Chicago footwork legacy and innovation: DJ Clent, DJ Corey and DJ Noir in conversation
Juke Bounce Werk co-founder DJ Noir speaks to footwork originator DJ Clent and his son DJ Corey about the past, present and future of the impactful sound that has spread around the world
Some are born to become legends, while others are born from legends. Father and son Clent and Corey Hill represent that lineage as Chicago footwork royalty, championing Black excellence and innovation in Chicago’s multi-generational contribution to dance music.
DJ Clent, one of the first fathers of Chicago footwork, has spent the greater part of his life establishing his own blueprint within its native culture. He co-founded Beatdown House in 1997 — the first and the longest-running juke and footwork label and collective. His son DJ Corey, now 17 years of age, carries the legacy of the Beatdown House sound. The sound his father, alongside RP Boo, DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, C-Bit, Majik Myke and T-Rell cultivated when they were teenagers.
DJ Noir, co-founder of the international footwork collective Juke Bounce Werk, sat down to chat to Clent and Corey about footwork history, their inspirations, and thoughts on how the music they continue to innovate has influenced the music world outside of their basement studio.
DJ Noir: Is it correct that juke and footwork music was born in Chicago in the later 1980s and early 1990s, with historical accounts placing the birth of it in the West Side?
DJ Clent: No. It was house music first, then ghetto house, then after that it was juke and footwork. Juke and footwork was like 1998. Ghetto house is kind of up for debate as to which side started it, because that’s between Deeon, Jammin' Gerald and DJ Funk. It’s between the South and the West Side.
DJ Noir: Can you recall your first inspiration and ideas that led to some of the first tracks?
DJ Clent: I met DJ Greedy at a picnic on my block. We talked for a minute and then he invited me into his house. In that conversation, I told him I’d always wanted to make my own tracks, but I thought it needed all kinds of equipment like an electronic drum set, and you needed someone to play it, while another person was on a microphone. Then he was like “nah that’s not how you do it!”. So I went to his house and he showed me how it was done. He shows me the [Roland] R-70, that’s pretty much the South Side drum machine. He set me up in front of it and played me a couple of beats he had programmed in there, and then he told me it was my turn. He showed me the buttons, like this is play and record, push some sounds — and that’s how I started. This was in like 1994.
DJ Noir: It can be debated who the first real footwork track makers were. You mention DJ Greedy as someone you credit as the person who started you making tracks. So you formed Beatdown House in 1997 as a label and collective right? Tell us more about the foundations of that, the crew, and how you started own independent label before the internet and social media?
DJ Clent: At the end of 1997. It was more or less a crew. What happened was, I was already a part of a crew, and I said: “Look, I’m helping you guys start off”, because I was already big on making tracks, I had records out at the time, and I felt like, you know what I'ma help y'all start y'all crew, but I'ma end up breaking off and doing my own thing because I'm getting older. In the midst of that, Majik Myke lived in the next building from me. Me and Rashad had already got tight, and then we went to [Majic Myke's] house to talk to him about it, and naturally with Rashad came Spinn. We talked to RP Boo on the same thing. The idea was get people together. At that time, it was DJ Milton, DJ Deeon, DJ Funk and Jammin' Gerald, those were the guys. So for the South Side it was Playground Productionz, then DJ Monty and PJ was L A P Productions. I was like let's start our own crew.
How the name came about is: me and DJ Flint thought of the name Southside Beat Down, and it came from that. We were a crew of like-minded individuals before we became a label. We didn’t want to sound like the guys previous to us, so it was mainly about beating the speakers down. It wasn't about fighting. It was really about beating the speakers down because we were coming with them 808 sounds: the kick drums, electronics toms and all; we just wanted to blow speakers up. That’s where the name Beatdown came from.
From there, the label didn’t really start until 2000-something. We were a crew first, because we were all kids. In 1997, I was 17 going on 18. Then Majik Myke would be 16, Spinn was 16, C-Bit was about 16. We were kids but we were rocking the park. Me, Rashad and Myke were dropping mixtapes. We had all the dance groups on lock. It didn't really become a label until the split. That's pretty much how the split started, which was around 2007-ish. I spoke to Spinn and Rashad about us putting dues together to start funding projects. They they didn't like the idea and that's when they broke off and started Ghettoteknitianz [later shortened to Ghetto Tekz]. I was a part of Ghetto Tekz for a second, I’ve been a Ghetto Tekz affiliate, but I always knew it's not mine, It didn’t align with the way I think. I’ve always been Beatdown — it's tattooed on mine and Majik Myke’s arms, so I'm Beatdown for life.
