September 28, 2011

Test Spins: Das Racist, Relax

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So is it a joke or is it not a joke?  Das Racist, the three-member indie hip-hop group from Brooklyn, is known for its joke raps and intellectual humor.  After all, the rappers’ claim to fame was their song “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” which went viral in 2008. With the release of their debut album Relax on Sept. 13, which is a follow-up to their 2010 mixtapes Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man, the rappers prove that, though they joke around, they ought to be taken seriously.

Das Racist is composed of Himanshu Suri, Victor Vazquez and Ashok Kondabolu.  Suri and Kondabolu are both of Indian nationality and from Queens, while Suri and Vazquez met at Wesleyan University back in 2003.  Together, all three are a mix of hipster, jokester and nerdy intellectual.

Though the 14-track album is entitled Relax, don’t be fooled: the album is anything but relaxing. Compared to the two mixtapes, this album features much sharper synth sounds, more pop beats and overall better production, possibly because of collaborations with the likes of Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend, Anand Wilder from Yeasayer, Drake songwriter Francis Farewell Starlite and Diplo.

The opening track “Relax” sets a chill vibe for the rest of the album, with its medley of exotic electro sounds and the repetition of the word “relax” in the background.  The raps on this track flow in a raw, flawless manner. This and “Michael Jackson” are the two strongest tracks on the album. “Michael Jackson” is especially refined and loud, most notably because of the heavy, tribal-sounding drums.

In similar fashion to their older songs, “Rainbow in the Dark,” a revamped version of the same track on Shut Up, Dude, makes multiple references to mass culture and popular franchises (“I’m at the White Castle/tiny ass hamburgers/tiny ass cheeseburgers/tiny ass chicken sandwiches”).  The track “Selena” also makes a variety of obscure references, ranging from Celine Dion to Carmen Sandiego to Michael Douglas. There is even a “shout out to Sallie Mae, shout out FAFSA.”

Most of the songs do not possess much lyrical substance; it’s mostly the ironies and satirical elements of the raps that make them so genius.  Sometimes, the songs leave you wondering: is this actually funny or is it only funny because Das Racist is singing about it?

“Booty In the Air” is exactly as it sounds: a song with no particular lyrical value (“you’re right, your booty is my lifeline/your booty is my high life-line”) that ridicules the mainstream hip-hop artists of our generation.  In “Power,” a loud, exciting and more raunchy song, they laugh at themselves, showing that they don’t take themselves too seriously, labeling their music as “half-internet, half-high school cafeteria shit.” The ironies continue in “Punjabi Song” which is a ballad to the amusing debaucheries of today’s youth, from getting “pissy drunk” to smoking bud, with raps are over a sample of traditional Indian background music.

However, Relax has some shortfalls, especially towards the end of the album. “Celebration” is an upbeat, joyful track, but it is lacks certain elements to be anything more than that. The lyrics are deficient and the beats could be better. “Girl” sounds like an electro-pop song and it is has a pleasant summertime feel, but it’s not as unique as other Das Racist songs with its cheesy lyrics that boast about an infatuation with a girl.

With Relax, the members of Das Racist have proven that they can rap well, but they do not take themselves too seriously. Once one rummages beneath the many witty and often obscure pop culture references and humorous banter, it is clear that these rappers indeed possess remarkable talent, but in their own unique way. One of the lines from their track “The Trick” characterizes their music well: “Don’t get it? Don’t sweat it, just let it go.”

Original Author: Dina Khatib