Das Racist

RACE RIOT

On the cover of this issue are Victor Vazquez, Ashok Kondabolu (Dapwell) and Himanshu Suri (Heems) from Das Racist. People are having a tough time putting their finger on this Brooklyn-based rap trio. The New Yorker calls them art rap, The New York Times calls them joke rap and the internet is calling them a clever and self-aware take on hip hop. Regardless of what you want to label them, they’re injecting some good times into hip hop and their sound is simultaneously being embraced by Hot 97 and Pitchfork.

Their breakout track “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” is a sign of the times anthem that reached meme status last year. They followed that up this fall with “Who’s That? Brooown!,” a Tribe Called Quest-sampled burner who’s video is an 8-bit arcade game flashback (it was accompanied with a playable video game that will have you thinking of Frogger for days). With two free mixtapes under their belt—Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man—a busy touring schedule and a slew of other projects they’re working on, you better keep your eyes on these dudes because they’re poised to paint the world brown.

Who does Das Racist consist of? Is one of you Memphis Bleek to the other’s Jay-Z?
Heems: It’s more like—who are some rap trios?
Dapwell: Cypress Hill.
Heems: But we are all B-Real.
Victor: We are all Sen Dogg.
Heems: DJ Muggs was Cypress Hill? I want to be him. Well Heems is DJ Muggs, Victor is Sen Dogg and Dap is B-Real.

That’s pretty ill. If I was in a rap trio, we would be Onyx but we would all be Sticky Fingaz.
Heems: Can you change it so we said that? I want to be Fredro Starr and have a mildly successful acting career and be on Moesha and in Sunset Park.

How did you guys meet?
Heems: We met in college and high school. I met Dap at Dalton High School, in New York and I met Victor at Bard, which is in Annandale-on-Hudson in upstate New York.
Victor: We were in the same poetry collective.
Heems: I thought it was pottery class.
Victor: It was a pottery class but I think we bonded most at the poetry collective.

What were you guys doing before you formed Das Racist?
Dapwell: I dropped out of college and spent a couple years in New York moving from apartment to apartment, then moving back to my parents’ house kind of aimlessly. Sometimes I’d get an odd job that I would get fired from.
Victor: I’d say the Kanye West story but I worked at a farm and I tutored children.
Heems: I was a human resources consultant in the financial service industry. I was a headhunter.
Under what circumstances did you guys decide to form Das Racist?
Heems: I don’t know. We were bored and talented.
Victor: You smoke weed?! What’s your favourite weed?!

Where does the name come from?
Heems: There was a short-lived TV show called Wonder Showzen that had short cartoons in it and one of them was called That’s Racist.
Dapwell: T-H-A-T-S Racist and everyone misspells it.
Heems: I think people kind of attribute the phonetic thing onto us unnecessarily. It’s pretty offensive that they would do that. It’s clearly spelled “That’s Racist” on everything we put out.

Shouldn’t you guys hire a PR firm to take care of that?
Heems: I don’t know shit about Puerto Ricans! What would prevent us from hiring a DR firm? Or a Honduran firm?

Where do you guys fit into the rap world?
Victor: Right up the butt.

Being rappers, what did the streets teach you guys?
Heems: They taught me not to make garbage rap music, not to be British, not to be white, not to make videos about ecstasy that nobody cares about, not to glorify sniffing cocaine and making bad songs about it.

But what did the streets teach you guys?
Heems: Mike Skinner, right?

What is it like to be coming up in the music game in 2010?
Heems: It’s cool because cars can fly now, right? Finally right? Finally. Opposed to coming up in 2009 when everything was different. A lot of individuals… I’m sorry. I just ate some chipotle peppers. It’s really burning the shit out of my face.

When you guys made the song “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” did you guys do it with getting a licensing deal in mind?
Heems: We wanted a licensing deal, and there are a whole batch of other songs we didn’t put out for other corporate entities that we were hoping to get licensed. They are only sitting on our hard drives.
Victor: The original “Who’s that? Brooown!” chorus goes (sings) “Quiznos, Quiznos Quiznos, getting together, getting some pizza in the mail, UPS, what can brown do for you? Getting pizza in the mail, UPS Quiznos.”
Heems: So that was the second track on the EP.

You guys should have left it like that.
Heems: Have you ever played “Who’s that? Brooown!” backwards? You should hear the song we did for Bloomberg.

What’s it like to see a song you guys did blow up on the internet?
Heems: I hope that future employers don’t find it.

What’s your favourite collaboration you’ve done so far?
Heems: Rapping with Despot on “Rooftop” for the second mixtape was fun. That’s like a dude we kick it with a lot. Basically the people we see every day that are in and out the studio.
Victor: We just did a song with Homeboy Sandman that was really fun.
Heems: For me doing a song with El-P was a crazy thing. By the time we made it, we kicked it a bunch of times too. So he grew from just a dude who I really respected into a dude who I just kicked it with. So making a track with him was really comfortable. At the same time it was like, “oh shit, that’s El-P recording right there.” He was a dude I idolized when I was in high school so doing a track with him was really crazy.

