NPR logo First Listen: 'Bangs And Works, Vol. 1: A Chicago Footwork Compilation'

First Listen: 'Bangs And Works, Vol. 1: A Chicago Footwork Compilation'

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RP Boo (right) is credited as inventing the Chicago "footwork" sound, an upbeat mix of house and hip-hop. Neema Nazem hide caption

toggle caption Neema Nazem

RP Boo (right) is credited as inventing the Chicago "footwork" sound, an upbeat mix of house and hip-hop.

Neema Nazem

Audio for this feature is no longer available.

Footwork is an art culture which spans hundreds of DJs and thousands of dancers; it's been incubating in obscurity for more than a decade on the south and west sides of Chicago. The culture is centered on a competitive dance akin to jit in Detroit, crump in LA, baile funk in Brazil, kuduro in Angola or Shangaan electro in Soweto.

The music behind the dance is also called footwork, and that's what's collected into 25 tracks from 16 different Chicago producers on Bangs & Works Vol. 1. For many, the songs on the compilation will be challenging. Some tunes conjure the pressure and terror of ghetto life in the Windy City, but then they play with that terror, abstracting it and making it danceable.


This recording contains language that is not suitable for all audiences.

"My sampling tells a story within the music," footwork originator RP Boo says in a recent interview conducted under the El tracks in Chicago. In "Eraser," a signature RP Boo tune from Bangs & Works, Boo uses short phrases to build a sort of ghetto haiku: "Live and let die... burn it all... no holds barred." The words scaffold a sonic battleground.

Twelve years ago, Boo was one of the first DJs to move from juke — dense, repetitive, booty-shaking Chicago music — into the newer, more expressive dance arena that is footwork. According to his friend and colleague DJ Clent, also featured on Bangs & Works, "The whole sound of right now is something we created years ago — between me, RP Boo, DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn and Magyk Mike. We created that sound. The half-tempo track, we created that."

Footwork is influenced dually by retro technology (MPC drum machines from the late '80s) and by new software: "Ableton and Fruity Loops have a hand in it," DJ Clent says, referring to the popular software programs used by DJs on Bangs & Works. "Those samples that we couldn't use, we can use them now. Before, when you changed the speed of certain sounds, they would either sound like the Chipmunks or they would sound too slow. Now, we can touch everything."

On Bangs & Works, Clent samples Eddie Murphy from Dreamgirls, while RP Boo samples the Wu-Tang-approved movie Warriors. At its root, footwork is an omnivorous media filter; its palette restricts no film score, no videogame sound, no sample or sample of a sample. Producers chop their own voices into tracks, as well. In "Whea Yo Ghost At, Whea Yo Dead Man," DJ Elmoe repeats the title until it becomes a hypnotic pendulum — throughout Bangs & Works, words are instruments. Their meaning gets buried beneath their sound.

This happens deliberately when 20-year-old DJ Nate triggers the phrase "He ain't 'bout s—-" 200 times in "He Ain't Bout It." At times, it sounds like "He ain't 'bout s—-" morphs into "email s—-." Nate's voice can become the voice in your head, or the voice in your phone: incessant, entrancing, addictive. After a night of footwork, you might still hear it or need to hear it in the morning.

Bangs & Works will stream here in its entirety until a week after its release on Dec. 6. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.

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