The Smartest Dumb Guys in the Room
Did Going to College Make Das Racist Better Rappers?
The biggest punch line of "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell"—the stoned, sluggish, willfully stupid rap song that proved as ubiquitous and inescapable in the summer of 2009 as its namesake Yum!-brand fast-food abominations—turned out to be that it was made by a couple guys who could really rap. And who met while getting their academic rigor on at Wesleyan University. Das Racist walk a self-consciously blurry line between lowbrow and brainy; they're combination hella dumb and smart as hell. (Compare their in-character answers here to the thoughtful essays they wrote for this year's Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll on the subject of internet fame.) This year, they've released a pair of excellent mixtapes—Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man—that bury any notion of Das Racist as novelty or mere joke rappers. Sure, there are jokes, but the jokes are also serious, and MCs Victor "Kool A.D." Vazquez and Himanshu Suri's deadpan wordplay and stream-of-consciousness pileups of pop-culture references betray real skill and formidable wit. For The Stranger's back-to-school issue, Das Racist (including live hype-man Ashok "Dap" Kondabolu) sat down via e-mail to talk about whether college makes you a better rapper.
Where did you guys go to school, and what did you study?
Kool A.D.: Studied law at Harvard, just like Nas, Pac, and Big.
Himanshu: Studied economics and Indian studies at Wesleyan, just like Mic Geronimo did.
Dap: I dropped out of college to enter a space program that supposedly began as an alternative to NASA started with private funding. I don't want to get into details, but it was a scam.
Does going to college make you a better rapper? A better person?
K: The main thing you learn in college is how to think and talk like a white devil.
H: The main thing you learn in college is how to drink and squawk like the white devil.
D: Most college kids should have learned how to share common spaces with other human beings, but I find many "neat-freaks" to lack in the "decent human being" department, so maybe not.
Das Racist versus MGMT: Who studies harder?
K: What's MGMT?
H: I studied the most in all of my business management classes.
D: I'll tell you right now that I've read more books than Will Berman.
If Kanye West were here and said (corrected for caps and typos), "Look at me—I didn't finish college, and everybody knows I'm a motherfucking monster," how might you respond? (Or, more broadly, is it more important that you finish college or that you were smart enough to go in the first place?)
K: This question seems to privilege academic intelligence over other types of intelligence. A little hegemonic, if you ask me.
H: This question has been flagged for being insensitive.
D: PLEASE GIVE ME SOME OF YOUR MONEY SO I MAY EXCHANGE IT FOR GOODS AND SERVICES! STILL LOVE "SPACESHIP" EXCEPT FOR GLC'S VERSE, ALSO!
On "Rapping 2 U," you say, "We don't even need rap/could get a real job, only rap weekly/I don't need rap/told you rap need me"—so have you guys had "real jobs" since college? Do you have real jobs now? Does Das Racist pay the bills?
K: I've been a lawyer for the ACLU since graduating from a little college by the name of HARVARD.
H: I run a small venture capital fund devoted to angel investment in the music business. Most of my money is raised from retired South Asian physicians. Then I turn it over to Sarah Lawrence alums who have a good ear for minimal ethno-tribal dance "music" but not enough money to press some rare vinyl.
D: I got a [part-time] job involving computers at a law school. Our bills are minimal; me and Victor literally live in a basement together and Hima's been subletting around the way from friends on the cheap. PLUS, THERE'S ALWAYS MOM'S CRIB!
If you were to guest lecture to a hiphop studies program, what subject(s) would you cover? Would you use PowerPoint?
K: The Poetics of Chubb Rock's Double-Handed Microphone Grip (Seminar).
H: South Asians and Hiphop in the UK.
D: Sen Dog: Necessary?
How'd you hook up with our guy Sabzi? Baha'i frat brothers? (The Sabzi-produced "All Tan Everything" is a hell of a kickoff for the new tape, by the way.)
K: We met him at a little college called HARVARD.
H: I'd describe it as a classic case of "trill recognize trill."
D: My brother (Hari Kondabolu) lived in Seattle for a few years, and we've known Saba for a while now. I played him Das Racist for the first time outside Neumos a few years ago while he was on his iPhone. I don't think he paid attention right then. He's just as funny as he is good at making music if you like "old-man jokes," I swear.
What's your favorite movie about college? Favorite book?
K: Russian Institute Gang Bang. And the Maxim Gorky novel Russian Institute Gang Bang, from which the film was adapted.
H: Not a movie, a television show: A Different World.
D: Can't think of any movies "about" college that I like. Higher Learning is pretty stupid and entertaining?
After Das Racist: grad school? Is there GRE prep on the tour bus?
K: Three words: P.M.C. [private military company].
H: After Das Racist, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Oriental_and_African_Studies, again.
D: Who knows! Me and friend Aleksey Weintraub (Lakutis on Sit Down, Man) are starting a farm with falcons and six strong dogs (to start with).
Finally, any advice for the incoming class of 2014? Stick to the STEM majors? Just hide out in college till the economy turns?
K: Follow your dreams. You are the rose that grew from the concrete.
H: Oh, you fancy, huh?
D: DON'T BE A DEMON.