Matson on Music
Das Racist RIP; long live Kool A.D., Heems and Dapwell
Since Das Racist has now broken up — the New York City/Bay Area rap group announced the news yesterday — let us take a second and mourn.
RIP Das Racist.
Long live Kool A.D., Heems and Dapwell.
Insiders have known for months that the group was broken up. I knew. And big a fan as I am, I wasn't shattered. Mainly because, as SPIN writer Jordan Sargent points out, the momentums behind the group aren't going anywhere.
(Those would be: revitalization of New York City rap; revitalization of Bay Area rap; examination of racism by millennials, with a comic twist; promotion of the "outsider" in hip-hop who will fight to be recognized but never assimilated; diversity in the genre beyond black and white; lyricism as a re-appreciated element of the artform; albums given away for free; albums sponsored by street-fashion boutique Mishka and street-fashion boutiques in general; thrift store culture; the Internet's style-blending influence on music, and Kool A.D.'s and Heems' dogged productivity. Both emcees put out solid solo mixtapes this year.)
Das Racist was a group for our time. They existed, thrived and died on the Internet. Or more accurately, in media. No recent rap group has engaged journalists and bloggers like they did, from Kool A.D. antagonizing the New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones, who eventually wrote very flattering things about DR, to the group appearing on the cover of SPIN before most of America knew who they were. Most of America STILL doesn't know who they are. They were a critic's group.
There can be a negative reading of this, where the media can be accused of propping up art that doesn't resonate with the general public. I think it is more an effect of the same accidental agenda we all have. We respond positively to a charming presentation of our own characteristics.
To me their music was so full of ideas, and so obviously sharing some of my experience (attending college, enjoying reading, obsessing over hip-hop). I will say Das Racist motivated me to do some of my most formless writing — my bad. And some of my better writing.
In the flesh, they sometimes turned out small clubs in the style of a punk rock band. They also took dives on big stages like the Showbox, yelling at majority-white crowds "white people: go home." (That was funny.)
In Seattle, we can have a special pity party about the demise of DR. Local producer Sabzi (Blue Scholars) made the beat for "Who's That Browwwwn?" — a big single early on. DR has borrowed stand-in DJs from local blog lastnightsmixtape.com for concerts. Local men Ahamefule Oluo and Kassa Overall conducted a horn section for them at Sasquatch, and made beats and rapped on their mixtapes, respectively. And both Heems and Kool A.D. recently made songs with Federal Way producer Keyboard Kid.
Twenty years in the future when I look back on this era, I will remember Das Racist's wild show at the Comet in 2010, when they were way too popular to play the small Capitol Hill bar, but did it anyway. Local club owners couldn't get in because it was too crowded. A crowd watched the show through the windows on the sidewalk.
On that Seattle note, here are all the songs I can come up with that involve Das Racist and Seattle musicians. Share more in the comments, please: