Last year Brooklyn-based rap duo Das Racist, aka Himanshu Kumar Suri and Victor Vazquez, achieved Internet memehood with their bizarre, hilarious, and strangely profound "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," which they released again this spring on the mix tape Shut Up, Dude. As goofy and stoned-sounding as that song is, though, they're actually incredibly smart dudes, and they've showed it off (among other places) in an article for the Village Voice on the nature of Internet fame and in a widely read rebuttal of Sasha Frere-Jones's notorious New Yorker essay on what he sees as the end of hip-hop as an engine of pop-music innovation.
On Tuesday, July 27, Das Racist—which in its onstage incarnation includes hype man Ashok "Dap" Kondabolu—played a show at Evil Olive with similarly inclined local act Bin Laden Blowin' Up. That afternoon the two groups squeezed in a recording session at the South Loop studio Soundscape, cutting a track they've tentatively titled "No Pictures." They'll release it into the wilds of the Internet soon, and I'll post it on the Reader's blog.
Is this your first time in Chicago?
Suri: No. I've been here before.
Vazquez: This is my first time. We went straight to Wicker Park and we've been to Humboldt Park too. I like it a lot.
So you guys went to Wicker Park and then what?
Kondabolu: We went to Debonair in Wicker Park, then we went to Humboldt Park.
Suri: We had a party at Illekt from BBU's house before the show tonight called "Party at Your Mom's House."
And you literally partied at—
All: His mom's house. Yeah.
So you guys went into the studio with BBU earlier.
Suri: We cooked up a classic, I feel like.
Vazquez: We got Jasson's daughter on the track. On the hook.
All: She goes, "Please, no pictures! Please, no pictures. Please, no pictures!"
Kondabolu: It was really cool. I'm really happy with it.
Suri: It's also very cute.
Kondabolu: She kept stealing everyone's fitted caps and trying to sell them back. Vic paid her $20.
How did you and BBU hook up?
Suri: I would describe it as a case of real recognizes real.
Kondabolu: Yeah, basically that. We played CMJ together.
Suri: "Oh, you make somewhat political rap music over dance beats? I like doin' that too." Then when I heard them say cracker repeatedly on their mix tape, that's when it was a match made in heaven.
How do you feel about being tagged as a political rap group? It seems it's either political rap or joke rap, and it's hard for people to accept that it's both.
Suri: I prefer "political rap" over "joke rap." Obviously there's an element of humor we utilize, but I don't think the tradition of laughing to keep from crying is one that hasn't been in African-American poetry. It's an anomaly! I'm not black, though.
Kondabolu: Actually we're a lot less interesting than a lot of groups from the early 90s are, but people just don't remember.
Suri: We've been driving around in like a real green-energy type of car that runs only on 90s rap and, uh, realizing that, like, that fuel source is inexhaustible and beautiful.
You guys are in a weird position where you kind of had this crazy media presence before you really had much in the way of music out, you know? But it seems like for a band that's got a message or is thinking about things a lot, that might not be a bad position. How do you feel about it?
Suri: I feel like this is a weird time in music, where a lot of acts get on some fly-by-night shit where it's like, "Gorilla vs. Bear wrote about me and do I . . . " Oh look, they have a second album, that's good. You shouldn't be in a position where people expect your second album to be wack, and that's the problem with music journalism these days—everyone jumps on some shit real quick. At the same time, I think in the general sense of what we're doin', that I consider interviews and performances to be equal to the music that we make . . . I feel an interview is like a song to me. We're rappers. Why shouldn't an interview be the same as a song? It's just me talking over silence instead of a fuckin' beat. The illest beat is silence.
You gotta save that shit for like a fourth record.
Vazquez: Don't worry, we got that all—
Kondabolu: All our silent tracks are in the vault now.
Well, rap's in a weird position right now.
Suri: Rap's always been a weird position.
Kondabolu: People should've written these articles about rap being dead in 1997 and 1998, with Puffy's suits and shiny denim and shit.
But I'm saying that in rap, the whole idea of "real" is totally burned out.
Suri: That's something we talked about in that Village Voice interview, the idea of authenticity. I'm a huge Kanye West fan now, but when Kanye West came out, I was like, I don't really fuck with this. But the fact that he could take somewhat conscious rap—and this is when I fucked with conscious rap—I was like, "This dude will change the way people think about rap. He'll sell millions of records while also talking about something somewhat legitimate." Even though I don't fuck with him, like, it was to me, overall rap music will benefit from this dude. He was the first cat who came out and changed the idea that—there would be no Drake, Rick Ross would have died a million years ago if Kanye West wasn't like a cat that like, you know, that was a strange weirdo. I don't know exactly what I'm getting at, but authenticity died with Kanye West in a good way, I feel.
Vazquez: The question of authenticity is only present when music journalists are talking about rap music versus, like, other types of music. Like the fact that—I don't know, no one ever questions the authenticity of a rock band.
Suri: That's the whole thing. Punk bands have never had the question of authenticity because authenticity was about how broke you were. The whole break between punk and hip-hop in the 80s was because hip-hop kids were like, I will rap about having money because I grew up with none of it. White kids were like, I will not sing songs about having money.
Vazquez: I think it's complicated in both circles. There was like broke punk kids and rich kids and broke rappers and rich rappers.
Suri: But a lot of punk kids choose to be broke and rap kids, we don't choose to be broke. I grew up wanting to make money at every opportunity to. I wouldn't shun my money. I'd buy a $200 pair of sneakers.
