RP Boo—the producer who is largely credited with inventing footwork music in the '90s—is about to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time in his life. But despite the glittering skyline in front of him, RP can't stop staring at one thing: a blue mailbox. "Only in New York," he says, shaking his head with a bemused look of wonder, "Do you find mailboxes that are all tagged up."
Coming from a rugged Chicago O.G., this observation sounds weirdly naïve. And yet, RP's incredulity at New York's banalities makes total sense. Sure, he pioneered footwork—an offshoot of Chicago house music that's full of frenetic high hats, claps and samples. And yeah, his name in certain DJ circles is synonymous with "godfather." But RP only played a show in New York for the first time last Saturday—sixteen years after he produced his first footwork track, "Baby Come On," on a janky-ass R-70 drum machine that he still owns.
In other words, RP's come-up has been an excruciatingly slow burn. More impatient DJs would have longed ago turned bitter. Instead, RP's been content to toil away at low-paying day jobs in Chicago while his brethren, like DJ Slugo and DJ Deeon, toured the world. It wasn't until a couple weeks ago that RP finally quit working at Lowe's. "I've always dreamed of playing in front of a crowd the way I want to, and my first New York show was like that. I'm still having goose bumps," he said (in between snapping selfies). "So if you figure that I was working this whole time, just imagine what's going to happen now that I can do what I wanna do."
Over the course of that afternoon, as we strolled down the bridge, rode in subway cars, and drank iced coffees in a café, RP explained how he went from battling in underground dance troupes, to getting advice from a pre-fame Kanye West, and finally, making his first full-length album, which drops today on Planet Mu. (Somewhat ironically, it's called Legacy.) He also gave us an exclusive track called "Porno" that you won't find anywhere else. It's full of melodic moans and a lady saying "fuck me, damn it" over and over again. Obviously, it's amazing. Listen to it below.
THUMP: How did you come up with the name RP Boo?
RP Boo: I didn't want to be called "DJ." My brother called me "Record Player." My grandfather called me "Boo." And when you say it real fast and loud, it sounds like "our people."
You started out as a dancer in the House-O-Matics crew in Chicago. Why do you think so many footwork DJs started out as dancers first?
Actually, I started DJing first. I was doing the performance tapes, and I would just look at the kids as they danced. I didn't like the songs they were playing. But as I started to perform, I saw something totally different. The music and the dancing completed each other. This one guy I was making tapes for, Jimmy Williams, was like, "You gonna get up here, and you gonna dance." But one day the president of the group was like, "You're gonna have to make a decision. What is it that you want to do?" And I said, " DJing." So I went back to DJing.
You basically taught yourself everything about producing music, right?
When I first got my drum set, the Roland R-70, it was a display model at the shop in Chicago. I was never taught how to use it. It didn't come with an owner's manual. So as I recorded and learned how to put the sounds on, I had to remember exactly what I did on pattern one, so I could go into pattern two, which was blank, and rebuild it.
So you're saying that you invented footwork…by not knowing how to use your machine?
DJ Deeon was the one who taught me, "Oh, this is what you do, you take this and you switch on top." That's all I had to do, but without knowing it, my style was already formulated.
Was there one track that made everything click for you? You once said that Prince's "When Doves Cry" was very influential, which is kinda funny…
Right, I was at a rave in '97 when I heard that, at a spot in Harvey, Illinois. It was this tiny place, and I remember the entrance they took us through was the back entrance, and when they opened it, it was a gigantic field. I was like, "What the heck is this?" And I remember this DJ was spinning, and he was playing house and techno, but suddenly he played "When Doves Cry," and I was like, wait a minute, how did he catch that?! That was so amazing, because I was already mixing, but I never thought about picking that record up.
So how do you "catch" sounds now?
Sometimes I have ideas when I'm at work, and I just go home and make tracks.
You have a day job?!
I worked at Chuck E Cheese's for three years, then I worked in the car business for fifteen years, then I did two and a half years at Lowe's and was let go because of safety issues. And they said I could come back in six months, but I figured I was tired of working for other people.
Why did it take you so long to commit to producing full-time?
No one supported me—not even my family. As the story goes, there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. I'm always a follower; you have to learn before you teach. But what I fully want to do is about to happen. I'm very excited.
You're frequently cited as one of the pioneers of footwork. How does it feel to have that legacy on your shoulders? Do you constantly feel like you have to live up to other people's expectations?
It took me a while to get adjusted, but the issue with footworkers in Chicago—a lot of the new ones—don't understand how far the music can go. The young ones, they want to be rich and famous. So I'm like, why argue with them? I have nothing to prove to them. My job is to keep it going. I can't stop for them. What the world has given me, I'm recycling and giving back.
So you have problems with the younger footworkers in Chicago?