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DJ Noir: So when you formed it, at what point did DJ Roc and T-Rell enter the fold?
DJ Clent: I think I first met T-Rell around 1999 or 2000. The story of how we met is hilarious. At that time, a lot of people didn’t like me, because I was the man! I had a lot of beefs at the time. We had a party at the Union Hall, and T-Rell and two dudes walked up on us: “Which one of y'all is Clent?” So I backed everybody up: “Who wanna know?” Because I didn't know what it was about, because me and a couple of other DJs were beefing at the time, so it was like, I don't know who this is! But they were like “Oh no no no, I just wanted to meet you, I'm T-Rell!” And from there the bomb began.
Roc had his own crew. I credit him as the last of the low end DJs. Because me and him were from the same neighbourhood, but he’s younger than me, and came into the game a lot later than I did. He came to Beatdown maybe in 2013 or 2014. From the conversation we had, he always wanted to be Beatdown. Our introduction was funny too. Back in the day there used to be this chat group on Yahoo Messenger, and that’s how I met him. He made a track about me, he was dissing me, and I laughed at it. The track was horrible, it was terrible! He broke it down because he was like: “Y’all was on top, so I felt like I had to go at who was on top.” Looking back at it, I'm not mad at him. But back then, I was like I ain't messing with him, because he dissed me! It was funny though, the track was terrible. This was some of his first tracks. This was way before Planet Mu, way before anybody knew who DJ Roc was. But because we were from the same 'hood, he always wanted to be Beatdown, but didn't really know how to get in touch. So he came in maybe 2014 — it was basically the relaunch as crew and label, and from there we've just been rocking out.
DJ Noir: 20 years after the creation of Beatdown House, you could tour outside of Chicago for the first time. In 2017 you played in Paris, Vienna, London, Liverpool, and Japan in 2019. How did it feel to be able to take our music to those places, and what are your thoughts on the influence of Chicago juke and footwork on the hybrid movements around the world?
DJ Clent: It felt beautiful. Where I come from, you really don’t have a thought that you have an opportunity to go outside of the country, let alone those countries. So for me, it was mostly Detroit, southern Illinois, Iowa, the surrounding states, the furthest I’d been was Tennessee.
First of all, the original Beatdown, I never even thought the music would make it out of Chicago. Our goal was: we gon' tear everybody up in the park. Our tracks is gonna kill everybody at the parties in Chicago. We never thought that the music would get to where it got to, so it was very humbling for me. Especially when we went to Paris, I was just in awe. A lot of people were sitting watching me, but just as much as they were watching me, I was in awe of them. It was so surreal. Let alone talking about Liverpool — we have to talk about that another time! That whole trip was just a vibe. The first time I’d ever been on an airplane was because of of you guys, Juke Bounce Werk.
DJ Noir: To California [for Juke Bounce Werk presents at the Rocksteady in 2015]?
DJ Clent: Yeah that’s the first. So to go from that, travelling go back and forth between LA and Illinois, to then travelling overseas — all in a five year period — was dope. I felt like I was on a private jet!
DJ Noir: It was great for us because we come from drum ‘n’ bass and jungle prior to being impacted by Chicago footwork, so to put you in the same place as Jumpin' Jack Frost, one of our mentors, that was a the highlight of that tour for me. Frost is our brother, he means so much to us. You’ve both had a parallel life in music. So when he invited us to the radio, to have the two of you meet was such a highlight for me. It’s a moment I remember all the time, the energy was in the room. These two icons from the music that they created. Not everyone got to experience that moment, but it was symbolic of a lot of things.
DJ Clent: I felt like I was meeting myself!
DJ Noir: The way he was turning up outside of the Rye Wax that night! You were ready to go! I want to shift to Corey a bit, and this will involve both of you. So Corey, you are considered a triple threat in footwork: you DJ, produce and dance. What are some of your inspirations in the three?
DJ Corey: My top five dancing inspirations in footwork is AG from Terra Squad, Q from Wolfpack, Eli from Wolfpack (RIP), Lite Bulb from Terra Squad, and Hott from The Tunnel. DJing and producing: of course my dad, Rashad, Spinn, T-Rell.
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DJ Noir: You’ve been self-releasing on Bandcamp and DJing all around Chicago at community events, Boiler Room with DJ Manny, you’ve come to LA and played, co-founded a new project with Nu Legendz [with DJ Rashad’s son Chad]. Is there anything else you’ve got planned in footwork?
DJ Corey: I’m trying to put out more music on Bandcamp, and do more interviews.