Kondabolu: And my mom wouldn't let me go to vintage clothing stores. She'd be like, "Why are you going to buy someone's old clothes?"
Vazquez: It's also easier—you know, the idea of rejecting privilege comes with the fact that you have it in the first place.
Suri: But your point about authenticity is true. Nobody is like, Did this cat from Kings of Leon really like do whatever the fuck he sings about? You know, love song number 44.
Kondabolu: He's so stupid looking. The dudes from Kings of Leon literally have the dumbest motherfucking shittiest haircuts. I was reading a thing with Kings of Leon and just wanted to cut their faces open.
Suri: But at the same time, I don't think we've benefited from a lack of appreciation of authenticity in rap. People still won't fuck with us because we're not hood. On a label front, people have been, like, "These cats aren't hood enough." Maybe if you're a middle-class black dude you could get signed quicker than a middle-class brown dude.
Do you feel like you've been accepted as a legitimate rap group by hip-hop heads?
Vazquez: I think in terms of our press, it's been a lot more, like, white or rock blogs and publications.
Suri: It can be frustrating at times when a rock critic is trying to rap about rap. I'm sure you understand rap from an artistic perspective, but do you live this shit?
Kondabolu: It's not comfortable.
Vazquez: Have you bothered to listen to it a lot or talk it any?
Kondabolu: And like, why are we getting the attention? You know?
Vazquez: Recently after we dropped the mix tape we went to the Source and they liked us, even though they didn't put the [article] out. Someone didn't like us there.
Suri: We went to the Source and they asked us, like, "Name five five-mike artists in 1994." And they were like, nope, nope, nope. Dap goes, "Then I don't want to fuck with your magazine."
Kondabolu: Life After Death but not Ready to Die. It was like, what are you testing us on?
I was really impressed by the mix tape. I downloaded it the first day there was a link up and I think it's solid. It bangs. It's not some nerdcore funny Weird Al thing.
Suri: When people say we've got a shtick, I get really upset because it's like—
Kondabolu: It's fucking rap music!
Suri: People will go, "Can you describe your music," and I go, "Yeah, it's rap."
Kondabolu: It's actually really straightforward rap music. Vazquez, I know he don't look a certain way and I don't look a certain way—"a certain way," I can throw my air quotes through this thing—but like, it's bullshit.
People are latching onto the humor element like it's new in hip-hop.
Vazquez: It was there all the time.
Suri: Five rappers that we might be in the same vein of that never have been called joke rappers are like Cam, Ghost, Doom, Kool Keith, Noreaga. Noreaga is fucking hilarious. Follow that man on Twitter and he's hilarious.
I stopped following him on Twitter 'cause all he talked about was his shits. That's some over-sharing right there.
Suri: I want to Twitpic my shits sometime.
Vazquez: That's weird. You're a weird man. Grossing me out.
So what do you guys got planned? What's next?
Suri: I'm gonna go crazy and move to India in like a year.
Kondabolu: I went nuts a couple weeks ago. I got evicted and went crazy. Now I live with my parents.
Vazquez: I'm just tryin' to move out of my mom's basement. I'm trying to watch Californication and drink in my mom's basement.
Suri: No, we've got another mix tape coming out called Sit Down, Man. It's a follow-up to Shut Up, Dude. It's the same sentiment. I think Diplo is going to help put it out. Whatever that means?
Vazquez: I want to learn how to use weapons and I wanna get really strong physically.
Suri: You were talking about boxing for a while.
Kondabolu: I was actually talking for a minute that I want to randomly poison milk at Whole Foods and just read in the newspaper the next day and see who died. I'm not going to do it.
Suri: What about what you said you were going to do when you're 35?
Kondabolu: Oh. When I was younger, there's a recording my brother made of me talking to my mom about how I was going to get helicopters to blow up the Oscars and shut down Hollywood. My mom was like, "Oh, no." I was like, I'm gonna kill everyone at the Oscars and then it will shut down the Hollywood industry.
That's wild. You guys have Internet fame which is supposed to be like—
Suri: Yeah, well, we're not Die Antwoord so we're not signed to Interscope.
Vazquez: I think people are still confused.
Suri: Nobody's making money in music, but on top of that, not to be appreciated from a standpoint where the idea is making money is a potential thing that could happen is extra frustrating, but it's like, whatever. We're all like brown dudes. Adversity is not something we're not used to. I will continue to pound out mix tapes until somebody fucking signs us. Whatever.
Kondabolu: "I will continue to pound out brown dudes" is what I want to be the pull quote.
At this point do you guys regret "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell"?
Suri: One time Victor and I were in Wisconsin playing a show and we were in some nice hotel they put us up in—
Vazquez: Swimming in a swimming pool.
Suri: We just looked at each other from across the pool and went, "'Pizza Hut Taco Bell' made this happen." So, like, no—no more than any other band hates their quote-unquote hit. The only reason people fuck with "You Oughta Know" is 'cause it's like, "Oh, these ethnic kids are rapping over Billy Joel."
Kondabolu: It's popular in Romania. It's on the radio out there.
Suri: Now I have to rap over the whitest dude for people to appreciate our shit? It's always some bullshit gimmick.
Vazquez: Smash Mouth. That's off the record too. Smash Mouth collabo.
Kondabolu: Smash Mouth, Powerman 5000, Static X, Crazytown, Three Doors Down, Staind.