ralphie rosario

It’s good he has no need for work – it would be hard, if not impossible, for Chicago House Music legend Ralphi Rosario to fit it all on a resumé. The youngest of the Hot Mix 5 DJs, Ralphi produced many of the tracks on anyone’s shortlist of House classics (most notably, of course, 1987’s “You Used To Hold Me”) and filled out an extensive back catalog with releases on Underground Construction, Nite Grooves, Afterhours and other seminal labels.

Ralphi’s remix career began with Bang Orchestra’s “Sample That!” back in 1986 and has included practically every pop star with a gold record along the way. And now, twenty five years into it, he can add another credit: Rosabel, his remix partnership with Abel Aguilera, was just nominated for a Grammy award for their remix of Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World)”.

Congratulations on your Grammy nomination! Is this your and your partner’s first nomination?

Yes, this is my and Abel (as Rosabel)’s first nomination! I’m not only freaked out, but I am more than humbled by this honor!

Was there anything that distinguished this remix gig from the hundreds of major label remixes you’ve done in the past?

This particular song was and is indeed a very strong crossover hit. I’ve worked on many remixes, and to me it has always been about the song! I pick and choose the songs I work on with the intent of making something greater than what was initially there.

I think in this case, the song was already strong to begin with! It was hard adding more fuel to this fire.

It was the same with “You Used to Hold Me”. Everyone was doing sample tracks at that time – jack this, jack that, pound the 909; etc. Here I was, 23 or 24 years old, and we did a serious song.

I won’t curse it here, but just being nominated is joining a very exclusive fraternity, and it’s the kind of thing that’s going to be on every hype sheet going forward. On a personal level, though – how much does this mean to you?

I’ve never really been a person to hype anything that I’ve done, to be honest. I’ve always believed that the music and remixes should speak for themselves. I personally do not like getting in people’s faces about WHY my stuff isn’t played or WHY I’m not getting recognized or WHY I didn’t get the remix work, etc. In the past years I’ve pushed, but just because it’s a labor of love for me.

I didn’t begin in the business on the intent of winning anything; I did it because music is a very strong trait for me. But this does mean the world to me – to know that not only my peers but all the fans and listeners are thanking me in this gracious way… They’re listening! [laughs]

You’re nominated with your partner Abel Aguilera. One of the very first stories we ran in 5 Mag was about the two of you as “Rosabel”. How long have you been together as Rosabel, and what’s the secret to your longevity as a partnership?

Rosabel has been around for a good 19 years! But our sanity keeps us in check. Abel and I do indeed live in different worlds; but in the long run, our love for the business is the same.

Oh yeah: we’ve had our share of disagreements, but who hasn’t? I thinks it’s healthy to disagree. Our secret to staying together is that our friendship has always been first.

We can laugh and talk for hours, and our sense of humor is outrageous. This is what keeps us moving along. It’s like cooking a great meal with your best friend.

Abel and Ralphi are looking sharp as Rosabel.

You’ve been remixing major label releases from… I’ve heard that your first commissioned remix was “Sample That!” in 1986. How has the business changed over the years for you? You seem to be working now more than you ever have.

There is only ONE thing you can count on in this business: it will always change. I’ve found that my love for dance music comes in many forms, especially today. I appreciate all genres in this business and always will. I believe that this has kept me on my toes. I like incorporating all kinds of elements when I remix or produce. It’s the soul of yesterday and the technology of today. I feel it’s a great formula, and the past has given me such a great gift.

As a remixer, you have to play and pay attention! This industry changes a lot, and you have to be prepared to ride that change. Don’t lose yourself, but adapt. Take a chance on trying something new… but do it your way.

I swear that I only have a couple of “old school” questions, and the first is really about the subject itself. Chicago has an reputation among DJs as a “classics town”, and you’ve gone far, far beyond that in your career. Do you sometimes struggle with the expectations of your older fans?

No, not really. I feel that’s because while I can appreciate where I’ve come from, I don’t like to visit too long. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a moment!

