RP Boo in Chicago
Photo: Will Glasspiegel
RP Boo On New Album 'Established!' & The Founding Of Chicago’s Frenetic House Subgenre, Footwork
"I'm sticking with DJing, because that's about love!" Kavain Wayne Space, aka RP Boo, says from his Chicago home on the zoom call. He wears a sleeveless white t-shirt and his smile lights up the bare room. As you'd maybe expect from a DJ, he talks with his hands, gesturing so emphatically it sometimes looks like he's going to reach back and knock the White Sox cap off the perch behind him.
RP Boo may not talk like an elder statesman, but he's got some grey in his pointed beard, and he's been around for a while. He's one of the pioneers of Chicago footwork or juke, a superfast dance music invented in the mid- and late-90s that is built around rapid fire beats and incessantly repeated tape loops. When RP Boo says, "that's about…that's about love!" he sounds a lot like his own music.
Footwork has had moments where it almost seemed about to break into the mainstream; Kanye West's remix of Kid Sister's 2007 "Pro Nails" was a brief sensation, and DJ Rashad's 2014 album Double Cup received wide praise. But RP Boo has never quite become a household name, though he's gotten more recognition since the release of his first album Legacy in 2013.
His fourth and most recent release, Established! (Planet MU) shows that sort-of success hasn't dimmed his weirdness or slowed down that 160 bpm. He recently spoke to GRAMMY.com about the roots of Chicago footwork, leaving his day job, and being a legend.
The first track on Established! ("All My Life") is based around this loop that repeats "All my life I've loved to dance." When did you start dancing and did that lead you to making music?
For me, I watched my uncle dance, and he just enjoyed it. And whatever dance he was doing, we didn't know, we just made fun of it. And I got a cousin that I'd say about in '81—he would make these dances up, him and his friends. And it was catchy to me.
I used to try to break dance but couldn't figure it out. And about '85 or '86, that's when the house music in Chicago [started]. It was like, I like these dances. So I picked up this dancing, and got kind of good at it.
And once I learned how to DJ, I still loved dancing. Whatever your body wants to do when you're at a party, whether you know how to dance or not—it's not about you doing it correctly. To be jumping up the dance moves is to be a part of dancing with God.
So when did you start DJing? Was it in the mid-90s or was it earlier than that?
I graduated from high school in 1991. And that's when I started buying my equipment. So as soon as I got out of high school, I just started to—I forget what type of turntables they were, but they had belt drives and they had a pitch on them. And I learned how to work those real fast. How to work the pitch, how to blend the tracks and how to fade the tracks out. How to know the note of records, where you want to come in at and where you want to cut out at. And it was less than a year and a half to mastery.
When you started, Chicago ghetto house was popular. And juke is basically Chicago ghetto house sped up. How did you all start playing this music faster?
It was a group I think, on the West Side. I guess they brain was somewhere else. So they had the DJ, whoever made this tape, instead of playing the vinyl on 33 they put it on 45. And they bashed the dance floor with it. So I guess they won the competition.
But word started getting around and people started imitating the trend, and DJs started producing those 160 bpm [records].
The title of your album is Established! with an exclamation point. And I know that it's taken you a long time to get recognition. Do you still have a day job?
I was working at a Lowe's Home Improvement store until 2013. That's when I ended up getting let go. And at that point, I think of December of 2012, I had just finished Legacy.
I never thought that I would ever be without a job. The store manager at Lowe's was a real good guy. And he says, "Well, corporate states that you could come back here but you can't be hired for six months."
As I was walking out, I said, "What am I going to do with the next six months?" And I said this out loud, "I think I'm going to start touring."
I was depressed. I stayed depressed—that was in late February. And in late April, I get a phone call from New York. And he says, "I heard you have an album coming out. If we'd known you had an album, we would have booked you to do a release party here in New York."
On the day of the release, I texted back and said I don't have the job [keeping me from touring anymore]. He says, "Can you be here in two weeks?" I was like, "Yeah!" I end up getting at least seven opportunities to play overseas within the first week.
"You just have to be prepared to let the world blossom and blossom with it. But you can't predict it." RP Boo
So you never had to go back to Lowe's.
You just have to be prepared to let the world blossom and blossom with it. But you can't predict it.
Do you hear your music as an influence in a lot of what's out there now?
Oh yes. DJ Rashad [who died in 2014]—I was a great influence on him. And him on me. And so Rashad was saying, "Hey, wait till you hear RP, this is the only guy that would change his style, multiple times. And as he changes it, that influences how other people listen. It's something about how his music just keeps changing."
I was listening to the track "All Over," which has the Phil Collins sample. How did that song come about? Did you have the sample first?
Yeah. Those are the songs I grew up to. In the '80s, we watched the videos, nobody paid attention. But that was the new wave of the future. And these are all the songs; I listened to Genesis, to the Phil Collins solo projects. And I found myself over time collecting them, I have them in my phone. So then I could drive and hear these songs.
I've had it in my archives for years. And I tried to play with it at least about nine years ago, and nothing worked. So I said, in due time I'll come back to it.
And one day I was going through my files just listening to music and I listened to [Phil Collins'] "I Don't Care Anymore." And I looked at the BPM and said, [claps!] "Oh, this is right where I need to begin. And I played with it and let it run. And that's where I stopped it. [Makes a record scratch noise.] [Sings] "All over..ah..ah…all over." And it worked. It worked out.
You have a song called, "Haters Increase the Heat" about overcoming detractors. But when I was listening to it, I thought, who can hate you?! [RP Boo gives a look.] They're out there?
Def. It's more about people that have no clue about what you do or what you're going through. Rashad dealt with that.
And I was like, oh, you know what? Let me make some music. That's why I say, [rhythmically quoting his track] "Haters increase the heat. It's getting hot, it's getting hotter. Haters gonna keep making my tracks get hot."
In other words, I will take the negative and do something productive, and show you what you can do with the negative and make a spark.
Have you been able to continue working during COVID?
I was able to do a lot of direct streams and recorded streaming projects, direct from our festivals overseas, and two remix projects. So I was able to stay busy. [Sighs.] But I've missed the touring.