Photo by Robert Sauber
DAS RACIST with BLAKE CARRINGTON and PATRICK McGUIRE at Wrongbar (1279 Queen West), Friday (January 28). $13. PDR, RT, SS. See listing.
Das Racist are pretty much the new Beastie Boys - a Brooklyn trio of hip-hop outsiders as irreverent as they are skilled.
The group's second mixtape, last year's Sit Down, Man, is a blizzard of word-associative references to pop, race, history and fashion. With a colourful palette provided by buzz bands Chairlift and Teengirl Fantasy, Diplo and veteran producer Dame Grease among others, it's a step up from the also great Shut Up, Dude, released six months earlier.
The strength of both albums has gone a long way toward proving that Das Racist aren't mere "joke rappers," as they were widely labelled after their first single, the novelty banger Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell, came out in 2008. But after releasing sharp, hysterical songs Fake Patois and Fashion Party, they're sometimes still described that way.
"I mean, rap is funny," says Victor Vazquez, one-third of the group along with Himanshu Suri and hype man Ashok Kondabolu. "Intentionally funny, sometimes unintentionally funny. Rick Ross is pretty much the best joke rapper if you get down to it."
Their mission statement is best described by the lyrics of Hahahaha Jk?, produced by Toronto-based hitmaker Boi 1da: "We're not joking / just joking, we are joking / just joking, we're not joking."
Beneath the humour and reference-heavy one-liners is an undercurrent of commentary on the absurd aspects of consumerism and culture, rattled off at the pace of a Ritalin-fuelled Wikipedia spree. Of course, their lyrics could also mean nothing at all, though they've invited a range of interpretations. Rappers who can make people pay attention to their words are doing something right.
After a wealth of good press and end-of-year-list hype, the former Wesleyan University students have stirred up some industry excitement. But Vazquez doesn't like discussing their label situation.
"I've never been sure how to politely talk about this shit to the press, so I figure I'll be like, ‘No, no, we're still talking to folks,'" he says, describing his media strategy.
He gave more insight to a Washington, DC, daily earlier this month, saying, "It would be interesting to have a major-label budget. But it's really hard to convince major-label fools to take any type of risks."
For now, they're not worrying too much about distribution. "We're just making the next album as if we're putting it out ourselves, and if something changes, we'll do that," Vazquez says.
Das Racist is working on more songs with Patrick Wimberly of Chairlift as well as some of the producers from Sit Down, Man. They're also booked until the end of May on a tour of North America and Europe, and not quite sure what to expect from this city.
"What's going on in Toronto? I seriously don't know. Y'all got Snow, like the artist as well as the... meteorological phenomenon, and Drake," he says. "But y'all got a good track record, man."
He promises Friday's Wrongbar show won't be a repeat of their notorious performance in Williamsburg almost exactly a year ago, when they reportedly played the Beastie Boys album Paul's Boutique and kinda talked over it.
"We have, like, 30 dancers," Vazquez says. "We bring 'em everywhere. I'm MC Hammer."