Chicago DJ and producer Rick Feltes, better known as DJ Rude One, just released a new solo album, Onederful, and a crowd of hip-hop heavies show up to sing his praises on the opening track: Common collaborator Twilight Tone, Gang Starr cofounder DJ Premier, and legendary New York MC Kool G Rap. Feltes, 42, hasn’t released a full-length in 12 years—that’s when he dropped From Now On with Single Minded Pros, his duo with producer Keino West (aka Doc West). As the Reader‘s Bob Mehr wrote in 2004, Feltes recruited some of the guest rappers for that album by cold-calling them—that’s how he got Kool G Rap, who’s been a fan of Feltes ever since.
Though Feltes hasn’t been making beats for most of the past decade, he’s never been absent from the scene. He’s launched a couple hip-hop parties in town, through which he connected with DJ RTC, aka Alex Fruchter, who would later found local hip-hop indie label Closed Sessions with Soundscape Studios co-owner Michael Kolar. Closed Sessions has had a banner year in 2016, releasing Jamila Woods‘s Heavn and Kweku Collins’s Nat Love, and last week it dropped Onederful. The album moves suavely and hits hard, with help from contributions by buzzing Buffalo rapper Westside Gunn, New York underground sensation Roc Marciano, and Chicago rapper-producer Jeremiah Jae. I spoke with Feltes about his long break from producing, his preferred method for collaborating with rappers, and his work with Closed Sessions.
Leor Galil: I watched the mini documentary Closed Sessions made for the track you did with Your Old Droog—a couple times, you mention that it’s been a while since you’ve been doing anything like this. Tell me about the trajectory that brought you to Onederful.
DJ Rude One: I just got burned out, just kinda fried. I stopped making beats in 2006—I just wasn’t sure what I was doing anymore and why I was into it. I did a couple records that I didn’t get credit for by some of my favorite MCs, who I won’t name. I sent beats to them, trying to get work, and some of my stuff started appearing on iTunes and I wasn’t credited as a producer. I was showing up on various albums, and I wasn’t listed as a producer—one of those “What the fuck am I doing this for?” kinda things. I dove back into DJing and focusing on that. I was living in New York at the time when I quit—or when I fell back. I went back to Chicago to kinda recharge my battery a little bit, and started promoting a series of monthly parties. I focused on that instead.
That was the Goodness series?
The Goodness. I did another one called Elementary—like, a three- or four-year run of that too. The Goodness lasted, I think, five years?
What did DJing these series do for you, as far as filling whatever void had presented itself after you dropped producing?
First and foremost, DJing and record digging is what got me into this. I got my first pair of turntables in 1988, so that was always my first love. I thought I would go back to that and see if that could rekindle anything and just focus on that. But then the parties turned into me being more of a promoter than anything, and that’s when I jumped out of that, ’cause that’s not what I got into it for. As the parties got more successful and got bigger, I just found myself more on the business end of everything. I guess, to answer your first question, it’s kinda like what steered me away from the beats—just getting fried.
What got you back into making beats?
It’s crazy. The last beat I ever made, when I was living in New York—it was like the fall of 2006, and I made this beat that I just thought was so crazy. Everybody I played it for thought it was wack—some of my best homies and closest rapper friends. I’m like, “Yo, you have to hear this.” They’re like, “Nah, I’m not feeling that at all—that sucks.” Shortly thereafter is when I decided to just put it down and chill for a little bit.
I kept hearing that beat in my head—for years since then. One day [New York rapper] J-Zone and I were hanging out, and he was telling me, “Man, I wish you still made beats. I really liked your stuff.” I was like, “The last one I ever made was really dope, but nobody liked it.” He’s like, “Fuck it, let me hear it.” I tried to load it up in an old MPC3000 that still took Zip disks, and the Zip disk wouldn’t load. I’m like, “Man, that’s a sign. Fuck it. That beat’s dead—nobody needs to hear it.” But I kept hearing it in my head over and over and over.
Then in 2014, I think it was, I was training for the Chicago Marathon. I was out running one day in the rain—I was supposed to be doing, like, 15 miles or some shit. I was halfway through it, and it was pouring. I kept playing that loop over and over in my head, like, “Man, if that shit came out now, I think that shit would be dope. I still think that song is ill.” It was along the vibe of a lot of the stuff that Roc Marciano had been putting out the last couple years. And I was like, “Fuck it, Roc’s my guy. I know Roc—I’ve DJed for Roc.” Show it to him, let’s see what happens.
