Hyperactive. Frenetic. Whirlwind. Exhilarating. Skittish. There's an abundance of words to describe pioneering footwork-artist DJ Rashad's We On 1 EP. Almost all of them revolve around the idea of speed. Which is understandable when you consider that Chicago-born footwork genre initially served to soundtrack dance battles not even the Flash could keep up with. But when a disembodied female vocal (sounding an awful lot like St. Vincent) floats above twittering electronics in "Do It Again", another word comes to mind: haunting.
Even without the news of Rashad's untimely death on April 26 at the age of 34, the ghostly descriptor would be appropriate. Like an apparition, the music of We On 1 lingers. The breaths of fresh air found in Double Cup cuts "Let U Go" and "Feelin" now last longer. Opener "We On 1"'s incantations of: "we on one", "Robitussin/pink-syrup" and "pour it up double cup" may come over a palpitating bassline, but the lyrics themselves don't whiz past the ears. Each steadily builds on the line prior like a game of Jenga. Though they last only seconds, sampled cries of "I want to" seem to hang in the air forever. Aforementioned highlight "Do It Again" is meticulously crafted in a similar fashion. However often rapturous thunderclaps and amphetamine-fed Oval stutters threaten to drown out the cries, they can't. When hedonistic recollections of "puffing on this sour" creep in, you get the sense they're meant to distract from the song's emotional writhing.
Despite an abundance of "distractions" on We On 1, none ever feel unnecessarily forced or cheap. The opening electronic bursts in "Somethin' Bout The Things You Do" could only be authored by someone who's stayed up until 3AM playing Mega Man. Not to mention the breathy harmonica lovingly piped-in from a fast-forwarded version of Perfect Strangers. However hedonistic, commands of "pop that p****" littering the futuristic juke of "Come On Girl" are, they also serve as a callback to the days when rap-inflected dance music was meant to move your feet instead of make you think.
Constant callbacks are what keep a frequently subdued album from permanent resignation. Listening to We On 1 with the knowledge of Rashad's passing it's easy to become despondent. Double Cup brought him to the precipice of fame in the greater music community and a fall tour with fellow Chi-town native Chance the Rapper further extended his fan base. Everything was seemingly on the uptick until the tragic news broke. These continuous references keep the focus off of the news and firmly on the music. Hearing "something I" repeated over and over again renders it impossible to not wonder where those words originated. "We on one" could've been said by Drake or a "syrup sippin" David Banner and either would make sense. Figuring out who said what and when becomes a game that lasts long after Rashad’s pulverized drum machines whirl to a halt. Saying Rashad "belongs to the ages" is faulty because in life he always stood outside of time.
We On 1 is out on vinyl now through Southern Belle Recordings and drops digitally May 13.