Band of the Day

2011.10.21

Das Racist

Brooklyn rappers on a mission to subversively mock pop culture
Urban Dictionary is for demons with college degrees.
lyrics from Relax

Das Racist is an experimental hip hop group from Brooklyn, New York. The group was formed in 2008 by Himanshu "Heems" Suri and Victor "Kool A.D." Vazquez, who originally met as art students at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. The group now contains hype man Ashok "Dap" Kondabolu. Das Racist's beat style is experimental in its fusion of hip hop, synth pop and electronic minimalism, while their lyrical content sits somewhere between stoner humor and social criticism. The song "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," which garnered critical and fan acclaim, launched Das Racist into the media hype machine in 2008. The group followed up on their initial success with a series of music videos and free-to-download mixtapes in 2010. Their 2011 debut LP Relax was released on Greedhead Records.

With songs like 2008’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” it’s easy to write off Brooklyn rappers Das Racist as just a joke group. The trio--Heems, Kool A.D. and Dap--even dress in hipster-approved outfits of charity shop clothes and skinny jeans, rather than baggy pants and gold chains. A closer listen, however, reveals artists that are intelligently and subversively pushing hip hop forward while simultaneously clawing at the status quo. Inspired by ‘70s punk legends like The Sex Pistols, Das Racist are reviving what’s known as a situationist technique of mocking pop culture with pop culture - boldly steering a sonic battleship through the enemy seas of the society’s pitfalls. The group's debut LP Relax, released in September 2011, offers a strong follow-up to their dual 2010 mixtape releases humorously entitled Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man. The album begins with the bass-heavy, electronic minimalist track "Relax." Danceable and easy to envision in a hip New York club, its lyrics spell out both subversive and brash themes of racism, capitalism and gender identity. They attack modern suburban accessibility to street culture, stating "Urban Dictionary is for demons with college degrees," and criticize consumer complacency by asking "what good is this cashmere if they're still dying in Kashmir?" While tracks like "Michael Jackson" and "Brand New Dance" gnaw at celebrity and commodity culture, "Girl" and "Booty in the Air" satirize chart toppers by juxtaposing cliche pop elements (kitschy R&B Vocals, hipster synthesizers, etc) with wry, mocking lyrics such as "she got her booty in the air and mind in the gutter." Even Punjabi MC's Bollywood/hip hop fusion is satirized in the track "Punjabi Song (Featuring Bikram Singh)." In the track, Heems (who is of Indian descent) lets out a pronounced belch at the end of Bikram Singh's chorus, just before rapping about obscure Bollywood actors and getting wasted on whiskey. Relax, with its mixture of densely political (though hilarious) lyrics, sarcastically appealing pop and experimental electronic minimalism, is a revolutionary album with the ability to appeal to jaded punks in dive bars as much as young hipsters on fixed gear bikes. Take note: Das Racist is to 2011 what the Sex Pistols were to 1977.