DJ Noir: Do you feel as though you’re taking up the mantle of continuing this music that your dad was so pivotal in innovating? Clent, what advice are you giving Corey in keeping the integrity of the music intact?
DJ Corey: I always told myself like, I can do this. I got this. I had a chip on my shoulder that I have to live up to his name, I do feel like I do.
DJ Clent: I don’t want him to live up to my name, I want him to live up to his own name. The advice I give him is: when you’re doing a stream or show or something that is presenting you to another platform or group of people, make that show about you. You gotta play your best, do your best. You can’t take everybody with you, that's first. Second of all, you’ve got to make it geared toward you, because you're the centre focus at this moment. For me, I just try to teach him the opposite of what I did coming up. I want to make sure he understands who I am and what I did, but he can take it to a whole new level if he focuses on his sound, on his craft, it could go somewhere far, to the next level. Which I feel is damn near the same thing as what Greedy did with me. And he [Corey] was honestly born into it. When he was like three or four or five, he was making tracks on Fruity Loops. To see the progression from then to now, he's gaining way more momentum. He’s still learning, and he’s still growing up into himself. He needs to make sure he does that he needs to do for him. You can’t help nobody if you ain’t helped yourself.
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DJ Noir: Great words of advice. It was so amazing to see you both perform together at our Music Center event with full production, stage, perfect sound, family and friends there. So many people came together, who used to come together at Rocksteady Tuesdays. Everyone killed it. But everyone was remarking like “Corey and Clent were incredible”, it was really a highlight for everyone, and you brought your family and the rest of your kids, it was so wholesome and taught everyone that this was a family, a legacy, they were showcasing, not just Chicago footwork. This was part of y'alls daily life and living, something Corey was born into. Whether they realised it or not, people came away with something much deeper that night than just a booking. People understood how deep the genre is and what this music means. We thank you guys for bringing this to the audience, we will definitely do that again at some point.
DJ Clent: The difference between me and him is: he don’t have stage fright.
DJ Noir: You have stage fright? Since when?
DJ Clent: I did! For me at that age, doing an event comparable to the one he did, I was jitty and shaking. But once I put on that first record, it calmed down. But me looking at him, it doesn’t seem like he has any fears.
DJ Noir: Well he’s born to do this. It's regular. Do you guys want to talk about Juke Bounce Werk and how do you guys feel about it, and what we have done and tried to do as an international collective?
DJ Clent: As far as JBW to me, they're family. The whole crew. Every person and every thought; the whole idea of JBW. If I wasn’t Beatdown, I’d be JBW.
DJ Noir: You are! Because it wouldn't exist without you.
DJ Clent: JBW pushes the scene, JBW pushes the boundaries of who knows and has heard about the music. They put it in people's face. Like, you don't wanna hear it? Alright well look at it again.
DJ Noir: We’re kind of annoying like that!
DJ Clent: I cannot stress enough how I feel in my heart that the whole JBW is family. There's not much that anybody from the crew could ask me and I won't do it. That goes from Sonic D to Jae Drago & Noir, to Compton, Kush Jones, SWISHA, Riley [GFrequent]. The whole collective, I love what you're doing, you’re bringing more awareness to some shit that we created in my mom’s house. The expansion in the sound and music is not limited to what we do anymore, and what I've done anymore. It's more than just one sound of footwork now. You guys have your own style.
I look at you guys like how I was when I was coming in the game listening to Deeon and Milton. The difference is, I came in trying to sound like it and do what's been done — I did, I'm not gonna lie — until I realised it's not me and started my own sound. That's pretty much what you guys are doing with the whole crew, you bring in a whole new sound to what's already there. You laying more bricks on this house of juke and footwork. You have your own JBW-stamped bricks that nobody can take from you. The whole expansion thing between you guys and Creation Global, I don’t know who’s better. It's not a competition. You’re all doing your own thing.
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DJ Noir: I guess we’re all playing a different part. I know you mentioned Creation, who were so instrumental in really educating us, putting us in touch with people we needed to be in touch with, providing education and lots of tracks they dance to. They were like, look, this is a fundamental, these are the people. And you know, there’s a lot of debate, I'm sure within Chicago and everywhere, that that shouldn't have been done, but I think the vision of [King] Charles, whether people agree with it or not, was to expand it beyond. What he's done is incredible to me: the level of worldwide education that he's provided and the bridge of the dance part of the culture. No one has done it, and he took it upon himself to be the ambassador for the dance part of the culture. He’s now in the DJ realm, he’s very interested in that aspect of it. We should all be respectful and keyed into all the elements.
