Das Racist is a Brooklyn-based hip hop trio known for tracks like "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" and "hahahaha jk?" They've referred to their particular approach to hip hop as "deconstructualist," combining humor, nonsequiturs, and culture theory. Their newest album, Relax, is due later this year. Victor Vazquez (aka Kool A.D.) and hype man Ashok Kondabolu (aka Dap) joined us in the studio.
JESSE THORN: It's The Sound of Young America, I'm Jesse Thorn. My guests, members of the hip hop group Das Racist, are a lot of different things. Heems, Kool AD and Dap are, in part, the heir to the playful smart identity politics of “Daisy Age”-era De La Soul. They're the men behind one of the most successful hip hop novelty records of the last couple of years, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” They were the only rappers in last year's Sundance Film Festival, at least that I'm aware of. They're MCs who drop social theorists' names casually into their lyrics, like no one in hip hop since Diggable Planets' second album, Blowout Comb. They're also three guys from Williamsburg, who apparently like to drink and smoke weed. Let's hear a little bit of “hahahaha jk?” from their most recent mix tape, Sit Down, Man.
Two of the three members of Das Racist, Kool AD and Dap join me on the show. Welcome, guys.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": Hello.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: Hi.
JESSE THORN: I hope I've pronounced correctly the name of that song, I tried to imply the question mark at the end of “hahahaha jk?”
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": It's alright.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: A little weird never hurt anyone.
JESSE THORN: Do people say it as if there's no question mark there?
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": They'll sometimes go “hahaha jk.”
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: Yeah, that happens the most.
JESSE THORN: I feel like the question mark is vital to the meaning of the song, right?
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: It's vital to freaking me out right now, is what it is. None of us are from Williamsburg, and we all live in Bushwick.
JESSE THORN: Oh, excuse me.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: Yeah, and the only reason I make that distinction, which is probably meaningless to most people, is that we live next to a factory and a towing company and there's always pounds of trash outside my door, and I'd rather not live with piles of trash outside my door. I don't want people to think I don't. That's why I'm making that distinction.
JESSE THORN: Tell me a little bit about the beginnings of your careers. When did the two of you guys first think of yourselves as possibly professional rappers?
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: I don't know. Vic was in another band at the time that they were making a first couple of songs.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": I was kind of a professional musician already.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: He was already professionally a layabout musician dude, so it was a transition genre-wise, but not lifestyle-wise. I had done so little at that time, that doing this one thing was just as much as I could do, and it ended up we got pretty lucky.
JESSE THORN: I alluded in my introduction to this very silly song that became, I would imagine, and unexpectedly popular one. I can't imagine anyone expecting this kind of popularity for something this silly. Let's hear a little bit of “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.”
When you recorded this song, was it this song becoming a thing that led you to think that Das Racist could be a professional endeavor, or was this a weird - - how did this fit in to your plans when this song was recorded and then suddenly it had a bajillion hits on YouTube?
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: There was definitely like a, “Oh, this is a thing now?” From our friend's basement to people wanting to see the band, that was the impetus obviously. For the most part I'm pretty sure that still now if anyone in this country, the majority of people, know us at all, which they don't, the ones that do still know us from that song. Sheer numbers is the most - - like if you look at our YouTube stuff, millions of people have watched the two versions of that song that are on there, versus maybe a fifth or a sixth for our next most popular video.
JESSE THORN: There are certainly some of the spirit of the rest of your oeuvre in “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” but it isn't necessarily reflective of the stuff that you were already recording at that time. What was it like to become known for something that was such a silly goof?
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: I guess it's nice to have anybody recognize anything you do and be able to make any sort of money doing something as frivolous as live rap and recorded rap music. On the flip side that song is annoying and I hate listening to it. With most of the songs I bet especially Victor has barely heard any of the songs more than twice. On the opposite end it's fun and it's fun to pretend that you're dismissive of something. That feeling of, psh, I'm past it. Or like, oh yeah, we don't talk about that song. Even fronting like that is a lot of fun and I enjoy doing that, too. I like everything about that song but the song.
JESSE THORN: Did having that happen to you make you think about what you did want Das Racist to be? Did it make you think about things affirmatively rather than just negatively?
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: I don't think - - we really don't think about it that much. We have a lot of fans, the ones who bother reaching out, which you can probably assume represents a small portion of a larger group of people, don't really - - we don't really get the frat kids or whatever you want to call them requesting that song or being intrusive during your sets. I'm surprised at that, honestly.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": We had more of it earlier.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: It's kind of calmed down since then.
JESSE THORN: Do you see yourselves one day as a successful rap group that's playing Summer Jam?
