To the rest of the world, Rondell Adams appeared out of nowhere with this year’s Threshold to Madness release on Jimmy Edgar’s label, Ultramajic. But he was here all along. 5 Magazine talks to Rondell as part of his set for this issue’s 5 Mag Mix, 5 Magazine’s signature House Music mix series.
Rondell Adams: The 5 Mag Mix
Rondell Adams: The 5 Mag Interview
You’ve been on the scene for a long time –
No, it’s more like I’ve been UNDER the scene for a long time!
Right! When did you get started for real, way back?
Well I’ve been DJing for 25 years now. I always loved House, always loved the music, always loved the records but I was making beats and DJing on the Hip Hop level. House was a big part of our lives. Right when House first came out, my sister was at the parties, skipping school and coming home and telling me about this new music that just came out. I was excited right along with her, but we moved to Milwaukee around 1986. We couldn’t get the Hot Mix 5 on the radio in Milwaukee, but every time I came home I’d buy some tapes and record the mixes.
Then in 2008, Power 92 had a contest called “Chicago’s Newest Mixmaster.” At the time Boolumaster was playing House on Power 92. I was inspired to make mix, turned it in and I won the contest. And then there I was, opening up for Frankie Knuckles! It was at that place – The Premiere, in May 2008. I loved house but I was not conscious of the culture of House. Everyone was there from Farris Thomas, Andre Hatchett –
I remember that, it was an old school show. Maybe the only one Frankie played in years… That was a pretty big deal.
Yeahhhh. Jamie Principle jumped up on stage and sang “Cold World.” And here I am on stage and not knowing what to do. I could DJ but Serato was new, I never played with it before and I’m looking for CDJs. So they told me I could use Andre Hatchett’s set-up. I’m looking at Andre Hatchett’s set up like, “What the fuck is this?” I’d never DJ’d with a rotary mixer before. And you know what? It was wonderful! Fantastic! I was bangin’ it! It was 5,000 people, I never DJ’d in front of a crowd that big. A bunch of women in the front were bangin’ their hands on the stage while I was playing. Now my playlist wasn’t all the way correct. And if I had known what I know now, I would get in a time machine and tell myself, “Make some original beats, make some edits, don’t play nothing people are familiar with but bang the shit out of their ass!”
Robert Armani told me something: “If this track doesn’t make me get up in & run around in circles, your shit ain’t bangin’.”
To make a long story short, that was the decision I made. I knew how to make beats, so why not start making House? Gant-Man told me the same thing. “Rondell, if you want to blow up, you need to make your own music.” And that lead me on the path to where I am now.
Was Threshold to Madness your first record, or just the first record everyone on an international level knows?
So let’s dive deep, tell me about the first one.
The first ever album I put out was called Attic Tape Bangers Volume 1 on a Chicago-based label Etc Records from my man Radius, if you’re familiar with him.
Oh yeah. I’ve written about the project they do, Beyond Luck.
He has that label. My thought was, before I put out any project, I’ll let people see what my genesis is. It’s like, I don’t know, eight songs produced between 1993 and 1998. It was all recorded on tape. I wanted people to hear the tape hiss, the off-beatness that I was doing. This was my attempt to make tracks without a sequencer, without MIDI, all manually done with the 12 second samplers they had on Numark and Gemini mixers back in the day. I was making beats like that! Some were on point, some had a couple of skips to ’em. It was dope at the time and people now are looking for that particular sound and it made a little bit of noise.
With House, see the story is I met with Robert Armani about five years ago. I had beats, House tracks that he liked. We became cool, especially after Boiler Room when I stopped a big incident! [laughs] You might as well put this story in! Rob invited me to Boiler Room to kick it with him. If you remember the line-up it was all the Dance Mania DJs – him, Jammin’ Gerald, Paul Johnson and so on. When Rob was done, him and Paul were in the background smokin’ a blunt. I went back with them while Gant was spinning, cameras are on Gant, I’m watching him and behind me I hear a commotion. I turn and see Rob lockin’ arms with security. I said Noooooo! We can’t do this! Nooooo! I know how big Boiler Room is, this cannot happen! Rob’s girlfriend grabs him, and for some crazy reason I grab security. I said, “Yo, we can’t do this!” He said, “But he was smokin’ weed!” I said, “I understand, I was smokin’ with him! But please don’t lock arms, we’re right next to the camera, Rob is really important, this event is really important, without Rob we wouldn’t have Ghetto, Footwork, everything – we got him, just calm down! Everything is all good!”
So from that point on, Rob has been like an uncle to me. He showed me the game of how to make bangin’ music. That’s how Threshold to Madness came into being. A lot of that music was actually meant to be released on Traxmen. There was actually one track, “Phat Azz Booty” that was on Traxmen. That was the first House/Ghetto/Techno track I put out. The rest I was making between my crib and Rob’s crib.