Around the world, the dance part of it is maybe missing in certain pockets, just because of accessibility, they don't have access to Chicago footworkers. Teaching the fundamentals or the basics is sometimes are far as people are gonna get, because of access. So when I see people like Miki coming in from Japan, and Ant and Tal, seeing people fly to be involved in Chicago events, anniversaries, it shows there are people dedicated to preserving as much as they can, to inclusion. Personally that's what we wanna see more of. It's great that it's developed being these different hybrids of sound, but we're always trying to bring it back: don’t lose what inspired all of this that you’re doing. There's ways to keep incorporating that. That’s probably the ethos of our work at JBW. We want to make it more exciting, more inclusive.
DJ Clent: For me, that’s the dope part about JBW. You’re not gatekeeping. You’re not shutting the door. It has grown to the point where it now has its own identity. Yes everybody in your crew is linked to this brand, but this brand can stand on its own. You’re not showing favouritism, you're not bringing judgement.
Look at it like this: where would hip hop be if Kool Herc never opened the door for the people behind him? Or if Afrika Bambaataa said if you're not Zulu Nation, you can't do hip hop. The beautiful part about what you do and this culture, not only do you showcase Beatdown, you play everybody else's music too. For people who have not heard of Clent, Corey, T-Rell or Roc, but they’ve heard of Swisha, Kush — you’re mixing all this music up and you’re opening doors just playing.
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DJ Noir: Well thank you! Jae [Drago, fellow JBW co-founder], do you have any questions?
Jae Drago: I think about Paris a lot. The three of us played every BPM, from 125 up to 160, every piece of music from ghetto house, to house, to juke, to footwork, to complete strangers that had no context, and we rocked that club until dawn. And we walked out and the sun was up, all of those people were dancing from the moment that we started to the moment we left that club. When I think about the effect that ghetto house, juke and footwork can have, I always go back to that night.
DJ Noir: Absolutely, that is a pinpoint of inspiration on what can be achieved. Not everybody is gonna understand footwork in the context of the dance, because of exposure. But we have people like Corey now, who is bringing all of the elements in one artist.
Jae Drago: The Music Center is kind of like a new pinpoint, where you see how footwork can be explained to people through the inclusion of the 360 degree holistic version of footwork dancers and DJs. When you put that together that’s really special.
DJ Clent: I try and tell my son 24/7 to get into music. Footwork came from something, you know what I’m saying? The genre of footwork is different to what people were footworking to in the '90s and '80s — that's why we've got our own genre, but there were tracks that people footworked to. I try to get him to DJ more than just footwork. When I came in, I came in as a DJ, and then became a track-maker. He’s a track-maker, and then started DJing his tracks. I’m trying to to teach him how much is there, but he don't have nothing in his computer but footwork tracks.
DJ Noir: Well he is also 17, give him some time! Any more plans for you guys to do any projects together?
DJ Clent: We’re still thinking of doing a tape together. I’m just waiting until I have enough capital to do it the way I want to do it. More EPs for Corey, and maybe see if there is something we can do with Planet Mu or Hyperdub.
DJ Noir: Well when Corey turns 18 in 2023, he will be able to do more travelling. He can go to the venues that are 18+.
DJ Clent: And there are a lot of them overseas! The only thing I achieved over him when I was his age was that I had a record, but now it’s more mixtapes rather than records. But what he has over me, he went to LA at 16 and rocked it! He’s DJing everywhere, my son is the youngest person to ever do a Boiler Room, that hits me in the heart. I’m 41, I ain’t did the Boiler Room yet!
DJ Noir: Proud of you Corey! That’s another thing: you’ve managed to transition the Beatdown brand to a soundsystem. I think that’s really cool, going from crew to label to soundsystem — I think that's a last goal for people. People forget that soundystems are so important when playing juke and footwork music. The 808s, the way that they hit, if that shit's not resonated, it’s the saddest story ever told! Did that happen organically for you?
DJ Clent: To be honest, that came from Greedy too. I don’t know if you remember the Scoops speakers. We’d do house parties, street parties, and take these systems around with us. Years later, I was DJing for a dance group in the [Bud Billiken] Parade. They rented a system from this guy and every half block the sound would cut off. If anyone knows about the Bud Billiken Parade, it runs straight through the neighbourhood where I was born and raised. A pedestrian was yelling at me from the street: “Hey Clent, what's wrong with your speakers?” then I knew I didn’t want that again. I know how I want the bass to hit, these mids and highs to hit. So then I just did it, I made one.