The first time we saw Das Racist was on the back patio of a showcase at 2010's South By Southwest festival, in the middle of the afternoon. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but it turned into (by far) the most memorable set we saw that entire week -- and not just because, at one point, the threesome forced its almost entirely-Caucasian, mostly-hipster audience to chant "White people!" over and over again.
Das Racist live shows were often messy affairs that seemed under-rehearsed and sloppy for amusement's sake, and that SXSW showcase was no different. That didn't matter though, because not only were its catchy, sometimes chaotic tracks incredibly compelling, but the members were consistently laugh-out-loud funny, both during and between songs. Das Racist's utter fearlessness when it came to making its own audience uncomfortable was merely the cherry on top.
It started with the band name, but Das Racist played with racial stereotypes -- and laughed at all of them -- at every given opportunity. Heems is of Indian descent and Kool A.D. is of Afro-Cuban and Italian descent. That doesn't matter of course, because -- they seemed to be saying -- if you're brown, you are "other," and treated as such. Isn't it all the same to a lot of white folks anyhow?
Das Racist might have looked like a joke band to casual observers, but these guys were always fiercely intelligent. In 2009, Heems told Sepia Mutiny blog: "We dabble with non sequiturs, dadaism, repetition, repetition. We make dance music while talking about not-dancey things. We say things that on the surface can seem pretty dumb, but it's a mask on some Paul Laurence Dunbar shit for actual discontent with a lot of shit in the world. Further, not a lot of people want to hear rappers talk about Dinesh D'Souza being a punk, Eddie Said, Gayatri Spivak being dope, or even know who they are. A lot of people hear "Pizza Hut Taco Bell" and then have preconceived notions about our entire body of work that fall pretty flat."
The pop-culture-skewering "Rainbow In The Dark" is arguably the song Das Racist is best known for -- it's certainly the one that got the loudest cheers when they performed live. "Abstract, back-pack, vegan, skateboards, et cetera," Kool A.D. mumbles casually halfway through, knowing full well that all those subcultures and alternative lifestyles his generation was raised on have become nothing more than marketing pigeonholes to pry money out of fashionable young adults. Those things are meaningless now, so why even bother forming a full sentence about them?
Aside from all these reasons to love Das Racist, we're shocked at the band's demise, mostly because, with the release of first album, 2011's Relax, the trio finally seemed to be garnering acclaim on a much broader scale than it did for its first two mixtapes, Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man -- both released in 2010. The band's performance of first official single, "Michael Jackson", on Conan at the end of last year remains one of the most refreshingly bizarre musical performances we've ever seen attempted on a mainstream talk show.
Finally, we're bumming out hard because the thing that truly made Das Racist so special was the undeniable chemistry between Heems and Kool A.D. To us, when they were on stage together, they looked like rap soulmates. Yet A.D. just told Rolling Stone: "We're more or less friends. I think [Heems] would agree that we just don't want to be in a professional capacity. It just doesn't make sense to have our money and our public image and our career tied up in each other, 'cause we're trying to do slightly different things."
So, it's over. We have no doubt that all three members of Das Racist will continue to make music and push boundaries -- it's just hard for us to believe that it will ever be this good again... Thanks for the music, fellas. We only wish there was more of it.