Das Racist @ The Joiners, 2/12/2011 (Live Review.

It’s difficult to know whether New York hip-hop trio Das Racist are being satirically shrewd, spouting social commentary masquerading as stoner college dorm rap; or if they’re merely peddling stoner college dorm rap. Either way, there’s a level of sardonic sarcasm running through everything they do.

And either way, it doesn’t really matter. As Hari Kondabolu — brother of hype man Dap — explains in a fantastic guest article for Spin, “you can be funny and say what you mean”. Over the course of an hour-long set at The Joiners, the group prove that theirs is a wit wholly indebted to the acerbic comedy of their generation, and it belongs on the stage.

Although the kind of informed sideways-social commentary dealt with by rappers Victor “Kool A.D” Vazquez and Himanshu “Heems” Suri is mostly lost in the unforgiving live environment, Das Racist have the requisite energy and confident showmanship to execute a straight-up rap show regardless. American cultural references make up the vast majority of lyrical content, alongside dealing with the (still) thorny issue of race and identity in the rap game head-on in their own mocking style.

The constant in-jokes serve as added bonuses to anyone who catches them (white DJ/guest rapper Lakutis is constantly referred to as V Nasty in a backhanded swipe at the misguided caucasian MC), and those that don’t are more than happy to give in to the group’s playful and engaging performance style. The southern-fried swagger of ‘Who’s That? Brooown!’ and ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ from new album Relax provide sufficient cause for a rowdy crowd response, while a couple of appearances of Dr Dre’s ‘Xxplosive’ intrumental allows the duo’s lyrical ability to shine through.

“Anyone know this beat?” grins Heems, as it drops the first time. “I made it on my MPC this morning.”

Official debut album Relax seems a disappointing regression from the group’s two preceding mixtapes (Shut up, Dude and Sit Down, Man), as if attempting to allow the world to catch up with the frightening pace of creativity demonstrated on earlier releases. It’s telling, then, that the group decide to fill the majority of their set with older or unreleased tracks, all augmented by Lakutis’ languid, hypnotic dancing and the double-mic hollering of Dap. Heems’ and Kool A.D’s verses show complete reverence to rap’s history, constantly cribbing lines from past masters, while simultaneously showing and proving themselves with dextrous flows and high-calibre word play.

Heems plays heavily on his ‘outsider’ position as an Indian man in a culture in which his race is badly represented. He guides Das Racist not just musically but also in their business affairs, setting up the Greedhead label that released Relax and music of the group’s various collaborators.

Back in The Joiners, and the group are dropping their tongue-in-cheek Internet hit ‘Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell’ over another appearance of the ‘Xxplosive’ beat.

“We are a professional American rap group,” Heems smirks as the track ends. “We’ve got three more numbers left. In the business we call them numbers.” The last of these numbers, the rampantly crazed Hindi samples of new single ‘Michael Jackson’ gets the night’s best reaction, and Heems’ previous comment looks more like a statement of fact than playful humour.

But then, as the hook to ‘Hahahaha jk?’ explains, “we’re not joking/just joking, we are joking/just joking, we’re not joking” — by far the most pertinent depiction of Das Racist yet.

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