First, a polite suggestion to the planners involved in the construction of Ithaca College: Next time you build a college campus, don’t: 1. Reuse names for different buildings, as nobody is going to find a place called “Emerson Suites” if the little square labeled “Emerson” on the Campus Map is not it. 2. Build a campus without any sort of gridded construction or suitable built-in guideline to help newcomers out; it’s unfriendly to anyone without an education in the finer points of Cartography and Navigation, two fields that have long been forced into uselessness thanks to satellites and iPhones. Seriously guys, build something that is both aesthetically pleasing AND functional. Now, back to your regular programming.
After negotiating the uninviting terrain of Ithaca College and finally discovering the apparently clandestine location of Emerson Suites, I arrived just in time to wait. The Das Racist concert was running late, which was a surprise to nobody familiar with the goofy, reference-saturated rap this Queens trio — Himanshu “Heems” Suri, Victor “Kool A.D.” Vazquez and hypeman Ashok “Dapwell” Kondabolu — peddles. In fact, thorough investigations of the band’s lyrics reveal a staggering lack of themes relating to punctuality.
When the doors finally opened, the crowd was forced to eat its vegetables: a local rapper guilty of the rarely committed sin of not self-promoting enough for me to ever catch his name. Donning sunglasses and accompanied by way too many hypemen, he did little to win over the audience (best insult: “That’s not Das Racist! Das Politically Correct!”), despite his reassurances that he was here to drink, party and do what he wanted. Something about the last part, I’m not sure what, seemed disingenuous here (probably the part where the cops took his hypeman’s lighter away).
The opener served as a reminder of why Das Racist is so vital and refreshing in modern hip-hop: The three provide comic relief to all those overly serious, earnest-sounding rappers who act as if they are already their Patron-swilling heroes, with beat selection as vanilla (think sampling Young Money beats) as possible. Everything about Heems, Kool A.D. and Dapwell seemed tossed-off, whether it was the projector showing 1980s footage of New York subways that served as their set, Heems strumming his microphone along to guitar samples or the ridiculous “Slayer!” chants they led. It all seemed like one big inside joke.
Luckily, they’re fairly friendly about letting you in on it. While they were undoubtedly out of it (take a guess), they got the crowd excited enough to throw up devil horns and delivered performances that lost none of the tongue-in-cheek charm of the original recordings. “Who’s That? Brooown!” opened the proceedings, a not-so-subtle meditation on race, but not really, because it really is just a launching pad for a great joke about the UPS slogan. The busy, Bollywood-soundtrack sampling “Michael Jackson” incited a damned mosh pit, with fists and voices rising to the nonsensical mantra, “Michael Jackson! A million dollars! You feel me?” Closer “Rainbow in the Dark” is the group’s best song, highlighting Heems’ and Kool A.D.’s jocular interplay, verbal dexterity and ability to cram dozens of quotables (“The Internet told me that that’s called love; I’m on the Internet ‘cause I’m an Internet thug”) into just 16 bars at a time. Crowd members joined in on their favorite references and even bit on a false stop.
After a bizarre vocal sample, the band awkwardly abandoned the stage, never to return. Thus we encountered that ever-pertinent issue: the one where the band doesn’t play its hit song. While the crowd broke into an impromptu rendition of the trio’s cult-building “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” Das Racist did not. Back in 2010, they pulled this same stunt on Appel Commons, much to the dismay of Cornell’s surprisingly numerous alt-rap fans. Perhaps, after all the over-intellectualization (one Pitchfork writer described it as “Harold and Kumar existentialism”) of what is undeniably just a joke track, Heems and company are just tired of it. Or maybe, after killing it for 40 minutes, they had just plain run out of steam. Regardless, it left the show without a clear climax. Rather than bringing down the house with “Combination,” the show ended like the most awkward of sexual encounters: quickly and wordlessly. Given Das Racist’s sense of humor, though, I’m sure it was intentional.