So I stopped my marathon training that day, in the rain. Walked home, went through all my disks, found it. It took me like a half hour, fumbling with a paper clip, to actually get it to load in the MPC. I made sure I saved it on three different disks so I was OK. Reformatted it and everything. Sent it to Roc, and he was like, “Yo, this shit is tough, let’s do something.” That December he came to Chicago to do a show at the Double Door. We recorded two songs at Closed Sessions, and that was the genesis of this.
It really just started off with those two songs, and Alex and Mike at Closed Sessions really being like, “Dude, you got something here—you should think about this.” I’m like, “Eh, I don’t know.” It was more just for myself—Roc’s my favorite MC, and I wanted to do something with that beat. I was basically content with it just living in my phone—like, me just being able to ride with it, like, “See? I knew this shit was cold.”
But then I started to get back into [crate] digging hard-core again, and I updated my equipment. I went out and got one of those MPC Renaissances, ’cause I couldn’t rely on Zip disks anymore, and started fucking with it. Stuff just started coming to me.
I had a really short list of MCs whose records I enjoy playing and listening to, and basically I just reached out to all these cats. I got everybody but, like, two people to agree to work on the record. And I actually met everybody. Like, Westside Gunn. I didn’t know him from Adam, but I flew down to Atlanta to go to his house and actually chill with him. I didn’t want him to do one of those records that’s just, like, e-mail features, and I never meet the guy until I run into him a year later at a show or something. I didn’t want that vibe at all, so it just became this project.
Probably Westside Gun. I’ve been playing his records for a couple years in Chicago, and nobody was really paying attention. I was just like, “Yo, this kid is ill, I think he’s next.” When I hit up West, he thought I was crazy. I was like, “Yo, can we do this song?” He’s like, “Yeah, e-mail me the beat. I’ll send it back to you.” I’m like, “Nah, I don’t really want to work like that. I want to come meet you, chill with you. I don’t know if I’ll ever do another record.”
Every other song I’ve ever recorded, I’ve actually been with the MC in the studio and met with them and chilled with them. That’s always a part of the process that I’ve enjoyed. So I was like, “If this is my last record—if it is, I don’t know that it is—that’s gotta be part of the process.” I think he thought I was crazy, but I flew down to Atlanta, to where he was staying at the time, and showed up at his door one day. We became homies. He played me all of his album that was coming out at the time, FlyGod, and showed me these exclusives that he was doing with, like, Qbert and Alchemist.
We ended up hanging out all day. We still stay in touch. There was a point—one MC, I wasn’t able to get on my album. I probably shouldn’t say his name, but I couldn’t make it work out. Westside stayed in touch with me, like, “How’s that progressing?” I’m like, “Ah, we couldn’t make it work.” He’s like, “Let me hear the beat.” So I sent it to him. I’m like, “It’s not really up your alley or anything like that, but check it out.” The next day he e-mailed me a full song from [his brother] Conway, which is what went on the album. Like, “Yo, check this out.” So that’s my guy, man. It’s crazy ’cause we couldn’t be more opposite.
I don’t know, man. I just worked with the records that I had. Everything you see, everything’s sample based. I guess I’m just drawn to a certain sound when I’m sampling. Two of the beats on there, though—like I said, the one that I mentioned that started this all is the Roc Marciano track, “Triple Black Benz,” that was from ’06. The other record I did with him, “Murder Paragraphs,” that beat I made in 2004, with an MPC3000 and an old S950. The loop was just so cold—I thought, “This is perfect.” We were vibing in the studio—Roc knocked out “Triple Black Benz” so fast. He was like, “Yo, let’s do another one.” I’m like, “Shit, I’m not even making beats right now.” I just happened to have, like, a two-track in my iTunes. We loaded it up and he rapped to that.
You mention samples—on “Street Scenes,” you’ve got a sample of that CNN interview with King Louie after he was shot and he said, “The devil’s working overtime in Chicago.” That song also features Jeremiah Jae—he’s the only Chicago artist on this, correct?
Which is funny, ’cause most people there don’t even know that Jeremiah’s from there. Or they’ve never heard of him. I think he’s more prominent outside of Chicago. People would ask me who I was checking for, or listening to. They were always like, “What? Huh? I never heard of him.” Which is a shame, man, ’cause he’s really, really dope. I love his whole steez—his beats, his artwork, everybody that he works with. I check for every project he puts out.
Was it intentional to put the Chicago guy on that track?
It was more about him. I’ve always respected him from afar. We’d only met once or twice, and it was, like, handshakes and kept it moving. I was always playing his records, though. I might be his biggest fan, to be honest. I reached out one day and was like, “Hey, you wanna do a joint for my record?”
