Interview Cameron Cook
Photography Dan Wilton
Sometime during ‘SUP’s extended Primavera partytime, I found myself somewhat reluctantly checking out horrorcore hip-hop sensations Odd Future at the Pitchfork stage. The group playing in the dark, their faces semi-obscured, jumping up and down and rambling incoherently between songs. I was struck with a bizarre, yet fairly obvious notion: didn’t Das Racist do this like, two years ago? And wasn’t it way more fun? Instead of creating controversy merely for the sake of it, Das Racist combine acerbic wit with deft social commentary, blurring issues of race, class, politics and other Big Issues through the type of simultaneous aggrandizing and deprecation that could only be created by someone so entrenched in Gen Y. With their two mixtapes, Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man, released for free through Mediafire downloads and, at the time of publication, still unavailable on iTunes and Spotify, Das Racist never quite make their case and never quite refute it – it may be somewhat sloppy and rough at times, but it is what it is. It’s like they got really stoned, had a great idea, and never got un-stoned. They’re still very, very stoned.
Interviewing Das Racist at a festival is kind of like dragging a bag of horny cats up a hill in a rainstorm, albeit infinitely more enjoyable. In the hour we had with Himanshu “Heems” Suri, Victor “Kool A.D.” Vazquez and hype man/indispensable extra member Ashok “Dapwell” Kondabolu, girls followed their every move, illicit substances were exchanged with random punters, fans stopped to take their photo (Heems, shying away from the cameras: “That shit steals your soul. Now when people take my picture I either cover my face or I’m on my BlackBerry.”), and I received a sort of intense phone call from their tour manager, saying they had to be on stage… right then. “Oh, is it eight?” Heems said, a bit deadpan. “Yeah, we have to go play.” “I wish we could be in a band without playing all these shows,” Dap added, grinning, but kind of serious.
Das Racist’s first official album (although both Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man are full-length), Relax, will be released this fall on their own label Greedhead. The album’s artwork features the band standing in front of a burning couch (presumably the couch they’re sitting on on the cover of both mixtapes), Heems is wearing a Panda Bear T-shirt, and it’s probably going to be amazing.
Himanshu: So this is the first thing I want to say. I just bought a hamburger, and that’s a Hin-don’t. That’s fine. I eat meat, I’m a Hindu, I’m practicing or whatever, but they also used to sacrifice zebras when they were praying, so what’s the big deal about having a hamburger?
Would you eat a zebra burger?
Himanshu: Probably! Would you?
Yeah, hell yeah! I’m all about eating fucked up animals.
Himanshu: I had duck once. (Yells) Whaaaaat!
Wait, dog or duck?
Himanshu: Duck, dude!
Duck is amazing! Duck-over-rice is my favorite Chinese food.
Himanshu: I know, but I wasn’t fucking with duck growing up, man! You know what I mean? I had duck once – (Exclaims jubilantly) Wooooo!
My friend Wefald once went to this carnivore food festival, and had a kangaroo burger.
Himanshu: Where, in Somalia?
Himanshu: In Australia, I mean?
Isn’t it illegal to kill kangaroos in Australia? Like, if you hit a kangaroo with your car, you have to take its babies with you.
Himanshu: What? (To Victor and Dap) Yo!
Dan Wilton (laughing): You what? If you hit a pregnant kangaroo with your car, you have to raise its babies?
Dap: I would love to do that. But without killing the kangaroo first.
So, how’s the whole Das Racist Take Europe thing going?
Himanshu: Pretty good.
Dap: Better than last time. Definitely. Last time was boring. Swiss people are nice but very boring, and we did a lot of shows in Switzerland. Really nice venues, though.
Victor: Very pleasant and accommodating. They’d like, clap after every song, but they would just stand there like that (imitates a statue).
Dap: We’d try to fuck with them after, and they were just very confused (laughs).
Victor: They didn’t really want to joke around at all. I don’t know what they wanted, actually. It’s very hard to tell what a Swiss person wants. I guess you just have to start smacking and pinching them. If you start to pinch them a little, they start loosening up.
Dap: Yeah, they’ll just clasp their hands together (laughs).
Victor: They’re like ‘Hmmmm.’
Do you find that audiences like to joke around with you, generally?Do they ‘get it’?
Victor: Yo, Italians love to joke around.
Dap: Joke around?
Victor: Yeah, Italians fuck around!
Dap: Yeah, yeah, they do.
Victor: And they do silly dances with silly faces. I feel like I was doing a lot of the Mashed Potato, and the Twist. I was like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ (Laughs)
Dap: After a show, we got back onstage with like, 15 people, and just unabashedly danced for an hour. I was like, ‘This is stupid! What the hell am I doing?’
Victor: Then we bopped out a dude in blackface
Dap: Oh, right.
Himanshu: This dude had blackface on!
Victor: Okay, so this dude showed up in blackface, one of the first dudes to show up and the show. I tapped the promoter on the shoulder like, ‘Get this dude out of here,’ and he was like, ‘Well, he’s kind of a friend…’ I was like, ‘What the fuck?! Fuck you, then! Get this fucking dude out of here!’ And then, apparently he didn’t leave, and I see him later and say, ‘Look, you either gotta wash that off or leave,’ and he was like, ‘Well, it’s a joke,’ and I go, ‘I understand that.’ Then he’s all, ‘It’s hard to wash off.’ So I was like, ‘Then leave, dude!’ (Laughs) So I walk away, assuming he was going to leave, but he didn’t. He shows up next to the stage, so a spit some beer on his face, and he gets deeply upset. Later, he finds me and throws beer at me, so I bopped him out a couple of times, and this fool (points to Dap) walks up and just (mimes punching someone several times). He bopped him about some more, actually (laughs)!
