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Walter Armstrong Walter Armstrong

DJ Rashad, Beloved Chicago Music Phenom, Dies of Apparent Overdose at 34

3 Substance

DJ Rashad, a music producer who globalized footwork, Chicago’s newest underground dance music craze, was found dead on Saturday in his Chicago apartment. The cause was an apparent drug overdose. Although initial toxicology tests were inconclusive, drugs and works were found near his body, according to police. No one has commented on Rashad’s history of heroin or other hard-drug use.

Rashad Harden’s death at age 34 is viewed as a particularly large loss to the music industry because his talent as an innovator promised a long future of great work. The experimental quality of his music was even compared to that of John Cage, one of the most influential and radical music pioneers of the 20th century.

Harden was precocious from the start. He devoted his childhood to dancing and his adolescence to DJing, spinning records at Chicago parties and clubs while continuing to dance with well-known local crews. Blending blended House, rap, hip-hop and other genres, he forged footwork in collaboration with the kids whose “dance battles” dazzle with their breathless, breakneck footwork.

Rashad was known for having a personality to match his upbeat tempo. In an interview with the British website Tiny Mix Tapes Rashad  he defended the hard-edged lyrics of rap and other footwork sources, saying, “Sometimes all niggas are talking about is killing people, fucking, smoking weed and doing drugs, so that’s what the music is gonna talk about. They’ve just got their own perspective to it, you know?”

His latest album, Double Cup, released last year, mines the tradition with songs titled “I’m Too Hi,” “Pass That Shit,” “Drank, Kush, Barz” and “I Don’t Give a Fuck.”

The video shows DJ Rashad spinning and his fans footworking it at Chicago’s Pitchfork Festival after-party in July 2013.