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Das Racist

Relax


[Greedhead; 2011]



By ; September 15, 2011 


Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

It’s hard to talk about Das Racist without mentioning the by-coincidence (or not at all coincidence) overtaking of blog rap and the mixtape format as home to some of hip-hop’s most singular artists. Perhaps Odd Future made it official with Tyler, the Creator’s winning of best new artist at the MTV Video Music Awards a couple weeks ago. Or perhaps not. A lot can happen in a year and just as soon as blog rap seemed to be the thing Das Racist burned the couch (figuratively and literally) and Tyler, the Creator signed to XL and was winning awards on MTV. Both at least proved that, as a start, those platforms are one viable (talent non-withstanding) way to get your voice heard, but with Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin earlier this year and now Das Racist’s Relax we’re seeing these acts debut as part of the larger independent landscape (with varying results), and with the latter, New York’s Das Racist proves they can most certainly hang.

Das Racist’s M.O. has been repeatedly painted as funny and smart if not smartly funny, but the short hand of comedy rap seems more than a little demeaning when aimed at the group. Heems and Kool AD rap without set-it-up-knock-em-down style jokes and the comedy seems to be more of a result of the two’s natural music-making disposition rather than anything scripted or contrived. That goes for the smarts too. Most of the intellect is a result of acute satirical observation that come packed into aloof throwaway lines. The dynamic of how the funny and the smart is delivered is arguably where Das Racist’s appeal lies. The two MCs are able to create an aura of organic self-awareness and stumble-upon irony that has everything to do with the individuality of hip-hop and the MC, yet remains staggeringly fresh when stacked against most others populating hip-hop’s front lines as they become increasingly shock and ego centric.

On Relax, Das Racist hasn’t shifted from the trajectory their two 2010 mixtapes, Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man, promised, and that trajectory already spoke of a fastly evolving rap group. The difference between Shut Up, Dude, which was very much a mixtape, and Sit Down, Man, which showed a blatant move toward pop craft, was already a measurable leap. Relax sees the group tighten up in almost every facet imaginable. Lyrically, the duo is layered and intricate and both still seem to be ratcheting up confidence in their delivery and in the music surrounding them. Das Racist now seems to have an actual identifiable production aesthetic to speak of, mined from the lo(er)-fi Casio-hook vocal-warped synth pop bordering on electroclash like a cheapo Arular. And the dead air that seemed to sometimes crop up previously has been filled or chopped out completely, creating a record with taut and purposeful momentum.

As a single “Michael Jackson” works pretty perfectly. Built around booming sub-bass throb and grimy Mid-Eastern melodies, the duo plays a classic two verse hype workout with a nonsensically bombastic chorus (“Michal Jackson, a million dollars, you feel me? holla!”). Heems is especially great with an earnestly off kilter sore throat flow and by the time he cuts the postulation and just barks “I’m fucking great at rapping!” completely discarding the beat, it’s hard to disagree with him. “Middle Of the Cake” is another early standout; “Anything that don’t match the skin color, the brother dye it,” AD raps, following with, “Promoters buying rooms at the Hyatt / firewater costs a lotta bread but heads buy it.” An example of the duo’s ability to say a lot with a few throwaway allusions. Not to mention the song also has a catchy-ass sing-along chorus.

The sounds behind the duo come courtesy of some significant star power (Patrick Wimberley of Chairlift, Diplo, El-P, Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend) and a couple of sharp unknowns (J-La, Blood Diamonds, Dash Speaks). The beats drive with a melodic hand and with a few exceptions things mostly bubble with gaudy synthesis coated in a layer of blurry Vaseline. But the attention that’s packed into every moment of these songs on Das Racist’s side of things, whether it be a vocoded laugh track on “Relax,” or Heems’ hilarious whispered back up vocals on “Celebration,” or Vasquez’s oddly affecting singing at the beginning of “Girl,” show how able the group is crafting impressively diverse pop songs. Even the way AD recovers from mispronouncing “John Carpenter” on “Selena” works as a memorable punchline. The duo is way past two verses and some clowning (though they do that to great affect on “Michael Jackson” – “No Heemo you Eric Clapton!”). The focus is sharper, but still loose in a way that seems orchestrated toward adding character.

The guests that drop by later in Relax are admittedly take-it-or-leave-it. Perhaps only because Kool AD and Heems spin a pretty impenetrable lyrical atmosphere between the two of them. So when Danny Brown shows up on “Power” earnestly rapping about getting his dick sucked right before Heems touches on newbspeak and sums himself up with “half internet, half high school cafeteria shit,” it’s a little jarring to say the least. El-P, who supplied a track and verse on Sit Down, Man, reprises on “Shut Up, Man” in full Company Flow abstraction mode, but his aggressive hyper-written delivery still sounds a little out of place next to Kool AD and Heems who sound less concerned with killing the track (which all three do). Thankfully Relax is too good for a couple of kind of atonal feature spots to derail the proceedings.

It becomes apparent after a few spins of Relax that lyrics are still Das Racist’s staying power, despite the record’s accessibility and pop-leaning aptitude. The group creates collages of non-sequiters and bury themselves inside an abstracted stream of consciousness. It’s rare that lines and thoughts bridge linearly across a verse, which creates a scattered array of ideas and references to deconstruct if you’re willing. Das Racist is, after all, the kind of rap group that’s willing to name check Kool G Rap, Loveless, and Infinite Jest all in the same breath. Sophisticated gems like “These days I’m mostly focused on my bank account / I ain’t backing out until I own a bank to brag about” are fodder for prolonged speculation. But there’s also the brilliance of boasts like “known to rock the flyest shit and eat the best pizza” to tide you over.


85%







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