Breaking Out: Das Racist
Irreverent MCs draw deep thoughts from their deceptively jokey raps
Some groups want to be loved. Others aim to split public opinion. Das Racist take a third path. “We strive for alienation,” says Himanshu Suri, a.k.a. Heems, the Brooklyn rap trio’s talkiest member. “If we’re just polarizing, then we’re not very good at what we’re trying to do.”
Exactly what it is Das Racist are trying to do has been debated since early 2009. That’s when the goofily magnetic “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” Heems and fellow MC Victor “Kool A.D.” Vazquez’s track about dudes struggling to figure out which fast-food joint they’re in, became an online sensation. The song inspired myriad covers and the video racked up more than a million YouTube and Vimeo plays. But was “Combination” a jab at corporate proliferation or a simple iteration of stoner indecision?
Actually, explains the crew’s hype man, Ashok “Dap” Kondabolu, “That song was a Trojan horse that allowed DR to enter American pop culture.” Indeed, when Das Racist’s debut mixtape, Shut Up, Dude, dropped in March, the contents were a pleasant surprise: a litany of lyrical hyperlinks displaying a vast knowledge of rap history, revolutionaries, and race relations. But funny, too (e.g., “W.E.B. DuBois / We be da boys”).
The jokes came slowly. Heems, 25, and Kool, 26, met in 2004 at what they refer to as Wesleyan University’s Students of Color for Social Justice dorm. (Recalls Heems, “It was like, ‘So you’re the other cool brown guy.”) They started rapping a few years later when a friend lent them a mic. Says Heems, “We wanted to bring back using humor to examine larger issues. That’s not so popular anymore. I think we surprised people.”
Delighted them, too. Das Racist’s latest mixtape, Sit Down, Man (Greedhead), was downloaded 40,000 times in its first week of release and features slick production by Diplo and Dame Grease. Success has emboldened Das Racist to keep messing around. The chorus of recent single “hahahaha jk?” goes, “We’re not joking / Just joking, we are joking?/ Just joking, we’re not joking.”
“It shows our maturation process,” quips Heems.