A little cockiness is a familiar attitude within footwork music.
Kavain Space repeatedly drills “things haven’t been the same since I hopped the plane” in “Flight 1235” as he declares his seat in the throne as RP Boo, the godfather of footwork. Indeed, the dance scene that he helped build has evolved tremendously since the label Planet Mu released the Chicago footwork compilation Bangs & Works in 2011 and opened up the scene into an international phenomenon. While Space has released a few of his own albums with a mix of past and current works, the producer packages all new material in I’ll Tell You What! to deliver his most outspoken record yet.
Space spends the first seconds of I’ll Tell You What! reminding who exactly RP Boo is. “Nobody fucking with me in these streets,” a sampled voice roars in “No Body,” and the producer quickly jets to the control room to work the decks like a self-anointed savior of the party. Not to be outshined by his own samples, he also chops recordings of his own speeches to assert dominance. Statements about his untouchable work ethic mainly get looped: confidence flows in “Earth’s Battle Dance” as though it’s an honor to have Space descend from a higher plane to show how it’s done.
A little cockiness is a familiar attitude within footwork music, and it’s an essential quality for DJs to keep satisfying the dancers. The hammering percussion and roaring bass in “Back From the Future” animate the scene, and Space gleefully instigates activity by warping an R&B sample’s hot request to see bodies moving. The producer also lays down his own intense fighting words, especially in the vicious “Bounty”: “You had to battle this footwork machine, now take your L,” he hounds, and his words cuts deep as a diss to an opponent both on the turntables and the dance floor.
I’ll Tell You What! doesn’t just function as a weapon, however, and Space offers his music as a platform for a deeper purpose than self-aggrandizement. The militant hook of “At War” frames the record as a normal battle track at first, but it slowly unravels into a more complex entity. The panning echo lends the producer’s voice to resemble a warning call for air raids, and soon other voices pour in from multiple directions, all reporting a scene of a blazing hell in the streets. “At War” sounds spiritually closer to Steve Reich’s famous “Come On” piece than a footwork track: an experimental record amplifying a voice straight from the front lines.
The album offers a moment of melancholy as well. A sample of Stevie Wonder joins Space in “U-Don’t No” as the producer rhetorically asks who else in the scene can match his greatness. The excerpt sets a rather somber mood to his questions, letting Space’s voice read as though he’s actually lonely at the top. Considering the original context of the sample of Wonder’s “Lately” as a heartbroken ballad about a relationship gone astray, the singer’s spectral presence shades the song into an elegy mourning the fallen participants in the scene.
“U-Don’t No” is a rare instance of emotional openness in a record that otherwise shuts itself out from the rest of the world. Space deliberately sets that vast distance between him and everyone else: the boss-level theme “Wicked’Bu” goes as far as declaring himself the creator of the game that they merely play. That said, all this effort from him to call out others to match him in respectable work throughout I’ll Tell You What! doesn’t alienate but instead puts forward a noble challenge for his future peers to meet him at his level. Space isn’t denouncing the scene. He’s just itching for people to do better.