certain direction, and I was just always doing my shit like how I was trying to do it, even still incorporating rap shit, my rap remixes of just rap songs that I like. Around the time that he was making “Cream,” “Pass That Shit,” and all that shit, I just was making whatever, like some vocal chop shit, maybe with a couple raps, a couple rhymes, but nothing too crazy. It’s like the shit was just heading in such a great direction that — I don’t know, I just really wanted to do something for him, musically. Really it’s just for him. This was the sound that like, he taught me.
How would you describe footworking to somebody who has no idea what it is?
I mean, I would describe it first as a dance. A lot of the basic moves are derived from house dancing, like irk and jerks, mike and ikes, running man, dribbles, skates, ghosts. It’s different moves, and it’s actually a form to it, to where it’s actually left to right combos, variations, and big moves. It’s all these things that go into it, to what makes a battle fun, what makes one person win, one person better than the other, one person’s skill better than the other. Because they put more time and craft into that skill, just like someone put more time and that energy into the craft of their tracks. Seeing it all together, it’s like boom.
“This [music] is showing me life, this shit is giving me life.”
Why is it important for you to showcase rapping, producing and footwork on your album, all together?
After a few tours — not even Europe, really, it was more like touring America, it just made me be like, Man, I just wanna do something different. Since this is what I been doing, I just wanted to showcase it live. I just put it to the test and just been working on it, making it a better performance and just seeing where I can go with it as far as [the live show], and putting it on the album. I just thought it fit as to like — to just make me, me. That’s the best way I can put it — to make my shit, my shit. And then to keep going from there. I felt like that’s what I was supposed to do.
Where did that calling come from?
I just really want to push [this sound], and that's why I was saying like, this is just the shit I wish I could’ve did with Rashad… He was pushing the sound, he was already doing the shit… it’s shit I hear in my mind or people I fuck with. They all too close around me to where I just feel like, I just gotta do it. Not like, I gotta do it, gotta do it like, to try to make some money, but I just fuck with the sound, and I just feel like I should keep pushing, just see what comes out of it, if people like it.
What does your live performance look like with this new material?
The way I made the album is like, the rap songs — they fit, they make the experience. So the footwork, the tracks are the tracks, they all footwork tracks but the rap songs make the experience to where I’ma play some songs, I’ma mix some tracks where you understand footwork, you gonna hear songs you know, you gonna hear some heavy hitters, you gonna hear different genres. But I’ma come out and I’ma rap, too, and I’ma dance, when the beat break and I switch it up, like different parts of the songs.
Sometimes your voice seems like an instrument — more elemental to the track, than the focus.
Yeah, exactly. I'm also saying a message to where you should listen, but it’s like a build up. So visually, too, I wanted this all to go [together] — it’s all a part of almost like a timeline, a story in some sense.
What's the story you're telling?
What music is like at this state in the world, with a lot of weird shit and a lot of this fuckshit going on. Footwork period — not just my music. I'm just saying like, Yo, fuck that shit. This [music] is showing me life, this shit is giving me life.
You know how Chicago is segregated as fuck? Chicago was and is the most segregated but most diverse city in the world. I feel like I'm trying to [bring footwork] to the world too, and I'm trying to first do it in Chicago, at home, [on the] South Side, North Side, getting people to listen to it in the middle. Some people think it’s a fad, on some real shit. And it’s not a fad to me. Like Teklife, I’m in this shit for life.