A breed of surrealist MCs like Kool Keith and Lil B have been known to say some pretty out-there things. But the most Dadaistic rappers of the lot may well be Heems, Kool A.D. and Dap of New York City’s Das Racist, here in New Zealand to play Big Day out on Friday.
Like many other artists (Arctic Monkeys, Lilly Allen, Odd Future), Das Racist followed what is a fast becoming a conventional, internet-facilitated path to fame. Their first two mixtapes were up for grabs on the web and won them a dedicated following. With a bunch of irreverent but highly inventive hits like You Oughta Know, Rainbow in the Dark and, most notably the silliest of all, Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, Das Racist were big way before they released their first official album Relax in September 2011.
So with such a crazy resume, would it make sense to ask them even half-serious questions? Well, the interview turned out to be a careful tug-of-war between the three of them and myself.
With such a provocative name and some of the most nihilistic lyrics around, Das Racist aren't about to be boxed in by other people's expectations. Do they agree with Grandmaster Flash that hip hop is all about the message, or what?
Kool A.D.: "We're having fun while spreading generally accepted ideas such as 'be nice to people' and 'don't be racist'. We started mostly having fun, but now it's a career and we're professional rappers doing this to eat food and pay rent, and whatever the content is, is whatever the content is. Everything can be interpreted in a political way regardless, but there is no mission statement."
Adds Heems, "Making music for us now is almost exactly the same as it used to be when we just started. People like it because we have fun, so we just continue to have fun, and we're figuring out how to do that. It's a little more hard when you're self-conscious about it, but we've constantly been in a state of work during the past year without really having time to reflect on what exactly has been happening. We take it as it goes and maybe next year we'll be thinking more about 'what have we done?'"
Dap: "And we'll have a long group of years ahead of us to regret things."
In a wide-ranging conversation with VOLUME, Das Racist do their best to ensure their surrealist image remains intact. So I allow them to teach me about the life of hippos while I try to talk hip hop culture, and go on about magicians when I prefer to discuss their lives as musicians. When their hazy brains are finally back with me, Dap expresses his annoyance regarding the regularly resurfacing messages in the media about the demise of hip hop: "I think people write articles to get a lot of page views so they have to say outlandish things like "hip hop is dead" every three years or so." But then Dap quickly reconsiders his far too serious answer of just a second ago: "Hip hop is not an animal or a plant or a bacteria or a person, so it can't die."
So do how does Das Racist contribute to the development of hip hop? Just by being generous, it turns out. Kool A.D.: "I usually donate between 100 and 200 dollars every month." Luckily, with their first commercially released album in stores, they can now easily carry this burden. And for those of you who wondered why Das Racist decided to not officially release their earlier work, Heems has the answer: "It had unclearable samples and we didn't have the time and legal power. But it seems people don't really take you seriously until you sell music, which I think is ridiculous. So we decided to make an album for commercial gain regardless of the fact that most musicians don't make money off their albums. We just hope people will shut up now!"
*Das Racist play Big Day Out 2012 on Friday 20 January at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland with Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Parkway Drive, Regurgitator, Cavalero Conspiracy, The Vaccines, Nero, Soundgarden, Kasabian, Röyksopp, Mariachi el Bronx, Battles, Beastwars, Best Coast, My Chemical Romance and more.