I let him hear, like, what I’d done so far, and he was really fucking with it. So I sent him the beat and he gave me that back. I was like, “Man, I really gotta put, like, Chicago something to it, as far as the cuts go.” And then with that King Louie interview with [CNN anchor] Don Lemon, that’s where that came from. But yeah, the Jeremiah Jae [track], it wasn’t about him being from Chicago or anything like that, but when I got it back the record just sounded so Chicago to me.
I moved back to New York in July. Chicago, that’s home—that’s where I was born. But I grew up on the east coast too, so I always bounced around my whole adult life, between Chicago and New York. I did a year in Boston too. I went to high school on the east coast and everything, but I still consider Chicago my home. I tell everybody I’m from there.
I don’t have the usual “Oh, I had to get out of there ’cause I wanted to make it” or there’s-nothing-going-on-there type shit. Just some life shit. I love living in New York City, and it’s a better fit for me now. But I don’t have the old-rap-guy “Oh, Chicago’s hater-ville” and all that shit. Chicago always shows me ridiculous amounts of love and supported all my parties, even though I wasn’t doing what everybody else was doing. I’ve always gotten ridiculous amounts of love.
What’s your community in Chicago when you do come here?
It’s so vast and diverse, man. I got a fam and a crew and all that shit. I’m blessed. I feel like I can go to so many different neighborhoods and so many different scenes and fit in. Saint Alfred‘s my fam, Uprise is my fam. The grimiest hip-hop dudes in the city are fam—you know what I mean? From producing, DJing, and doing the parties, I’ve been able to, like, step inside of so many circles, and it’s just ill.
Last month I was back for—are you familiar with Boombastic? It’s Seven [aka Marvin Bedard], the guy that founded Chocolate Industries, the record label. He and his cousin, Reggie Destin, who passed away about four years ago, started this pirate-radio get-together at the end of every summer in Wicker Park. They’d find a little remote location, set up ten or 15 DJs, and broadcast from this location. They would hijack somebody’s FM signal, and everybody would just come out to Wicker Park with a boom box—they’d be out there playing basketball, skateboarding, or [playing] soccer. They did it for about seven or eight years, and then Reggie passed. Seven asked me to step in and help him with that.
Now since Reggie’s passed, it’s grown into this huge thing. Throughout the day we’d get maybe a thousand people in and out of the park. We just did it—it was actually at the end of September—and it’s the most diverse community. It’s like a lot of the dudes that Timbuck came up with—the older guys, the All Naturals—and all the pro skaters in Chicago. It’s really, really ill.
Alex Fruchter has talked quite lovingly about you—tell me about your history with Closed Sessions.
I met Alex when he was doing the Ruby Hornet thing—I was doing one of my early Goodness parties, probably the best one I ever did. Alchemist is a friend of mine, and Alchemist was in town on tour with Dilated Peoples—they were playing at the Double Door. We did a little Goodness party at—remember when they moved Lava Lounge from Damen over to Milwaukee Avenue? It was Milwaukee and Division. They had a legal capacity of, like, 99, and we squeezed 270 people into there that night for me, Alchemist, and then Evidence and Rakaa [of Dilated Peoples] came through. Aceyalone was in town, 88-Keys. I think Juice ended up showing up, and DJ Revolution happened to be in town.
It was an insane night. I met Alex, like, that day. He was waiting outside Dilated Peoples’ tour bus to get an interview, I think with Alchemist and Evidence. We were at full capacity for that Goodness party, but I think we snuck him in, and we stayed in touch after that. I invited him on to do some parties with me and open up for some of his favorite DJs. I just watched him grow. It’s funny—he used to DJ my Elementary party frequently, and every time he kept telling me about what the label was evolving into. You know, “It’d be really dope if you did another Single Minded Pros project.” I just kind of shrugged it off, ’cause I wasn’t doing the music.
When I told him I had Roc Marciano coming into town, he offered up his studio to me. He said, “We’ll make the time—come in, record with Mike [Kolar].” I knew Mike just casually, but we never worked together or anything, and that was our first session. They gave me a quote and everything, ’cause I wanted to pay for the studio time. At the end of the night, Mike was like, “You know, let’s just hold off—don’t worry about paying me right now. Let’s see what comes of this.” They left the door open for me to move forward with this and end up where we are now.
What was it like working with this label in particular?
It was great. The agreement was super fair, and the studio was so close to my crib. I could just basically come and go, and work on what I needed to do. It was really hands-off. I think I missed, like, four or five deadlines, and they weren’t really bugging out on me or anything. It just felt really organic. It’s a little different than most of the other stuff that they’ve released. I really appreciated them giving me all the avenues that they did to do what I’m doing.