Das Racist is a joke, and I mean that as high praise. Himanshu Suri, Victor Vazquez and Ashok Kondabolu are perhaps the most intelligent and self aware act in Hip-Hop. Relax is the grandest joke ever perpetrated on the endlessly Self Important World of Underground Hip-Hop, mocking the hyenas while deftly proving where the true talent lies. Most every song seems impossible to take seriously, except that what is flowing from the speakers is so powerfully fun and entertaining that to treat it as anything but would be a disservice. If Anansi the Spider were a member of Wolf Gang, this would be the result.
Relax is a reflection in a murky puddle of the New Guard of Hip-Hop (to borrow a term from Thrasher’s Peter Madsen). Das Racist cagily poke their contemporaries while at the same time representing what is best about the blossoming genre. Such a heady concept requires beats both catchy yet outlandish, and Relax delivers cuts seemingly crafted by Looney Tunes’ umbrella headed Dodo Bird. Everything is found in Wackyland, from the dirt and grime of vintage Definitive Jux (the El-P produced “Shut Up, Man”) to the Major Lazer on ketamine sounds of “Happy Rappy” and the bhangra infused “Punjabi Song.”
Equally as odd are Heem and Kool A.D.’s flows, which run the gamut from low raspy rumbles to pitch perfect Queensbridge. Like all good comedians, the ability to utilize the best voice for the bon mot is their strongest suit. Unless the album is full of uncredited guests, Das Racist sounds closer to six emcees rather than two and a hype man. Combing that chameleon-like ability with intelligent wordplay makes them masterful, if unusual, rappers.
“Relax” is an intriguing jumble of a song, a Salvador Dali fever dream of voices, cool jazz drums, and heavy synths. The lyrics rag on Das Racist while at the same time transcending what any detractor could say about them (“I’m Lady Gaga/ I’m a fag I’m a lesbian/ See me playing bass in jam bands up at Wesleyan/ See me at a Poetry Slam in like ’97/ Singing classic number by Otis Redding, totally shredding I hope you get it yeah”). It is self depreciation so eloquent and hip it doubles back and becomes a testament as to how clever they really are.
The scattering notes of “Michael Jackson” back up braggadocio so brazen (“I’m fucking great at rapping”) that it turns the idea of Signifying on its ear, reducing a classic element of the art back down from the bling and into its purest form. “Brand New Dance” too takes aim at everything, with the back to back commands to give Das Racist all your money and to love one another presented as perhaps not so different from each other. Heavy handed, to be sure, but done so obnoxiously well that the sarcasm simply drips into the pan and enhances the flavor, rather than smothering it.
“Girl” is an electronic mover sure to spark hipster bars in college towns across the country. Girls in big glasses and stockings spilling Pabst Blue Ribbon on to their thrift store high heels have a new anthem to “dance” to. Danny Brown and Despot share the heavy wobble and dark atmosphere of “Power.” Brown brings the Motor City Acid Rap sound, a genre who’s dark humor and acerbic delivery is a perfect fit for Das Racist’s game. “Selena” features a stream of consciousness cleverness and driving beat that makes it the Underground’s answer to “A Milli” or “6 foot 7 foot.”
A biting satire that masquerades so well as Art that it becomes Art is a difficult concept to create and just as difficult to accept. Das Racist mitigates this challenge with beats both wild and wonderful, and wordplay and flow that is unique and enjoyable even without being in on the joke. While approachable enough at its surface, Relax will be enjoyed to its fullest by those who can answer one question: Do you get it?
Prime Cuts: “Relax”, “Michael Jackson”, “Power”, & “Selena”
Relax receives a PARLÉ
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