It's the up-and-coming DJs who've fallen behind me who are all about the fame and money. And it all comes from the Internet. Fuck the Internet. The Internet is a tool. That's all it is. Like DJ Spinn and DJ Rashad. The footworkers don't like their music because it's not battle material. Who are you to say what's battle material and what's not? It's music. I tell people, if that track can blend with the next, then why not?
What do you consider a good battle track then?
You hear the song coming like a thief in the night. You keep it quiet in the beginning and feel it coming up through your feet. It makes you want to dance more with your opponents. It's B-boy juice.
Are you pissed off that there are DJs who appropriated your style and became successful with it? Didn't you and DJ Slugo have a feud over that?
Me and Slugo had words four days ago. He still figures that he made the original, and I'm like, I'm not going to act the fool over this. I know who made it just like you know who made it. He can say one thing, but he can't say that in front of a lot of people. Whatever his issue was, I say, let it be gone. If he wants to take credit for that, go ahead! But we know who did it. I was making hits before "Godzilla," which is "11-47-89," and I was making them afterwards. What the fuck did he do? This is longevity—where I've come from, to where I'm at. This shit doesn't happen overnight.
How did your fight with DJ Slugo start?
Two guys who were going to parties in Detroit, back in 2003 or 2004, came back and said, "You know that every time he plays that track, he's getting the praise and treated like royalty." The same two guys who he took with him were the ones who told me, "This motherfucker is making a killing off your music. You need to go to Detroit."
How did he get away with it?
It was under DJ Godfather's label and I guess he had cleared it. That's how cool we were. It was like, "Hey man can I get a track? We wanna get some stuff out on this label and see how things work out." And I said, "Cool, no problem." I didn't know the business. After that conversation we had the other day, I found out the business. I'm thinking, you is a sneaky motherfucker, but you can have that.
Speaking of shit from the past, what happened to DJ Jammin Gerald? Someone from THUMP just texted me saying he was obsessed with Jammin Gerald's booty house mixtapes from 1998.
That's my guy! [laughs] I gave him a lot of samples. I still talk to him. That's a person I look at as a mentor to the game. He always had that energy and he knew how to edit and produce a track. Jammin Gerald. [laughs] He's a wizard. That guy is a genius.
Now that you have the time, what's the number one software or program you want to pick up?
The MPC. I've never worked it. To me, that's still a form of analog. Anything you press with buttons is still analog. I want to sequence everything but keep my drum machine, the R-70. A lot of people want that drum machine because of the sounds that are in it. People have actually asked me if they could purchase it, to try and emulate my style. But I'm like, you can't copy someone else's style. No matter how hard you try, it's about the relationship between that person and their equipment.
Who are some of your favorite MPC guys?
There's a lot of people out here that's very talented. Spinn, Rashad, Trashmen, Slugo, Paul Johnson. It's all in what you do and how you present your music. Someone that put the icing in the cake for that was Kanye West. When I met him, I didn't know who he was. Because at that moment, he wasn't the Kanye that we all know.
When did you meet Kanye?
At a hip-hop seminar in Chicago, but he was not announced. I went because two people I've always wanted to meet were there—LL Cool J and Russell Simmons. But on the hip-hop side, it was Twista, Irv Gotti, Steve "Silk" Hurley, the guy who was producing Twista at the time, Toxic, and this little skinny dude who was soon to be Kanye West. And as they talking, someone asked, "What is the best equipment to use to produce your sound?" And this one skinny guy got up and said, "You go out and spend so much money on this and that. Use what you have. It'll bring out everything else." At the time, it was like, who the fuck is Kanye West? But when I saw the "Through the Wire" video, I was like, "That's the dude!"
[laughs] Wise words from a baby Kanye West!
A lot of people were like, "He's good at sampling, and he listens to some of your stuff." And I said, "I'm not going to knock his hustle because he took it and put it in rap. I credit him for that." But there's one thing I can say. Once people start really hearing my music, especially the old stuff, you will start hearing the story being told. I don't need someone to get on and rap with it. It will tell a story by itself.
The endless repetition of footwork's beats makes me feel really disoriented sometimes. What does it take to really "get" it?
I think you gotta go back. If you go back, and try to figure out who I was back then, you will understand. You'll be like "Damn, what happened?" By the time you catch back up to me, I'm gone. Also, I'm glad you all are giving me an opportunity to talk about this, and I thank ya'll for believing in who I am. I feel like I have so much to offer and it's time to show my talent to someone else, so they can do their own thing in their own fashion.
Is that why you called your newest album Legacy? Because you're looking for some kind of immortality?
The richest place in the world is the cemetery. And it's not because of the jewelry that people might have on. It's because of what they had in their mind that they wanted to give, but didn't have anyone to give it to. That's how I learned that it's not about me, it's about the listeners. It's about giving back. I wanna die empty.