The pioneer of house music and footwork, Rashad Harden, who used the name “DJ Rashad” in performances, died this weekend of what is believed to be a drug overdose. According to Janel Sedevic, spokeswoman for the Chicago Police, Harden, 34,was found dead Saturday afternoon by a friend in a west side apartment. Sedevic reported that there was no obvious sign of injury, but drugs and drug paraphernalia were discovered next to the body. Although the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy on Sunday, a cause of death will not be released until the results of toxicology tests are received.
Harden, of Calumet City, has been spinning music for over 20 years, starting at age 10 or 11, but was expecting to gain a new level of fame this year. Last year, Rashad performed at both the Chicago Cultural Center and the Pitchfork Music Festival. He was also on tour with Chance the Rapper. As he was prepping for a European tour, he was involved in a serious car accident in October that almost killed him, forcing him to cancel the tour. By November, however, he had returned to touring.
DJ Rashad received excellent reviews for his latest album, which was his fifth, and had been scheduled to play worldwide. In addition, his latest single, called We On 1, was due to be released on Monday by producer Wheez-ie on his label, Southern Belle Recordings. A longtime collaborator of Harden who also was a close friend, Morris Harper aka DJ Spinn, was slated to appear in Detroit with DJ Rashad on Saturday. Harper said that the death of DJ Rashad is “a tragic loss of a great musical genius.” Rashad’s father, Anthony Harden, said that Rashad “shared his music with everyone that would listen.” Harper and Rashad, together with Teklife, their footwork group, brought the Chicago sound of footwork to a worldwide audience.
Footwork music originated in Chicago and is electronic-driven. Rashad was considered a pioneer of the genre, which was once called juke and developed in the 90s out of ghetto house. The music is named footwork due to the quick dancing that accompanies the songs. Although the music itself can be disorienting with its super-speed beats, irregular bass sounds and distorted sampling, on his fifth album, Double Cup, which was released last year, he helped to bring the genre of music to a wider audience. The record was released along with two others on the London Hyperdub label, which is operated by dubstep trailblazer Kode9, By introducing footwork music to a larger audience, Rashad increased its visibility and fan base. During his career, DJ Rashad released numerous mix tapes and albums, some with trendy electronic label Planet Mu. Planet Mu also released a footwork compilation album in 2010, on which Rashad was featured, titled Bangs & Works, Vol. 1.
Less than one month before Harden died, another star of house music, Frankie Knuckles, died in Chicago of complications resulting from Type II diabetes. The deaths of both Frankie Knuckles and DJ Rashad leaves the Chicago music community mourning the loss of two of their pioneers. Rashad’s death leaves his nine-year-old son, Chad, without a father.
By Jennifer Pfalz