Which gig has been your favourite so far?
Heems: Hawaii was fun because we got to go to Hawaii, but there weren’t a lot of people at that show. Madonna at the Macy’s Parade—we played a private show for Madonna on the sideline at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

So Madonna’s down with Das Racist?
Heems: Yeah, she likes it.

What’s the worst gig you guys have done?
Heems: Maybe Hawaii or the Madonna joint.

What made you guys decide to give out your music for free?
Victor: I don’t know, we had a lot of samples and we didn’t want to figure out splits for everything. We just wanted to get it out there. We thought maybe it would help to have a release out before we did an album.
Heems: It’s kind of how rap music works right now if you want to reach an audience. I mean, it’s not very difficult for us to make songs, I don’t think we are worried about not being able to do more.

It’s a good thing to do while you’re trying to figure out a deal.
Heems: Or stop. Or put out a different kind of record that’s not rap.

How do you guys plan to monetize?
Heems: Live shows and when we get on top of our shit, merchandise and military arms.

What are your guy’s groupies like?
Victor: They are weird. Some of them are pretty.

If you guys could have rap beef with anyone who would it be?
Heems: Tupac, Biggie, Joe Budden, Lil B, Madonna, Kanye, Bill O’Reilly, probably the rapper Jin, Murda Mook, Beanie Sigel, Thom Yorke, Snoop Dogg, Bon Jovi, Freaky Tah, Axl Rose. Who was the Hip Hop Violinist? Miri Ben-Ari.
Victor: Probably Facebook.
Heems: I would battle Facebook, The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg, Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor. So we would probably beef with Mark Zuckerberg, Hip Hop Violinist Miss Miri Ben-Ari, and the rapper Jin. Those three more than anyone really.
Dapwell: Saul Williams.
Heems: We are going to recreate the battle between Saul Williams and Sherman Alexie.
Victor: We were going to tell that to The New Yorker an hour ago but we saved that for you.

Two dudes in your group are Indian, are you guys looking to start a brown power movement? Like being the Indian Public Enemy?
Heems: I don’t think so, that’s too ambitious. I studied South Asian studies, so I am interested. It comes up in our music.

Where do you guys see the future of rap going?
Heems: It’s really moving toward the independent stuff, like the smaller independent stuff. There are no more indie rap labels; there was Definitive Jux and Stones Throw doesn’t really do rap now. It’s not about being signed to a major label—you have to do your own thing. I think now is a much better time to be independent more than ever before, that’s not to say that we wouldn’t explore the option of doing something with a major. At this time we put our music on the internet, because that’s how you get the most attention and the most people to download your music. We are not too stressed about making it. If you are signed to a major they do a 360 and they take your touring and your merch money and you’re making what? A hundred grand up front? I’m not sure how the future of rap is different from the future of music.
Victor: There’s this hyper-emotional, hyper-personal trend in rap music, kind of like we are. Because everything is personal, however superficial, and it seems like we are tackling bigger issues. Kid Cudi is making songs about having nightmares. Who gives a fuck about Kid Cudi?

What does the future hold for Das Racist?
Heems: We are going on tour right now to China and Western Europe. We are going to come back and work on more songs. We are doing Minority Fest 2. We did the first Minority Fest in September 2009. Minority Fest is a one-night-only show that had a panel representing comedy, music and visual arts that happened at Glasslands in Brooklyn. It was just different people who were minorities talking about being creative. The whole minority thing was tongue in cheek. We are going to have another one where we invite different bands, it was mostly composed, last year, of comedians and academics talking about what it’s like to do what they do while being a minority. We are going to do the second one next year in February 2011. We have a radio show that we are working on; we are trying to base it on Stretch and Bobbito, which was an old rap show in New York. We are also working on this weird sketch/talk show called Chillin’ Island. So all sorts of different media. There is also some interest by a network for a TV show with me and my brother. Me and my brother have a talk show that we do and there is some interest in having a sketch show for this network.
Victor: We have a gallery opening we are working on in 2011 in Brooklyn. Heems has done a lot of painting and canvas work so that’s going to come out in 2011. We haven’t thought of a name for it but we have the space.

So you guys are multi-faceted?
Victor: You can’t just be a rapper or you’d be dead in the gutter.

Who are your top five rappers?
Heems: I think top five dead or alive for me would be: Joe Budden, Madonna, Gary Oldman, any Chinese person that you might meet, Korea as a country—only physically geographically, not the people in Korea, but the land mass—and a single flame rising from the nostril of a snake.
Victor: In no particular order, for me it’s got to be: Pablo Honey—the album by Radiohead—a volcano, the shark from the cartoons—Jabberjaw the Hanna-Barbera shark—and probably MF Doom.

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