Leaving aside his latest release for Aesthetic Audio, the tunes he has made have been rudimentary. A bit rough around the edges. The sound of someone finding their way. What makes me believe that Worthy may someday become a great producer, though, has a lot to do with those same qualities. Rather than fuss around with unnecessary decoration, his tracks are direct and simple. The second part of his response to my question, the bit after the ellipses, is the key to his success: "I just capture emotions. That's why I called those two EPs 'moments' in rhythm."
Look at a Keith Worthy track title, however, and you know exactly what you're going to get: "Shelovesmenot," "Lost in Sound," "Emotional Content." This is a man who silently passes you tissues at the latest Kate Hudson movie. Or is it? Alongside those "moments," you also have a parallel set of tracks with names like "Beatthebeatup." And every time I've seen Worthy DJ at a party, that's exactly the phrase he uses too. Don't be surprised if, after you're done wiping your tears away, that he goes to the bathroom. And sneaks into Raging Bull.
Despite his relative newcomer status in the production world, Worthy has been DJing for more than two decades. He counts the usual Detroit names among his friends, but it was the oft-forgotten Duane "In The Mix" Bradley that showed him the ropes early on. (Bradley was responsible for, among other things, pushing Derrick May's "Nude Photo" on his daytime radio show and the club mix of Inner City's "Big Fun.") "He had the patience to teach me the basic principles," Worthy says. "I'll be forever grateful for that. He didn't have to do that. He gave me the keys to his house, you know? I'd go over there and make mixtapes. I didn't have any equipment at that time, and I was playing with his turntables and his records back then. He's the one who got me into buying records."
Recognizing the young DJ's talent, Bradley continued to offer Worthy a leg up whenever he could. Worthy began to open up for Bradley at Taboo, one of the biggest clubs in Detroit, alongside The Music Institute, in the late '80s scene. "Duane and I also played at The City Club. Richie Hawtin had a residency there, and would play upstairs. We'd play downstairs at this thing called Cliché.... When I was growing up in Detroit, there was no place like it party-wise. You'd go out on a Tuesday and there'd be five or six things to choose from."
It was a club scene that was still going strong by the time that he started his own night as well. "I used to do a party with three other guys called The Hot Spot. We approached this guy whose space was about to close at the time, and we ended up keeping him in business basically. We packed the place every week for four or five years." But ask Worthy about what happened and he doesn't look back with rose-tinted glasses: "Life happened, you know? I'm not someone who dwells on the past. I gotta move. I'm not trying to relive something that happened 15 or 20 years ago. I still value that experience, and I still feel that same thing that I felt back then when I'm making music now. I have that influence. I'm from Detroit. I'm grateful for that."
business to get a dollar."
Taking those experiences is important to Worthy's work. But so is the fact that he's not doing music full-time. It may keep journalists wondering why it takes so long between releases on his Aesthetic Audio imprint. But it also ensures that each release gets plenty of listens (over months of deliberation and tweaks) before they hit the market. "I remember when I would go to a record store a while back and when I saw a certain label—a Prescription or a Trackmode—I almost didn't have to listen to it. I knew it would be good. I want to make sure Aesthetic is that way. I'm never going to put any cheesy shit out," he promises. "If you see the label Aesthetic Audio on it, you can buy it because it's going to be real. I want it to be honest. I'm not in this music business to get a dollar."
Nonetheless, his work rate since then has been slow and steady, and it's been getting better and better. His most recent Aesthetic Audio release, Moments in Rhythm Vol. 2, is an enormous step in terms of compositional complexity. Yet it also maintains all of the emotional power of his previous work. It makes you reach for the tissues and it beats you up, something he looks for in just about everything he plays or puts out.
What he plays these days, though, he'd have a hard time telling you. "I'm going to go ahead and contradict myself after that Prescription thing," he laughs. "Nowadays, I purposely don't even look at the artist info on records if I can help it. There are a lot of people that I've never heard of that are making some heat. I think that helps, because if you start thinking, 'Oh, I didn't like what this label did last time, so I'm not going to listen to it,' you're going to miss out. Honestly, clubs are dark! Half the time I don't even know who the artist is on a record until I get home. I was playing a record for half a year, and I happened to look down one day when I was at home and it turned out it was a friend of mine!"
That's not very helpful for those eager to get recognition from an airing during a Worthy DJ set. But Worthy has never been much interested in the game, and that's exactly what makes his work so free of bullshit. "I didn't do the production thing to get gigs.... The first time I went to Europe was in '98, and that was based off mixtapes. And I remember someone saying, 'Hey, why don't you get in the studio, and do this, and we'll blow you up!' It's just not the way I operate. I don't care about the whole blow up thing. At the end of the day, we're all gonna die, and I want to die smiling."