Like I’ve told my friends: I love to visit WBMX-town, but I no longer live there. Times have changed and so have I. I still love playing the classics, but love playing from today’s movement too. What I’ve left behind is great! But I’m always looking forward to what’s coming too…

It’s interesting that some people compared you with Jellybean in the early 1990s. He’s doing the Studio 54 show on XM (which is really great to listen to). Could you see yourself doing a gig of that nature? Or is the Hot Mix 5 reunion once or twice a year enough of a change of pace for you?

I listen to Studio 54 Radio RELIGIOUSLY! I’ve always wanted to be a radio programmer! It’s about high time we’ve gotten our roots back! But as I said before, I can only stay to visit for so long; if I stay too long at the fair, it gets boring. I can be mentally ready for it when the time comes, but wanna be grounded with TODAY… I think regrouping with the Hot Mix 5 is a great thing if it’s spaced out. If it’s a constant thing, it can be too heavy. Spacing the shows and appearances out makes it more special to look forward to.

The party you did with Frankie Knuckles at SmartBar last year was a blast, and I’ve never seen the kind of connection between two “headliners” like the two of you had that night. You both live here – why can’t we get that line-up more often?

Schedule, schedule, schedule. [laughs] If Frankie is not traveling, I’m usually doing the same or locked up in the studio.

It was very explosive; I felt that too! I think that we’re gonna do that again soon. But I personally would love to make it bigger and greater.  He’s a legend, and I’ve sooo much respect for him! It think getting together for another show would be another one for the books!

Your residency at Hydrate was really a touchstone for many years on Halsted Street. I’m curious if you have any thoughts about where House Music is right now, in terms of popularity, in the gay community?

House music to me has evolved – it’s taken on many forms. It just so happens that Halsted carries its own form or idea of House today. I personally love to educate as I play. Yeah – you’ll hear that norm, but I like to twist it up into MY world!

Also gone are the clubs of the gorgeous sound systems. And it’s kinda become repetitive now too – no one is taking a chance anymore! In this crazy economy, it’s pretty much come down to dollars and cents. If the bars are not playing the hits, people aren’t coming. And that is sad. Going out was supposed to be an experience – not bringing your CD or iPod collection to listen to for the 100th time.

They need to change it up! We need that sooo bad right now! The youth of today is not as forgiving as they were back in the day. If it’s unfamiliar, they run! But it’s kind of interesting when people “get it” and the others start to follow.

Every year you drop just a couple of underground tracks. I don’t think I’m kissing your ass when I say that they’re among the best tracks of the year – the charts reflect that. Is this intentional or just tracks that don’t fit with your current production sound?

First off, thank you! When I’m producing underground tracks, I take my time. After all, it’s all me! I don’t feel like I need to have 20 songs or tracks out at the same time. It’s overkill and I would be sick of myself!

So when I approach the tracky side of myself, I like to take it easy and refocus. I appreciate all areas of this business, so visiting tracksville is always a hot thing. It’s a different way of self-expression for me – I don’t have the strain of the major artist or the pressure of the machine. It’s all me, and that comes alive in those tracks.

Your catalog is scattered over so many labels, but if you were to pick one record that you’re really proud of on an artistic level – is there one that stands out for you like that?

That track would have to be “Take Me Up”. I remember being so crazy excited to have this big song. It felt crazy amazing when it was finished.

Funny thing was that I had it at WMC one year on a damn cassette/walkman (man I’m old!) [laughs] and I played it for lots of my musical friends. All the major-hitting indie labels passed on it – Strictly, AM:PM, Nervous, you name it. But I stood my ground; and look what happened?

It was the same with “You Used to Hold Me”. Everyone was doing sample tracks at that time – jack this, jack that, pound the 909; etc. Here I was, 23 or 24 years old, and we did a serious song. I told myself that I must have been doing something right for people to be digging what I was doing!

I think overall, I’m just doing what comes naturally. I’m a self taught guy. This thing that allows me to make music is a great gift, and for that I’m eternally grateful! • • •

Rosabel’s remix of Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In The World)” (Island Def Jam) was nominated for “Best Remixed Recording” at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. For more on Ralphi, visit ralphirosario.com and the official page on Facebook.