Das Racist is the future of hip-hop. The three-man Brooklyn-based crew is obsessed with America's obsession with race; MCs Kool A.D. and Heems rap about it like the Wesleyan-graduated pop culture savants they are. Along with hypeman Dap, the rappers were responsible for two of last year's strongest hip-hop releases, Sit Down, Man and Shut Up, Dude, mixtapes freely available on the Internet, the latter featuring a blockbuster track produced by local beatmaker Sabzi of the Blue Scholars. Tied by family and friends to Seattle, Das Racist ("das" like "that's") recently played the city twice in two months — one unforgettable throwdown at the Comet in October and one trainwreck at Chop Suey in November. When in town the trio is typically backed by Toby "DJ Toast" Crittenden, contributor to music blog Last Night's Mixtape and outreach coordinator for youth voter initiative Washington Bus. Incidentally, they also have a fan in Mayor Mike McGinn.
I spoke with with MC Victor Vazquez, aka Kool A.D., in advance of the group’s February 6 appearance at Showbox at the Market. Our conversation was like a Das Racist track minus the beat: mumbly, hard to follow and spiked with insight.
City Arts: After the Comet show in October you guys came back to my house for an afterparty and one of you ate the leftovers out of my fridge.
Victor Vazquez: That was me. My bad. I think Dap and Heems had some too. It was kinda being passed around. We tore it up. I just wanted something to eat. [laughs]
I take it the Comet hospitality was lacking.
We try to mostly eat at Hidmo when we're in Seattle.
What's the connection there?
I think it was Dap's brother used to live in Seattle and one of them went to school with Sam [?] and maybe Jonathan [Cunningham, of Last Night's Mixtape] and they all had worked at Hidmo at one point.
And then you have a connection to Toby Crittenden's family, too?
Toby's cousin, I went to high school with him. We used to make music a little bit in high school. Never recorded anything. I did a couple things with him more recently in the past couple years. Fantastic, the mix tape I made, the mixtape I'm gonna put out in a second.
Where would I find that?
Just on my Twitter. Probably. I don’t know. We were gonna make a website at one point… [Editor's note: We're pretty sure there's been no Das Racist Twitter release since this interview.] [Second editor's note, via Andrew Matson: Victor Vazquez solo material is available here.]
So you guys seem like you operate from a pretty politically charged perspective, at least about race and societal stuff. But it's not so much an issue-based type of politics. If anything it seems like a personal is political sorta view.
That's fair enough. Personal is political is a convenient way of putting it. [laughs] I think that's true. Sometimes I don’t keep up with shit as much as I would like, but when I do, I'm like… I don't know. It really is like… I don’t fuckin' know. I just sound like an idiot.
It's hard to be conscious of both pop culture phenomena and current events. There's just so much to keep track of.
Yeah. And obviously you can say pop culture is a distraction from what's really happening, and obviously at the end of the day that's kind of what it is, but if you have no idea like, what culturally… It's kinda very important to keep track of how most of the world… I'm just curious as to what people are watching and listening to, to the exclusion of other shit. It's worth keeping up to date on, because it's like… Then you get all mired in the rhetoric of changing shit, but then you're kind of detached from what people are actually feeling about shit, you know? Then again, you risk lacking the proper tools to shut shit down and argue about how you really feel because you kinda been fucking around being curious about what everyone else is feeling. I don’t know if I'm putting that in proper words, but you know what I'm saying?
I think so. Lemme ask you a different question. White guilt has long been an element to hip-hop fandom or hip-hop in the marketplace. Do you guys play to that?
There's some sort of… We're obviously aware of white people, having gone to Wesleyan University and shit. I think a lot of our socialization at that school involved sort of racist… It's kind of at least noticing… I don’t know. It's easier to market to the white crowd that would go to a liberal arts college.
Nobody seems to speak on that in hip-hop, and it seems if anyone would do it, it would be you guys.
It requires subtlety. I think we kind of do. We could do it more explicitly, but it's just kind of like…
That's something I like about what you do. Nothing is done explicitly, no subject is attacked head-on.
I'm not sure if our age requires that. It seems like its way easier to get deflated when you attack, like, when you're basically biting the hand that feeds you a little bit. I don't know. I mean, let's see what happens. [laughs] I'm still trying to see what happens. If I gotta get more serious at some point I will.
Along those lines, you guys are kinda hit-or-miss in concert. The Comet was awesome but Chop Suey was not. Are you thinking about getting more serious in the live setting?
It's hard to tell, because really at the end of the show I pretty much feel like we do the same thing every time, and sometimes people feel it, sometimes people don't. But I don't know. I don’t think we're gonna go into Seattle being like, we really gotta prove it to them this time! It's like, if y'all still fuck with it, good, that’s cool, thank you. If you don’t, whatever. We'll get another job, we'll tour in another city. There's only so much you can do. I don't wanna straight pander to anyone. We'll try to do a good show. If you don’t like it, sorry.
I got the sense you practice a lot but then get drunk during the show.
No, we don't practice at all. We never practice. I think it's just like we do a lot of shows, so we have like the muscle memory of it. But we get drunk. And sometimes we get drunker. [Laughs]
That's an interesting technique, to leave it to chance like that.
I don’t even think it's technique. Its just kind of like, why practice? It's just rapping. We don’t have instruments. We don’t need to practice.
So when you come to town in February you gonna say hi to Mike McGinn?
Yeah we always kick it with that fool every time we're in town. [Editor's note: At this point, Vasquez went "off the record" about McGinn. We wish we could print what he told us, which may or may not have been true/libelous/hilarious.]
Das Racist outside KEXP photo by Kyle Johsnon, courtesy Seattle Times