Interview: Das Racist

Published at exclaim.ca

By Anupa Mistry

You either love or hate Das Racist. Last year, the Brooklyn rap group — members: Himanshu Suri, Victor Vazquez and Ashok Kondabolu — released two free, critically-acclaimed mixtapes (Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man), toured Europe and Asia, hung out in Anthony Bourdain’s fridge, and conquered many Best of 2010 lists. So why are they so polarizing? Maybe you prescribe to one of the oft-applied labels: joke rap, stoner rap, slacker rap, hipster rap, multicultural rap. Or perhaps the group’s repetitive rhyme structures feel grating — “I’m at the Pizza Hut/I’m at the Taco Bell/I’m at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” (repeat for another three minutes and 40 seconds). Mayhaps, they just don’t look like “rappers.” But consider the status quo shook, just a little bit. The group’s pop cultural, smart-ass, funny-as-shit raps delivered deadpan over borrowed and original rap bangers and electro-ish beats are subversively confrontational. Are they mocking you or are is this just couch-coma weed talk? Ahead of their first Toronto show, Jan. 28 at Wrongbar, I queried Heems, Kool A.D. and Dap and, upon receiving their answers, asked myself the same question. WTF?Many, many things have happened with you guys in the past few months. Do you feel less like normal people and more like famous people now? Kool A.D: I feel OK.
Dap: I am still a human being. I recently defecated and am currently slightly hungry. I am planning on eating prunes and Maggi© instant noodles with frozen green peas. We do all of our interviews for free, so people see our names and faces and think we’re “getting it in” but they’d be mistaken. That being said, I’m famous.
Himanshu: I spent all of yesterday cleaning up basement flood water and all of the day before trying to fix a toilet clogged with human feces. Don’t feel famous at all.

The game has been kind of good to you, but what’s the reality of living/working as an unsigned, active, indie group with critical acclaim?
Kool A.D: It’s OK.
Dap: It’s marginally better than my previous job as a web coordinator at a law school or my one before that as a filthy vagrant. It’s better if you enjoy being away from home and answering the same questions over and over again. Since the Illuminati Recession ©, I find it best not to complain if you can consistently make any money.
Himanshu: I spent all of yesterday cleaning up basement flood water and all of the day before trying to fix a toilet clogged with human feces.

How are the label talks going? Any luck? What weird requests/observations do label people have of you/your music? (When can we expect a new album?)
Kool A.D.: Label talks are going OK. We’re recording new songs right now.
Himanshu: Much like women, I don’t really understand labels.

What’s the worst descriptor that’s been attached to your music by anyone? (I.E. how old is “joke rap” getting?)
Kool A.D: Joke rap is OK.
Himanshu: Joke rap still pops up. Most recently in the Washington Post in a scathing review of our awesome live show.

What musical subgenres can go to hell?
Kool A.D: Lion King Gaze.
Dap: College Rock, am I right?
Himanshu: Feces Trance.

What relationship did each of you have with music before linking up and recording? How’d you know you were any good at it?
Kool A.D: I always knew I was good at it.
Dap: Listening to music is fun. I’m the best at making it as well. It’s just inside my bone marrow, along with other, more sinister things.
Himanshu: I still think I suck.

What comes first, the beat or the concept? Heems and Victor, you’re both great writers: does your academic background help when it comes to writing raps and figuring out what you want to say?
Kool A.D: We just rap over beats, it’s not a big deal.
Himanshu: Hmmmm, thrilling stuff. Really.

Do you ever second guess yourselves when writing or feel like you have to defend what you say?
Kool A.D: No.
Dap: Not when people are starving in the streets. We’ve all just had shelter and food for way too long and have gone insane.
Himanshu: I love where you’re going with this, Jeff. Do you mind if I call you Jeff?

A lot of people love
Sit Down, Man but Shut Up, Dude is my favourite, maybe because it’s more of a straightforward rap album. That said, “Chairlift” is ill and anything Caroline Polachek touches I will listen to. So you’ve done rap, something more electronic… are you planning another direction for your next album? What producers are you working with/do you want to work with?
Kool A.D: I want to work with Gil Scott-Heron.
Himanshu: We’re moving, maybe unintentionally, into what i call slacker rock rap. I want to work with Swizz Beats, David Banner, Kanye West, El-P (again), Scoop Deville (again), Chase N Cashe, Lex Luger, and A.R. Rahman.

Who do you make your music for and why?
Kool A.D: We make music for everybody in the world so we can save the world and we want to get rich and own a basketball team.
Himanshu: I make my music for people of colour.

Is there any accountability involved when you have some type of message and a captive audience? How much can humour diffuse tension?
Kool A.D: I’m still not quite sure how captive our audience is. But I want to save the world and get rich and own a basketball team.
Himanshu: You have exceeded my question limit.

Race is weird. Do you think a Dave Chappelle moment will ever happen, where you’re like FUCK THIS?

Kool A.D: Yeah, but after we get some Chappelle money.
Dap: That moment continuously pops up. I’m sure it was the same for Dave Chappelle, which is why he’s on a farm in Ohio right now. We have to do our jobs so we can make money to purchase goods and services is what it comes down to, I guess.
Himanshu: You have exceeded my question limit.

Further to that, what’s the weirdest experience you’ve had while performing?

Kool A.D: One time I got my dick sucked on stage.
Dap: Sucked a dude’s dick on-stage once. Oh shit…
Himanshu: You have exceeded my question limit.

Is America post-racial? Explain.

Kool A.D: America is 75 percent white but there are twice as many Latinos in prison than white people and three times as many black people in prison than white people. There are over three times as many black families living below the poverty line than there are white families living below the poverty line. There are over three times as many Latino families living below the poverty line than there are white families living below the poverty line.
Dap: Shut up, Canadian magazine.
Himanshu: You have exceeded my question limit.