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: Yeah, actually. A couple more years maybe. I hate using the word lane, lane is such an annoying word. I think there are some dudes opening up our lane, somewhat, like Whiz Khalifa and Curren$y, to a lesser extent because people perceive us as being goofy, or they think we're ambiguously racist. Regardless I think there is a lot of alternate rap, whatever the hell that means. Music now like Ninjasonik who are dudes and stuff doing stuff. So I think maybe in a festival like that we would have an opening, opening slot some time in the next years if we still exist. I think that definitely is a possibility.
JESSE THORN: Is that something that you aspire to? Is that part of your goal?
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: Absolutely, there's a lot of money in those - - I think E Ness would show and sign like seven sponsors at those festivals, I'm not completely sure. Ticketmaster I'm sure has some money in it. There's a lot of money in doing those festivals.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": I think I'm mostly aspiring to own a fish farm in Hawaii at some point.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: Sustainable. Sustainability is key with the group.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": The whole thing is about being green and sustainable.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: We've been feeding off our same played-out ideas for two years now, to not create new ideas.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": Yeah, because it would just overpopulate the world with ideas and just clog up and polluting - - idea pollution. We're just trying to keep it repetitive and monotonous and very boring.
JESSE THORN: It's The Sound of Young America, I'm Jesse Thorn. My guests are two of the three members, the two of the three that showed up, of the hip hop group Das Racist. There most recent mix tape is called Sit Down Man. Here's another song from it called “You Can Sell Anything” produced by Diplo.
One of the things that first interested me in booking you guys on the show was just an unreal Q&A in Deborah Solomon's former - - I can't believe she got fired, but it's so awful!
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": Wait, Deborah Solomon got fired?
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: Yeah, I think she got fired - -
JESSE THORN: She may have been reassigned, her column was dropped; I don't know if she lost her job.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: Dang, that's crazy.
JESSE THORN: There was this exchange in her column in the New York Times magazine between you guys and her that just delighted me to the ends of the Earth. She said, “Do you see your work as a critique of white America?” You guys replied, “I think it's solely a critique of John Boehner; as our band-mate would say, John Boehner represents the utmost in white demonry.” Then she says, this is precisely why - - I can't even believe that she would say this, much less write it in a nationally published magazine, but she says, “This is precisely why I make a point of never asking rappers questions about politics.” And your responses were, “Deborah, chill.” and, “Fall back.” Can you tell me about being in that position with this woman who clearly has no understanding of the context?
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: She knew what she was saying.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": She was a nice lady. She was apparently extra extra cool.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: She was playing that role for the sake of the interview; she knew what she was doing.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": She's super cool actually, she's super awesome. I haven't met her.
JESSE THORN: She's had some trouble with people who felt like they were misquoted by her that led to a change in how the column is attributed, or was attributed I should say.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: She definitely rearranges the interview. It's not a straight up interview like most other interviews are. She just has to put the note there.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": She misrepresents people in a different way, with different methods.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: She's cool. I really liked that column, I thought it was really funny. I kind of like how little it said. You could glean absolutely - - if you didn't know, which the vast majority of people opening that New York Times magazine didn't - - like, if you didn't know what the group was you would not know any more about the group at the end of it, other than that they're pretty funny, which is cool.
JESSE THORN: Let's hear a little bit of one of your more recent singles, “Who's That? Brooown!”
I think identity politics are a big theme on your records, and that's a huge part of hip hop. Is that something you thought about as guys who are obviously aware of that kind of thing when you decided, I want to be a rapper?
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": I don't know how conscious a decision of “I want to be a rapper” was, I feel like me and Hima both individually, since we were kids, listened to rap and rapped, at least amongst our friends and to ourselves, and then ended up also rapping.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: I don't think people really have ever, and it's never come across in interviews, how kind of incidental and random and quickly this group became a thing. It was never a decision, nobody even until - - Hima got asked to leave his job, and Vic was already doing some other music stuff when this came about.
As whack as it sounds, and it's a lot of hard work to do this group especially now, but in the beginning there were no big sacrifices made and nobody was like, I need to have a stable lifestyle, and now I'm going to risk that to do this rap group, and we all put our hands in a circle or whatever. That's just not how it happened. We did it, and we did other things at the same time. It became popular, and it slowly picked up steam in terms of us having to do live shows to the point where now this is what we have to do for money because it takes up that much of our time.
JESSE THORN: Well guys, we are so plum out of time, but thanks so much for coming in and being on The Sound of Young America.
VICTOR VAZQUEZ AKA "KOOL A.D.": Yeah, thanks.
ASHOK KONDABOLU AKA “DAP”: Thanks a lot.
JESSE THORN: Das Racist's most recent mix tape is called Sit Down, Man. It's available as a free download. They're also expecting to release a new album in 2011. Before we go, here's the self-titled song from Sit Down, Man, which features LP.