Das Capital Band
There was a time when I used to like rap. And hip-hop. I liked the attitude, the ever so often NSFW lyrics, the inherent anger and sometimes – not always, though – the wit and self-deprecation. Of course, the bass-lines and the scratching added to the experience. And I liked rappers’ willingness to collaborate with other rappers and feature them as guests on their recordings. It was like a whole different community, replete with intense, often violent, rivalry but also with a curious kind of camaraderie.
I liked the daredevilry of the early rappers and while I didn’t really subscribe to their deep involvement in violent crimes and drugs, all of that gave the genre an edginess that was quite appealing to me. I particularly liked the hip-hop and rap of the 1980s and 1990s, which some people classify as the “golden age of rap”. My favourite rappers from that era were Gang Starr, comprising the duo MC Guru and DJ Premier. When Guru (which stands for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) died in April 2010, I wrote about their music in Download Central. I discovered several other rappers and hip-hop artists during those years, including gangsta rappers such as N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude) whose early line-up included Dr Dre and Ice Cube, and the ill-fated Tupac Shakur (who was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1996 when he was just 25). Much later, when I read up on Shakur, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he lived in a “sea of books”, avidly reading classics as well as contemporary writers.
Then, somewhere along the line, I began to get bored by the genre. The lyrics seemed to get intentionally more and more obscene and offensive and not very intelligent and the music and beats repetitive. If I did get a craving for hip-hop, and, occasionally I did, I’d just reach for some old Gang Starr albums or just listen to the commercially buffed stuff such as Jay-Z’s albums. Hip-hop and rap were over for me. Or at least, that’s what I thought.
Till last week when I accidentally discovered Das Racist. It was a song called Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell and I heard it streamed on an mp3 blog. It was a catchy song that is almost like a sing-along pop song with lyrics that don’t seem to mean much. Yet, it got me hooked enough to explore Das Racist who, I discovered, had an Indian connection. The Brooklyn-based band comprises Himanshu Suri and Ashok Kondabolu, who as you can guess are Indians (second-gen US-born) and their third partner is Victor Vazquez. Das Racist, I found, have two mixtape albums out for free downloads – Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man. Both are nice names but the music is even better.
The first thing that struck me about Das Racist’s work is the great recording and production quality. The second was the fresh funkiness of their songs, which have witty and intelligent lyrics and a great contemporary feel to them. You’ll get references to Google and Wikipedia; to US as well as international politics; and, of course, to racism. You’ll find Himanshu “Heem” Suri referring to his Punjabi roots and in one delightful track on Sit Down, Man called Rapping 2 U, a reference to the money that the Ambani brothers have!
Das Racist take digs at a whole host of things – fashion parties, so-called smartness in a smartphone-internet-driven age and even at rappers themselves. In Fake Patois off Shut Up, Dude, they make fun of Jay-Z and Jim Carrey and other artists. Best of all, Das Racist are able to do hip-hop in a refreshingly likeable way without ever resorting to gratuitous use of obscenities or references to drugs and sex. Of course, there are references to smoking weed and, as a friend who heard me play some of their tracks said, theirs is “spliff” music but that’s only incidental. For me, Das Racist came as a cool second wind, reviving my interest in a genre that I’d all but given up hope on.
The Best of 2010
Yes, as expected, everyone, magazines, websites and blogs, have all done their best albums list for the past year. But here are the lists that I like best.
PopMatters: While this respected critique of all things pop has a fine list of 2010’s best indie rock bands, check out their other lists, including the one on the best live albums of 2010.
NME: New Musical Express is a British magazine that is nearly 50 years old. Check out their list of the decade’s top 100 albums. It’s a long list, complete with videos.
Pitchfork: Snooty Pitchfork’s list of top 50 albums of last year and the top 100 tracks will give you lots to talk about, while keeping your nose in the air.
Aquarium Drunkard: One of my favourite mp3 blogs didn’t do a list but did a superb year in review post about 2010. Nice.
Stereogum: If you’re too lazy to go to individual sites, go to Stereogum’s lists section and check out lists of 2010’s best, according to a host of publications, including SPIN magazine, Rolling Stone, and, of course, Stereogum’s own list of 50 best albums of the year.