Dap: I was going to go and try to break it up, but then when I saw him I got so angry! I was like, ‘This is unacceptable!’ And then he complained to the promoter, and our tour manager had to talk to him on the phone for an hour.
Victor: How are you going to do that and then complain to the promoter. Like, ‘What, I can’t show up in blackface?’
Dap: Our tour manager, Flo, who is French, was on the phone like, ‘It’s not funny! Four hundred years of slavery!’ And we were like, ‘Flo, it’s cool.’ (Laughs) ‘You’re good, we already like you.
Victor: You don’t really need to do all that type of shit (laughs).
Dap: Then Vic got obsessed with the idea and just started punching out black people. Like, ‘One of these people has to be in blackface.’
I saw you guys were at the Cannes Film Festival last week. I was curious of what your impression was of the whole ordeal, because I used to live there for a while.
Dap: So boring! It was the last day of the festival. We didn’t leave our Etap budget hotel. I just sat there on the Internet for nine hours. Literally, all I know of Cannes is the underground parking garage of the Etap hotel. But Victor and Hima said it was boring.
Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Dap: The few blocks I walked were really boring.
Victor: A lot of luxury stuff.
Himanshu (rejoining the conversation): What am I going to yell about now?
We were talking about Cannes being boring —
Victor: And Blackface Guy.
Himanshu: Blackface Guy, I really wanted to grab him buy the neck and take him to a bathroom and wash his face. I feel like that would have been a better, more symbolic gesture than just like, duffing him out. But then I was like, ‘Oh, Victor is obviously going to duff this kid out so…’ (Laughs) Also, I had a nice suit on, and I didn’t want to fuck it up. And in Cannes, I just felt very poor, then entire time. I couldn’t get into any cool parties, where they were probably playing a song of mine. Nah, I’m just kidding. That one stupid song of ours they play at parties. Maybe some dubstep remix of “Pizza Hut/Taco Bell” (laughs). They’re like, five years late in Cannes.
Also, they don’t have a Pizza Hut or a Taco Bell.
Himanshu: Doesn’t seem to matter. We’ve been to a lot of places where people are like, ‘Okay, I guess a lot of people like this song on the Internet! I’m from… (pauses)’ Somalia? Or is it Australia? (Laughs) I always mix up Somalia and Australia!
Dap: They’re very similar. They’re right next to each other.
But so, you guys have totally disowned “Pizza Hut/Taco Bell” at this point, right?
Himanshu: Nah, we play it!
Himanshu: Yeah, fuck it. (To Dap) Are we gonna play it tonight?
Dude, the last like, 16 times I’ve seen you play you haven’t played it. I saw you at the Bell House about a year ago and you basically said you were never going to play it again.
Dap: I mean I’m fine with it, I just don’t want to do any extra work.
Himanshu: Should we do it?
Victor: (Pauses) Uh, yeah, sure, why not?
Dap: Let’s do it early in the set and get it over with.
Himanshu: We’ll change the words to ‘Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins’, or ‘FedEx/Kinko’s', or ‘best of times/worst of times’, and then we’re done.
I was under the impression that you had this vitriolic rage against this song you wrote as a joke and has kind of become an albatross.
Himanshu: Nah man, why would you bite the stupid song-hand that feeds you?
I guess you’re right. It would be kind of like how the Flaming Lips never do “She Don’t Use Jelly” (Ed. note: later that night, the Flaming Lips performed “She Don’t Use Jelly”).
Dap: I love that song.
Himanshu: We’ll figure out a way. You know how when MGMT would jus stop playing their instruments and just dance around and yell in microphones and stuff, and people would get angry? That’s the way to deal with that type of thing. (Pauses) We don’t play “Pizza Hut/Taco Bell” though. Mostly.
That’s what I’m saying!
Himanshu (laughing): I was just like, ‘Wait a second!’
Dap: Also, who cares? It’s not like we’re famous now or anything. We’re just over it.
There’s something that I’ve been noticing for a while, it seems like bands who have humor in their music do much better in the UK and Europe than in the U.S. I feel like in America there’s this weird mindset that you have to either be a novelty act or Bob Dylan. Like, there’s no middle ground of making good music that can also be seen as funny.
Himanshu: Well, when I used to write all the songs for Art Brut… (laughs)
But you know what I mean, right?
Himanshu: (Pauses) I dunno, man. (Laughs) I love you dude, but like…
(Laughing) Fair enough.
Himanshu: I mean, I listen to rap, ans rap is mostly funny, right? Rap is mad funny! Kanye West is a funny dude. Even if something isn’t legitimately funny, you always just be like, ‘Essentially, this dude is talking about this thing?’ and you can find humor in it.
Dap: And there were a lot of early ’90s rap groups that were incredibly funny.
Himanshu: They’re potheads, too. Potheads like making jokes.
Dap: Snoop killed it like, 20 years ago. Now he’s like, a caricature of a human being. (Laughs) He killed it, now he’s a cartoon.