Image: Planet Mu
Despite the fate of the dance floor still very much hanging in the balance around the world, 2021 has been an alarmingly triumphant year for footwork. This year alone, we have been graced with albums which have shifted the genres in ways we have not thought possible. From the deconstructed minimalism of Ripatti’s Fun Is Not A Straight Line, to the smooth romance of DJ Manny’s Voices In My Head and perhaps most arresting, Jana Rush’s excellent exploration into mental desolation Painful Enlightenment, this year has come to prove footwork as an unexpectedly dextrous and multifaceted form capable of evolving beyond its dance-crew nucleus. It makes sense that this is the moment RP Boo should release his fourth album Established! On Planet Mu. Boo is after all one of the, if not the, foremost pioneers of the Chicago dance form, a veteran of footwork who has been essential to the establishment of the form as a genre. The title of this record alludes to this status, “established” is a word that encapsulates Boo’s contributions to and current place in the footwork spectrum. And among the albums that have all looked toward the future of footwork this year, Boo’s is one that looks back to the past, a necessary reminder of the beginning that grounds footwork’s present moment.
At once distinct from his previous outing, I’ll Tell You What!, with Established!, RP Boo takes us back to the start of his journey with footwork. Whereas I’ll Tell You What! explored the smokey minimal side of the genre akin to Rush’s latest work, Established! returns to the roots of the style, informed by the groovy textures of disco and the rapid-fire rhythm of jacking and ghetto house. I’ll Tell You What! also feels more serious, arguably a thematic exploration into the mortality of the creative mind, whereas here RP Boo is again fixated with footwork in its purest party-starting form. As such and true to the style, Established! is full of samples from everywhere from classic Chicago house to 80’s pop. All My Life opens with the throb of the four on the floor, house leaning piano riffs and what’s likely RP Boo’s statement of intent with this record, “all my life I’d like to dance.” Finally Here is an intriguing investigation into the mutations of house endemic to Chicago and New York, sampling Masters At Work’s iconic and continuously repurposed The Ha Dance in a clash of titans between the sounds of footwork and ballroom. This track in particular alludes to how Established! happens to celebrate Black counterculture and the history of Black pioneers in dance music. Weaving two distinct and highly influential Black subcultural movements together, Finally Here connects the dots between two scenes born from the defiance of Black American identity. Finally Here also borrows from Class Action’s Weekend, a track RP Boo has infamously and vehemently sampled across his discography, and does so again later on this album’s closing track, Another Night To Party. Though both borrow from the same source, RP Boo’s mastery of the sample extracts two distinct experiences from Class Action, and speaks toward an innate understanding of samples as both a tool for contextualisation and as fuel for setting the dance floor alight. Elsewhere, Barry White is spun into sinister syncopation on Ivory Surface and the unlikely strain of Phil Collins’s voice on his 1983 single I Don’t Care Anymore appears in all its analog filtered glory on All Over. It’s these moments that serve as reminders of RP Boo’s excellence and rightful standing in the pantheon of footwork masters. His penchant for reinventing his source material is unparalleled, and the way he cuts and pastes to the point of sonic sculpting is one of his definitive masterstrokes as a producer.
Established! also marks a return to what RP Boo calls “battle tracks,” tracks formulated specifically for dance crew face offs. Haters Increase the Heat! and Now U Know find their place as tracks which harken back to the competitive nature of footwork, when the music was designed to soundtrack epic dance battles between crews crowded in circles. Haters Increase the Heat! is undeniably the more interesting of the two, and Now U Know risks feeling like a footnote from its placement on the track list. But these tracks are necessary to the manifesto of Established! as a whole, essential reminders of footworks’ cultural origins. Established! might (and probably should) be understood as a footwork history lesson of sorts, an enshrinement of the form’s street roots orchestrated by one of its key progenitors in the wake of its inevitable evolution toward abstraction. The future of this genre is possibly one of the most exciting developments in dance music, and it’s reassuring in a sense that legends like RP Boo are here to guide it forward while keeping the foundations intact.
Listen to Finally Here from Established! below:
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