By now, if you spend most of your time on the internet, you probably heard or saw that New York rap group Das Racist has called it quits. And, no, sadly it doesn’t appear that they’re joking. Last night, Pitchfork reported that the group was scheduled to perform at the On3 Festival in Munich on Saturday night but that Heems (aka Himanshu Suri) performed a solo set instead. During his set, Heems said to the crowd, “You guys wanna know the secret? All right, so I’m going to do some Das Racist songs, but Das Racist is breaking up, and we’re not a band anymore.” The news was quickly confirmed by group member Kool A.D. via Twitter:
for the record i quit das racist 2 months ago and was asked by our manager not to announce it yet. apparently @himanshu wanted to do it tho.
— KOOL A.D. (@veeveeveeveevee) December 3, 2012
Throughout the night Kool A.D. and Heems responded to fans’ laments on Twitter (At one point Heems pointed out, “Chill out the Wrens are still making a new album.” True. It’s all about perspective.) and the group’s hype-man, Dapwell, told Spin the following:
“I was bummed when we actually broke up, when it was done, mostly because it was a way to make money really easily. Now, I probably won’t be able to make money that easily ever again… But we had a plan to break up around May. We had just signed this record deal, and we were going to put out one proper album and then go on a farewell tour, release a proper breaking-up statement that could have been really funny, maybe a weird, stupid video. Now, all of that has gone to shit.”
Das Racist leaves behind a brief, vibrant legacy, one that probably inspired more music (and more ponderous think-pieces) than we’ll ever really know. Though the group rose to viral fame through the ubiquitous YouTube goof/critique-of-capitalism “Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell,” the guys quickly established themselves as surprisingly ambitious purveyors of freewheeling, allusive and political rap music, releasing two irreverent mixtapes, Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man for free, and one defiant full-length, Relax, released on Suri’s ever-growing Greenhead label.
Beyond the group’s commentary on race, its free-associative riffing and its prankster spirit, there was always a sense of fun to listening to Das Racist, a feeling that you were being invited to hang out with three really smart dudes who could make fun of shitty TV shows with the same level of intellectual acumen that they brought to a cultural studies class. As they were fond of saying in their songs, they were “complex.”
As a tribute to their enduring complexity, here are five things we’ll miss about Das Racist.
01. Funny And Serious
Is it funny, or is it serious? Heems, Kool A.D., Dapwell and their like-minded collaborators didn’t just walk along this delicate line: They wrote a whole song about it. You’d think that in 2012 people would get that something can have jokes and a sincere point-of-view at the same damn time, but apparently that’s a lesson not yet learned. I’m glad Das Racist was around to point out the stupidity of that binary.
02. The Videos
Video game spoofs. Drug-fueled spirit quests. Michael Jackson impersonators. All those great Chillin’ Island episodes. Das Racist understood that for a lot of people, music is consumed almost entirely on YouTube, and the group left an often confounding, often brilliant trail of breadcrumbs all over the internet.
03. Interview As Performance Art
Spoiler alert: Most interviews with musicians are really boring. Like, super-boring. Dull questions, canned answers, no sense of spontaneity, etc. Though they could come off as a little cranky at times (and wouldn’t you if you were bombarded with Taco Bell-related questions all day?), Das Racist was the best at providing witty, sarcastic and (yep, I’ll go there) profound soundbites in interviews. Also, one time Kool A.D. told a New York Times reporter to “Fall back!” We’ll always have that.
04. Alienating, Confrontational And Banter-Filled Live Shows
Das Racist was never known as the most consistent live act, but seeing the group was an experience. I saw Das Racist perform during CMJ a couple of years ago, and the main thing I remember is Dapwell saying at various points, “We’re Battles.” They were obviously pretty uncomfortable on stage, and they were irritated with the audience in the room, going so far as to antagonize the very people who were cheering their names. They got a little more professional as they became more seasoned performers, but they never lost that sense of chaotic spontaneity.
05. The Collaborations
Despite the messy breakup, this is how I choose to remember Das Racist. Included as a bonus track on Mr. Muthafuckin’ Exquire’s mixtape, “Last Huzzah [Remix]” has come to represent a very specific and possibly important moment in modern hip-hop, a joyful breaking down of boundaries and a goofy celebration of different styles. Also, it’s just really funny. Heems declaring himself, “The worst rapper on this track, third coolest,” and Kool A.D. saying, “I’m Immortal Technique/I’m Obnoxious/Hella-people telling me to stop it.” That’s the Das Racist I’ll miss: self-deprecating, self-aware and, ultimately, self-defeating.