I haven’t listened to footwork this bracing since the first time I heard DJ Rashad.
That thought ran through my head mere minutes into this incredible set by DJ Paypal, the brief but incredibly energetic Sold Out. If you’re familiar with the Rashad and the wider genre at all, you’ll know how bold of a statement this is. The guy was the first genre superstar, and a true auteur. His sudden death in 2014 cast a pall over the relatively tight-knit community. Surprisingly, the first artist to step out of his shadow is not from Chicago but Berlin, Germany. Lacking a geographic one, Paypal still has a direction connection to the more well known artists: he met the rest of the famed Teklife crew, including DJ Spinn and Rashad, through a footwork Facebook group.
Here’s his debut album, Sold Out. It’s 37 minutes of light speed bliss that will have you hyperventilating.
I’m caught up, soaring over shattered landscapes on fast-foward, somewhere in the middle of second track Ahhhhhhh, when it hits me. I’m riding a crest of vertical samples, sharp points of horns and vocals, strung together with a piano solo, out of control and on my back. Hysterical. It’s the same inexorable rush that hits when you realize you’ve truly gotten carried away in the torrent of a great wild jazz tune. It’s that rare experience: behold! a gang of vital, angry, and independent pieces slam together in unthinkable clockwork precision. This sort of rollercoaster used to be conjured by the likes of Pharoah Sanders’ The Creator Has A Master Plan.
This album is another brick in the fortress of evidence that jazz never died; its simply outgrew its constrictive, recognizable forms. While it’s true that the fun stuff has seen a revival, thanks in no small part to artists like Kamasi Washington, reincarnating the structures of free jazz at its commercial peak, the real innovation is happening in unexpected ways. When DJ Rashad broke through half a decade ago, it wasn’t because he was the best, most skilled footwork artist. He brought visibility to the genre because he evolved it in unexpected ways, adding melodic hooks while setting the often rigidly hyperspeed template on its ear. He bent the known playbook. He played with our perception of time.
This is the exploratory heart of what makes the best free jazz so revelatory. It’s also what I’m hearing in a new album for the first time since Rashad died. Sold Out does more than stand on the shoulders of a great artist. The album earns my ecstatic response by leaping beyond, exploring past the horizons we’ve heard from Chicago so far.
If you google DJ Paypal, you might notice that he seems like a very private person, to put it lightly. “I just don’t want pictures of my face posted everywhere, I’m opting out,” he told Meaghan Garvey in an interview for Pitchfork. He hasn’t given out his real name and currently enjoys an anonymity previously only known by Burial. I admire his humility, and his deference to the original Chicago footwork community, but he’s got to know, deep down, how special his work is. Continuing in the same interview about Rashad, after describing the day he died, Paypal says, “his role is not going to be filled by anybody else. It can’t be. So we’re gonna work harder, because it’s not going to be easy.”
The album just dropped on November 13th, so I’m a little late but hopefully not before everyone’s made their best of the year lists. I’ve got a feeling this might make an appearance on mine. You can pick up the vinyl or digital version from the Bandcamp page.