Rob told me something. He said “If this track doesn’t make me get up and run around in circles, your shit ain’t bangin’.” I went through Techno and House Music bootcamp with Robert Armani, making the music that wound up becoming part of this Threshold to Madness record.
Fast forward to last May. I got cool with Corky, aka Traxman. I’m kickin’ it with Corky and me being a Hip Hop guy coming into the world of House and dance music I’m not familiar with a lot of things. I don’t know if you know how he talks, but he’s like, “Yo shit sounds dope! Rondell! I’m gonna hook you up with Jimmy Edgar!” I didn’t know who that was but he’s like “You’ll see!” Jimmy inboxed me that night and said he’s a fan already, I want to sign you, if you’re down send me like 10 tracks and I’ll pick which ones are hot. And there it was. I wasn’t aware of how big he was until I did the research myself.
I’m very happy and I’m very surprised and I’m humbled. I never knew sittin’ at the crib and makin’ beats would get me this far!
So now we’ve got Beat Yo Self Silly on UKR from you. It has a similar vibe as Threshold, doesn’t it?
Beat Yo Self Silly does have a similar vibe and sound since I made it at the same time. Through a little family drama, I wound up talking to Lester Fitzpatrick. We were on the phone and he was a guy Rob had told me about. So he said they’d release the shit. Same kind of deal as with Corky and Jimmy – it happened through Lester and [UKR’s] Roman inboxed me with the contract and everything.
I didn’t know Threshold to Madness was going to be as big as it was, to where I’d have people I don’t know from Italy and the UK tracking me down and asking me when I was coming over to play live.
That raw, hard, beat-down sound you’ve got. Some people are going to call it Techno and some people are going to call it Chicago House. What do you call it?
I’m not putting it in any box – I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. What is House? What is Techno? I was just reading a thread where someone asked what the first House record was and I was freaking out at all the people like Chip E. and Rocky Jones and everyone else chiming in and giving us an education. I’m not going to tell anybody what it’s called. When me and Robert Armani are talking, we call them “beat tracks.” But Rob said no matter what you call it, overseas they’re going to call what you’re doing Techno. It’s that raw, funky sound that gave birth to Ghetto House, that gave birth to Footwork and Juke and everything else.
I want to make music that’s not biting off the sound but make my version of it and enhance the genre. My tempo has mostly been 130 or 131 but I’m slowing it down a little and fucking with the 120s and 125s for future projects. I don’t think I’m going to do a 160, I’ll leave that to my Teklife people since they do it the best! For me a more universal flavor is 125 to 128.
Living in Gary, did you have a different perspective of House than someone from Chicago?
It’s definitely a little different. Gary househeads – our first experience, for many of us, was Screamin’ Wheels Roller Rink from 1986 to 1993 in Gary. We would go faithfully. Kickin’ Kenny V was the main DJ, and every now and then a Farley or someone like him would come to Gary and play for us. There used to be buses that would come for the roller rink.
There was definitely a strong jackin’ flavor to that music. We weren’t no Disco heads over there, at all. We weren’t dancing and twirlin’ like we were Wonder Woman. We were doing Kid’N’Play moves! That kind of thing that lead up to Footwork. That was the first time I heard “French Kiss,” I went crazy hearing that with a beat going slow. Songs like “Video Clash” and “Magic Feet” and “Armani Trax” and “Computer Madness.” I’m hearing all these bloops and bleeps for the first time in my life. That was the kind of House we grew up under – the music that gave birth to Ghetto House and all of that.
In 1992 there was a club in Gary that opened. There was two sides – one was for the adults and the other was a roller rink and a dance club kind of thing. That was when I’d first started DJing and that’s when I started seeing guys like Paul Johnson and the Dance Mania DJs that would come there to DJ. And we got to hear the newer sound that ended up becoming Ghetto House. I was highly influenced and frankly awestruck by what I heard and what the DJs were playing and spinning.
There was also a Chicago thing going on too. I was an art major so they would take us on field trips downtown to the Art Institute. That area in the Loop – not too far from Giordano’s – there used to be a Coconuts and I used to go record shopping in there. I knew Lil Louis and I knew that before he was on Epic he was on Dance Mania. So I trusted the label. I see this Robert Armani record that had “Pulse,” “Out of Time” and “Ambulance” on there. Also “Invasion.” They didn’t have anything for me to play it on but I grabbed that and a rap record like Gangstarr or something. I got home and put it on and went nuts. Everything that came out from that day forward from Dance Mania I bought. I trusted that label. Anything that Ray Barney put out I bought.
Rondell Adams’ Beat Yo Self Silly EP is out now from UKR.
Originally published in 5 Magazine Issue 141, featuring Sumsuch on Kiko Navarro, Paris’ legendary soulful mecca Djoon, Rondell Adams & more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full Access to Real House Music.