Das Racist: Playing on Prefix

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Playing on Prefix
is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog where writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers this week.

It was fun in the past year to get caught up in the joke-rap vortex that is Brooklyn’s Das Racist (mischievously pronounced to sound like “that’s racist”). It’s been a while since a “joke” group has spurred so much thought in me about information consumption and cultural politics.

The self-described “weed-edge/Hare Krishna-hardcore/art-rap/freak-folk music trio” is actually quite smart for a hashed-out, hipster party crew. The wordplay they let loose on each successive release is to be commended, not to mention their savagely droll upending of “post-race” America.

It’s there between the lines, under all the flashy non-sequiturs and hat-tips to The Simpsons. The unit is comprised of Queens-born Himanshu Kumar Suri (Young Coca Butter), San Francisco-born Victor Vazquez (Kool A.D.), and Queens-born hypeman Ashok Kondabolu (Dapwell). Suri and Vazquez met at Massachusetts’ Sarah Lawrence Bard Pomona Wesleyan Art College, where Vazquez was Suri’s resident advisor for a freshman-year dorm that championed “students of color for social justice.”

Don’t get me wrong: Despite their arty upbringings, these Brown Beastie Boys know how to party. When you splash onto the scene with a lark like “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” you’re bound to make a lasting first impression.

Even a pseudo-serious track such as the Days of Our Lives-sampling “hahahaha jk?” will crick necks on novelty factor alone. The latter is off their excellent new mixtape, Sit Down, Man. Both Sit Down and their other free 2010 mixtape, Shut Up, Dude, are peppered with poop humor, sexy come-ons, and huge blocks of pop-culture in-jokes. There are so many outrageous lines on Sit Down, Man that The Village Voice felt compelled to make a list.

Detractors of this deceptively goofy trio have come and gone, but Sit Down, Man transcends a silly dick joke scribbled on a bathroom stall. For one thing, Das Racist stands in front of the self-serious rap of the modern era and asks in their best Joker voice, “Why so serious?”

The revitalization of gargantuan-size mixtapes and silly rap lyrics harkens back to some of the proto-rap crews that weren’t embroiled in gangster politics or tired fits of braggadocio. As a result, Das Racist’s tougher lyrical pills to swallow, such as nu-racism and the dead-eyed sham of fashion culture, go down with little fuss.

Even Sit Down’s minimal electro-pop beats sport a total producer pile-up. There’s Diplo and Chairlift, Boi-1da and Scoop Deville, Devo Springsteen and Dame Grease at the mixing boards, and the vocal chops of El-P, Despot, Roc Marciano, Keepaway, Teen Girl Fantasy, and Vijay Iyer sprinkled throughout.

Many of the reviews of both mixtapes center on the spitfire references to other songs and pop memes but largely skirt the main issue about a well-placed song or joke: the delivery. Pitchfork Reviews Reviews delved into the real meat of the matter in a recent post. Race politics and commentary on its continual restructuring is an integral aegis for Das Racist. Basically, this isn’t Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip 2.0.

If you don’t believe me, read Suri’s recent Stereogum op-ed/review for NBC’s new sitcom, Outsourced. His well-written, incisive observations ultimately dovetail back to Das Racist’s music. When an earworm such as “hahahaha jk?” drops the line, “We not racist, we love white people: Ford trucks, apple pies, bald eagles,” you can’t help but laugh. It may sting a little for some, but it’s got a satirical charm that’s undeniable. Suri’s opening op-ed comment sheds light on the fact that his group’s jokes are meant to incite contemplation and not be thrown away with last night’s Pizza Hut box: “I’ve always thought the real way to catch a racist, which is also the name of a television show I’ve been pitching, is to tell a funny race joke and see who the last white person to stop laughing is. It’s always the dude laughing five seconds too long you have to worry about.”

Prefix is hip to Das Racist’s joke-within-a-joke-within-a-joke. Or are we? Whatever: Consider any debate closed and just listen, dudes.

— Kyle Lemmon