You’ve got to give it to them – Das Racist are like nothing else out there.
The Brooklyn-rooted hip-hop duo first hit the scene a couple years back with their track 'Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell', a song that, depending on who you ask, is a brilliant, repetitive piece of deconstructionalist hip-hop, or a monumentally stupid piece of shit (trust us, it’s one of the best tracks of 2008, especially the Wallpaper remix). They then proceeded to blow the internet the fuck up via weird publicity stunts, an insane live show, and displaying plain old microphone skills, releasing their mixtape 'Shut Up, Dude' earlier this year to critical acclaim.
While it’s the Das Racist track that you’d most likely have your mate post on your Facebook wall for a laugh, 'Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell' is somewhat of a red herring in terms of the DR oeuvre. A listen to their mixtape reveals a pair of rappers who forge their own lane with catchy beats, versatile flows and reference-happy lyrical darts that sound like something Stuart Hall would come up with if he spent a lot of time smoking spliffs and watching The Warriors. Or, as Victor Vasquez (also known as Kool A.D) puts it in their mixtape’s titular track, “All the bloggers be like, 'This I gotta see – one of the late art’s great race novelties.'” Don’t think it’s all heady multi-syllabism though. On the same track Himanshu Suri (aka Heems) brags, “I get head – somethin’ like a fitted.”
On the cusp of their October mixtape 'Sit Down, Man', Vasquez and Heems, joined by their hype man/spiritual advisor Ashok Kondabolu (nicknamed Dap), had a chat with us to discuss race, beefs with Asher Roth and smoking weed every day.
Describe your sound in terms of a phoenix.
Heems: "I would describe our sound as a combination of the song 'Scream Phoenix' by Cannibal Ox and the band Phoenix."
Vasquez: "I'd say we're a combination of Senate Bill 1070 and River Phoenix's guitar work on John Frusciante's second solo album."
Dap: "Jean Grey slightly before she turns into the Phoenix (and later the Dark Phoenix according to Wikipedia)."
Though a lot of your work is funny, you touch on some serious shit in terms
of race and corporate control of shit. How do you feel the state of race,
both in the UK and America? Sorry I’m asking you to make blanket generalizations.
Heems: "I was always obsessed with the UK because I felt like Indian kids out there had a lot more avenues to do cool shit. For obvious reasons, South Asian visibility has always been high there. We're coming around now with a lot more actors of South Asian descent on TV and what not. If this matters or is a step in a right direction, I'm not sure. Wait, nah, shit's still fucked up."
Vasquez: "Racism still is, as it has been, a language of class oppression. The wealthiest have always capitalized on/encouraged/augmented human tendencies towards xenophobia to foster cultural tensions between working people of all colours that keeps them from uniting to overthrow the ruling (largely white) elite.
"From laws against interracial fraternization and marriages in the early years of this country, to the 'internal racism' amongst black people created largely by the house slave/field slave colour-based discriminatory hierarchy of the plantations, to Jim Crow, to the current de-facto segregation of America's schools and neighborhoods today (walk around the poorest neighborhoods in any American city and count how many white people you see), racism has been instrumental in perpetuating the economic disparity between the very rich and everyone else.
"The popular perception of what's going on in Arizona right now and the immigration debate in general, tends to center around a conflict between working class white people and working class Mexican people (and other Latin American immigrants) both fighting for work, but nobody really seems to talk about the larger conditions that contributed to this situation. All the average American sees in the media and in their every day life is that Mexicans are and have been flooding into the US and 'taking all our jobs' because they're willing to work for way less because American dollars are worth so much more in Mexico. But why is the dollar stronger than the peso? It's complicated but it has to do with a long history of US exploitation of Mexico, from stealing half of their land in the 1840s all the way to how 1994's North American Free Trade Agreement's agriculture subsidies depressed the Mexican farming sector and how NAFTA also made it easier for American companies to outsource production to Mexico (costing many Americans their jobs), capitalizing on cheap labor over in Mexico while stimulating our economy with the capital made off that production, perpetuating the impoverished conditions over there that largely contributed to much of the mass waves of immigration here in the first place.
"This system is kept in place over there by a Mexican ruling elite that is also largely white or a least light-skinned, a kind of House Slave upper class in America's New Dixie. Notice how Spanish TV is mostly rich white Mexicans? You think Latin America really looks like that? Telenovelas are just 'Gone With the Wind' in Spanish."
Dap: "HOW THE IRISH BECAME WHITE."
How frustrating is it to you guys that often, you’re are pigeonholed as just being 'The Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell' guys?
