Die-hard fans who can mentally trace the route Heems and Kool A.D. follow to find their trusty hypeman Dap in the “Who’s That? Brooown!” music video surely couldn’t “Relax” waiting for the latest from Das Racist to drop. But for many, the jury’s still out.
Some relegate the Brooklyn trio to the ranks of joke rap alongside the Lil B a.k.a. the Based God. That’s too easy. Closer examination reveals cutting social commentary wrapped in the rhymes of Heems (Himanshu Suri) and Kool A.D. (Victor Vazquez).
Leading off the album, the title track bursts with enough effects to bewitch even the most experienced eardrum. As one shrill voice crescendos, listeners may well wonder if Alvin or one of his chipmunk posse lent vocal talent. The track concludes with a mechanized giggle, like that of a hysterical infant. Other tracks including “Relax” feature percussion lines that lend a distinctly Middle Eastern lean to the album.
It’s understandable why some might classify Das Racist as a joke rap group, especially when their new album features lyrics like, “I licked an oompa loompa,” and, “I got a baby bird/ I only feed her candy.” Humor aside, Relax is a culturally diverse album.
The boys of Das Racist name-drop figures from Johnny Depp, America’s favorite pirate aside from Captain Morgan, to American singer/songwriter Otis Redding. Lady Gaga, Maury and Michael Jackson are also mentioned.
Careful listeners may notice that the cultural breadth of Relax extends to include lyrics from songs by Radiohead and the Beatles. “Happy Rappy” features the lyric, “I’m fitter, happier and more productive.” OK Computer, anyone? “Selena” also includes the lyric, “I am the walrus” in an implicit tribute to John Lennon.
Das Racist even seemingly references the 1940 novel by Ernest Hemingway, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” on the track “Rainbow in the Dark” with the lyric, “Ask whom the bell tolls for.”
Besides these cultural references, social recommendations and commentary flow like acid rain in a sci-fi flick. In “Brand New Dance,” Das Racist advocates, “Everybody love everybody.”
In “Shut Up, Man,” the insight gets heavy as the trio deconstructs racial preconceptions and identity: “People act like they know me/ They say I act white but sound black/ But act black but sound white/ But what’s my sound byte supposed to sound like.” Das Racist also alludes to consumerism in America on “Rainbow In The Dark.”
Some lyrics on the new album harken back to Das Racist’s roots. The line “I’m at the White Castle,” may remind listeners of the classic “Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell” that electro-maestro Dan Deacon dubbed “a track to last the ages” in an interview with the website XLR8R.
The album cover features Suri, Vazquez and Ashok Kondabolu standing like hip hop gods before a blazing inferno. Was Relax too hot for the competition to handle? Maybe. Although tracks like “Middle of the Cake” and “Girls” drag at times, open-minded listeners will appreciate the interplay between repetitive lyrics and layered synth and percussion lines.
One thing’s for certain: Armed with their rhymes, the members of the Das Racist pair glimmer of conscious rap with tongue-in-cheek humor to address societal ills. Haters hit repeat. Then appreciate.
3.5 stars out of 5