It’s the end of 2012 and I have been thinking about my year-end list. I hope to actually have time to write something meaningful about the records I loved this year. I was even kind of hoping to start that tonight but I read that Das Racist broke up and I’m kind of not psyched about it. There isn’t a great deal of information as to the behind the scenes of it all, but it sounds less that amicable. But what makes me sad about all of this truly is how much hope I had for this band. Now, the light of hope seems pretty dim.
Look, the world is not a safe and wonderful place. The country I live in, America, is racist as fuck in this really unhealthy, crazy way. I am scared of Golden Dawn opening offices in New York and trying to expand. I am frightened by the casual use of racist, homophobic, hateful language that the young people I encounter seem so at ease with. Education, community, everything is gone to shit. Religion is nothing but morally bankrupt people spouting about higher moral values. Politicians, as little as they ever did, are more spitting rhetorical bullshit and stealing money or shouting the loudest then actually engaging in any kind of discourse that might be helpful. Every one has an opinion and yet no one wants to listen to any one else. The world is in a state of utter chaos and Das Racist gave me hope.
Heems, Kool A.D. and their hype man Dapwell were smarter than most bands. Not in the way that the Clash was smart, and the Clash were smart in a very working class, bash you over the head and kill you with style kind of way. There hasn’t been a band like the Clash since the Clash, but Das Racist, they gave me hope. They spoke to something higher, but they were articulate, educated and confrontational. They didn’t allow their audience to be complacent or stupid. Even when they were just joking around, there was a certain kind of bilious metaphor that hung around every word. If you were so self conscious that you couldn’t take and apply their critique and realize that self-evaluation could be fun, then I guess they failed at penetrating the cloud of idiocy that seems to be occupying American minds these days.
Das Racist was hip-hop. They represented the ideals that I have come to learn hip-hop was born out of. It was revolution music. It was protest music. It was a war cry and it was party music too. Recently Boots Riley, hip-hops cheerleader of the revolutionary party had worked with the group. A kind of validation that maybe the rest of the world wasn’t interested in, but it certainly had an impact on me. The stamp of approval given by other true heads like EL-P only solidified Das Racist as not just jesters of the hip-hop world, but as a mirror that wasn’t so easy to look into. They were a power house, speaking in code sometimes and others slapping you in the face with your own bullshit.
For me, this was the moment that solidified it. From their Shut Up, Dude mixtape, the surprising download that catapulted them into the minds of hipsters from Brooklyn to Hollywood, “Ek Shaneesh” and its low budget video was not the hit I might imagine it, but there is something celebratory in our differences that most media, most bands, most music doesn’t always give us. Not in America anyway. There was a sound and style that wasn’t just American made. It felt smarter than that. It knew the world was bigger and brighter and more full even than what New York City has to offer. Instead we get MIA re-imaging revolution rock and her message getting buried in the oppression of her gender, odd behavior and for me, poor artistic choices. The art of stealing and the plagiarism of borrowing for me were weighed out in “Ek Shaneesh” existing in a low fi, underground kind of ease and “Paper Planes” getting added to the trailer of pot celebrating Pineapple Express. I only hope that the Strummer family made enough off of that licensing to plant more trees in St. Joe’s name.
In the wake of a misunderstood and understated “full length album” (whatever that means in hip-hop anymore) Relax we are left with the beginning of two new solo careers where the some of the parts does not quite equal the whole. First of all, Dapwell seems to be left in the cold. Or not. I don’t know anything about the personal relationships that may have kept them together, but Dapwell was an ambassador, not a rapper. And I’ve been listening to the solo mix tapes today. They aren’t bad, but they remind me that Das Racist was one of those bands that was strongest when they blended their brilliance together. The mix up of colors and hues were more out of the world than imaginable. So apart, they are trying to grow in new directions, each adopting other up and coming rappers and producers. Heems gives us a stand out track produced by LE1F called “Deepak Chopra”. Kool A.D. mublecore raps us into a calm state with his new video called “Manny Pacquio”, but what a song these would be together. The some of the parts does not equal the whole.
Hip Hop needs to real mainstream heroes. In a year when we lost Adam Yauch and Jay Z and Kanye West still rule we need Das Racist. When Missy Elliot is still lying low and homophobic bullshit like Tyler the Creator still exists in the headlines, we need Das Racist. Some one has to slap us in the face with our same, stale old bullshit.Sure I am going to have to be content with the wacky, smart trio being splintered in two and not reaching its potential. I’m going to have to love these solo mix tapes. I’m going to have to try not to choose one over the other and realize that they have goals as individuals. But this is just another reminder that people can’t seem to get over their own bullshit to maintain the greatness they create as a unit. A lesson that in my life this year is a bit harder to swallow.
Das Racist, rest in peace. May the phoenix of Heems, Kool A.D. and Dapwell soar high from your ashes, outshining all you accomplished together. I still hold on to hope that maybe you can change lives and educate minds. All while throwing out some of the most left field jams hip-hop has ever heard.