Heems: "Pretty frustrating, although perhaps not more frustrating than any band being pigeonholed as the 'hit song' guys. I think it's part and parcel of the game."
Vasquez: "I feel like more often than not people refer to us as, 'not just those Pizza Hut Taco Bell guys', Which I guess is basically still just being like, 'those Pizza Hut Taco Bell guys.'"
Dap: "Better than, 'look at those losers'. Nah, it's not really that much better. Plus I don't think anybody anywhere outside of a small part of a small part of North Brooklyn would ever recognize me. Which is great because I plan on committing heinous (depending on whom you ask) crimes against evil people sometime in the future."
What’s a typical day in the life of a member of Das Racist?
Heems: "I used to have a suit job. Now I wake up whenever I want, eat French toast, check my e-mails, write, check my e-mails, eat some dosa, do some social networking, check my e-mails, and then I drink."
Vasquez: "SMOKE WEED EVERY DAY."
Dap: "When left to my own devices I wake up hopefully noonish and obsessively clean up any debris that's been left around the house: beer cans, ashes, clips, people's shoes and clothes, handbags.
"After arbitrarily organizing these items based on the 'whims' of the chemicals that comprise and run through my brain, I clean the dishes and continue organizing other parts of my room. I might try on a hat or a pair of sunglasses, all while obsessively looking at myself in the mirror or any reflective surfaces.
"After this I'll sit and smoke a cigarette. Also, every five minutes I've been opening the refrigerator and sticking my head inside. I've excluded any bathroom functions. I shower after I do this and then the misery begins in earnest..."
Now on to aggression and beefs. You’ve gone on the record as being very
anti-Asher Roth. Could you expand upon that?
Heems: "It's funny, I met dude a couple months back and he was kinda like 'I get it. It's cool. I'd do the same thing.' So maybe I don't have beef with him anymore? Shout outs to Asher Roth."
Vasquez: "SMOKE WEED EVERY DAY."
Dap: "WHOSE RECORD? THERE'S RECORDS ON US MAN?!? WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE RECORDS MAN, I SWEAR TO GOD I'LL CUT YR GODDAMN THROAT IF YOU DON'T TELL ME MAN."
I’ve noticed that you guys have been working with Lil B as of late. Does this mean Das Racist is beefing with Joe Buddens too? Keep in mind he in all likelihood has a Google Alert out on his name so he’ll be reading this.
Heems: "Nah. Allow me to go on record about this.... Joe Budden is a better rapper than me."
Vasquez: "What up, Joe Budden."
Dap: "I don't want a more famous dude saying awful things about me on the internet, that sounds really horrible. Joe Buddens is doing what he needs to do to make money to purchase goods!"
Who’s your dream rapper to beef with?
Heems: "Dick Cheney."
Vasquez: "Cornel West."
Dap: "Who's your dream rapper to beef with?"
I’ve noticed on your next mixtape you’re working with dudes who more fairly 'hip-hop', such as El-P and Roc Marcy. Is this an attempt to move yourselves away from perceptions that you guys are a novelty act and to instead position yourselves in the modern hip-hop landscape, or more of a thing where you guys are like, "This dude is dope. Let’s work with him."
Heems: "I'd say both. Although in equal parts to moving away from a novelty act I also want to move away from whatever 'hipster rap' is. I grew up in Queens. I grew up a rap dude."
Vasquez: "I blew up before I grew up."
What are you guys up to now, mixtape/album/label-wise?
Heems: "Labels still ain't fucking with us because we're confusing or something? Next mixtape's out in the next 2 months via Greedhead, our own 'imprint', and Diplo and the good folks at Mad Decent. It's called 'SIT DOWN, MAN.'"
Vasquez: "SMOKE WEED EVERY DAY."
Dap: "Minorityfest 2010 coming soon, Chillin Island coming soon, Greedhead radio coming soon. Keep these names in yr headpiece. Also, "don't get your nose too close to his headpiece" -Lord Sear/Stak Chedda – PLEASE PRINT THAT!"
What’s the perfect chemical formula for recording a Das Racist song?
Heems: "THC obviously."
VASQUEZ: "SMOKE WEED EVERY DAY."
Dap: "Beers, also. (I don't really smoke weed)."
As this interview was done via email, I’d like to respond to a couple things DR said. First off, they talk shit about Asher Roth here and here, their myspace and press page for those too lazy to click the links. And my dream rappers to beef with are Das Racist.
This is a freestyle they just released where they rap over Cam’Ron and Vado’s 'Speaking in Tongues', one of their best tracks in an already impressive Das Racist canon, and as close to a mission statement as these dudes are probably ever going to get. The track is, as the kids say, "strong."