By Bryan Menegus
For those unfamiliar with rap duo Das Racist's underdog beginnings, it all began with a single song—‘Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell'—a one-off joke track wherein our heroes Himanshu Suri and Victor Vazquez each find themselves at the titular fast food joint on Jamaica Avenue, Queens, on the phone with one another but both are too high to realize they're already at exactly the same place. Since their unlikely genesis, Das Racist (who expanded to a trio with the addition of Ashok Kondabolu) released two highly-acclaimed mixtapes in 2010: Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man. Both expanded on their irreverent attitude towards hip hop and their ethos, which can best be described as post-modern. Don't think that descriptor (or the fact that they're based out of Brooklyn) makes Suri or Vasquez snobby, obtuse artists. On the contrary, their scattered verses were equal parts arcane culture references and hilarious asides to weed, Donkey Kong Country, Rockport shoes, and, of course, fast food.
Their official debut, Relax, delivers on every promise of their earlier mixtapes. The same humor pervades the record's fourteen tracks but is more honed and better produced. Speaking of which, Relax features plenty of guest unusual producers, from legends like El-P and Diplo to Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend fame. The beats of Relax are as much of a contained imbroglio as the verses, mashing together bits of sound in ways startling, refreshing, and brilliantly funny. Those produced by Das Racist tend to be the strongest on the record, like ‘Michael Jackson', which is part Bollywood and part skittering dance music, or the mellow collage of Atari-esque blips on ‘Rainbow in the Dark' (which originally appeared on Shut Up, Dude, and was given a phenomenal remix by chiptune group Anamanaguchi). However, the Patrick Wembly-produced track ‘Booty in the Air' stands out as a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of modern pop rap on which Suri notes, "In my life I try to live with decency/ Right here, right now, I wish you were freakin' me/ Freak with me frequently, sleep with me and freak some D/ And you can see what livin' with a G can be like/ You're right, your booty is my lifeline."
Lyrically, Relax is masterful in a way that clearly disregards ever desiring the title of being Great Rappers. On ‘Brand New Dance', Das Racist succinctly summarize pop music with the hook, "It's a brand new dance/ give us all your money," before Vasquez shimmies into the purposefully meandering verse, "I'm selling Oxycotin/ On my Palm Pixie, man, Chicken sandwiches/ They cost a clam fifty/ I got a credit card, I got a million dollars/ I got a baby bird/ I only feed her candy/ I got a girl named Candy, automatic weapons/ She got three sisters, all lesbians/ All of them do push-ups/ All of them could whoop me/ All of them do hundred push-ups without even looking." On ‘Michael Jackson' they seems to nail down the self-aggrandizing nature of the majority of hip hop by bluntly patting themselves on the back: "Kool A.D., you good at rapping/ Yo Hima, you good at rapping/ Yo Victor, you genus latin/ Yo Hima, you Eric Clapton/ Yo Victor, we going platinum."
It's not just that they're talented or innovative—Das Racist understand balance and deftly play up the audience's tension when they inevitably ask themselves, "Just how much of this is a joke?" On a record with throwaway gags like "Waka Flocka Fonzie" and "How many licks does it take to get to the middle of the cake?" there are more than a few snippets to knock the grin off a listeners face. "This sword of Damocles swings over the coldest/ Holders of boulders and money folders/ Who sold the bread to hungry dummies at high markup/ But money is money is money is money is money," also appears on ‘Middle of the Cake' and on ‘Shut up, Man' Suri chides, "They say I act white, but sound black/ But act black, but sound white/ But what's my sound bite supposed to sound like?/ I think I sound aight."
Das Racist borrows freely from everything and anything, molding their influences and don't-give-a-damn ethos into something both thought provoking and monstrously entertaining. For its originality, Relax may easily be the best hip hop release of 2011. The verses are comically brilliant and the production is cunningly weird, but the greatest feat of the record is how long these Brooklynites are able to keep a straight face.