Review: Das Racist deliver stoner hip hop with serious skills at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg
Das Racist seemed to lead with its chin when it made its late 2008 debut with Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. A “Dave” (Cheech and Chong — ask your grandparents) for the Yum Brands generation, the sublimely ridiculous track threatened to pigeonhole the group as a short-lived novelty act.
But the hipster-hop crew — Heems (Himanshu Suri), Kool A.D. (Victor Vazquez) and Dap (Ashok Kondabolu) — has more in its backpack than weed and fast-food wrappers. Its songs are peppered with references to both pop culture and political theory — Heems and Kool A.D. are Wesleyan men, after all.
The trio’s Thursday night performance at the State Theater wisely avoided recreating the stoned ambiance of much of its recorded work. Brand New Dance, for example, had a punchy energy not present on the recorded version (which sounds like it’s being delivered from a stoner’s couch).
Heems cracked wise, introducing more than a few songs as being “about love … and lust!,” but rarely cracked a smile. The crowd, surprisingly sparse for such a well-hyped act, probably didn’t help. Kool A.D., his smile framed by an impressive beard, was a more light-hearted foil.
The group’s DJ — “I’m white like you,” he told the mostly Caucasian crowd — stepped out from behind his laptop to deliver some decent rhymes and less impressive — but certainly enthusiastic — dancing.
Humor is a huge part of Das Racist’s appeal, but it’s far from one-dimensional. It’s blend of intelligence and absurdity sounds off-hand, but works too much of the time for that to be likely.
What was apparent, even more so live than on the albums, is that Das Racist has serious skills. The MCs’ rhymes have the density to appeal to hip-hop heads, while tracks such as Michael Jackson have the insanely catchy choruses (“Michael Jackson! A million dollars! You feel me?”) to appeal to, well, everyone.
Despot’s between song patter was laconic enough to make comedian Steven Wright look like Robin Williams. “I fell asleep brushing my teeth,” he said at one point. He came to life for his rhymes, though, several from an upcoming collaboration with Ratatat. He also led the crowd in a brief aerobics session, far more energizing than the usual audience-participation ritual.
Detroit rapper Brown was particularly impressive, not so much what he said or how he said it — which was very well, thanks — but the sense one got of his absolute need to say it. It’s the sort of near desperation that’s rarely heard in hip-hop anymore.
-- Curtis Ross, tbt*