Walk around campus and you will see the same poster of two men everywhere. The one on the left has a scarf draped around his neck a necklace of chili peppers, and the other has his nose full of cigarettes. That’s Das Racist.
The up-and-coming Brooklyn-based rap group was flying under the radar just a year ago, but broke into the mainstream this past September with its debut album Relax. Since then, more people have searched for theirmixtapes and singles, excavating into the works of three really smart guys.
The appeal of Das Racist comes from the way they shroud their intelligence with stupidity. The facade sometimes undermines the depth of their subject matter, but to those who simply don’t hear it, the duo still has fantastic production, sampling and flow. And to those who understand the self-parody — of their education, of their background, of hip-hop — the music is all the more spectacular.
Bringing a name like Das Racist to Georgetown isn’t easy, though. I recently sat down with CarolineKlibanoff (COL ’12) and Charlotte Japp (COL ’12) of WGTB to ask how and why they got the group to perform. The next morning, I phoned in with Ashok Kondabolu, also known as Dap — one of three members of Das Racist — to figure out what actually goes on in the mind of a rapper. Both agreed on one thing: Georgetown offers a platform for rising artists to launch themselves.
When Japp would emailed representatives for Best Coast or Reptar, she received positive responses due to Georgetown’s prestige. “Their interests were piqued because they were like, ‘This school is legit,'” Japp said.
Das Racist finds performing at Georgetown appealing not just for its receptive audience, but also because of a bit of history. “Other than just getting paid, we also had two good friends who went to Georgetown,” Dap said.
Beyond the familiar connection, Dap added that there’s also a financial incentive for appealing to a young crowd: “College and high school kids set us up for future markets.”
The rap group does just that. Throughout their history, they have been trying to establish themselves as heavy and philosophical, even if in a jarring and bizarre way.
“People think it’s a joke,” Dap said, “the way we look and talk.” Yet, two of the three members went to college, and two of them went to Stuyvesant High School — New York City’s premiere magnet school. Rapper Victor Vazquez, in a previous interview for New York Magazine said, “‘We could have written a structured treatise attacking corporate proliferation. Or we could just say ‘Pizza Hut Taco Bell’ over and over. That s***’s way funnier.'”
Over the last few years, WGTB had been criticized for being “too indie.” “People were voicing these opinions that we weren’t representing, effectively, all of Georgetown,” Japp said. Of the performers that the radio station had brought to campus, most were bands, and there was very little focus on hip-hop or rap. “One thing that’s important,” according to Klibanoff, “is that this semester we have a ton of more hip-hop shows on our broadcast.”
Securing Das Racist by outbidding other schools has forced WGTB to double its budget for the show. The $3.00 ticket charge (really!) will not keep the station from cutting into its own funds and, fortunately, the expected revenue of the show is twofold.
“The whole point of us doing concerts … is to bring live music to campus,” Klibanoff added, “but also to increase our visibility as a station.” By hosting performances like this, WGTB builds more applications for shows, more listeners, more bloggers and a greater general awareness for the station.
Beyond the fact that it will appease both indie and hip-hop persuasions, WGTB feels the intimacy of a performance in Bulldog Alley will make this concert a success. “If Das Racist played anywhere in D.C., it would be $20 minimum at a huge venue,” Japp said.
From a market standpoint, Das Racist has a massive amount of indie appeal as well. They’re not the stereotypical rap group. Himanshu Suri (Heems) and Kondabolu (Dap) are both of Indian decent; Victor Vazquez (Kool A.D.) is Cuban and Italian. Heems and Kool A.D. met at Wesleyan where Vazquez was Suri’s RA. Atypical.
The origins of these social critics are parallel to those of the students rapping for fun on GarageBand all over Georgetown’s campus. Kondabolu would often visit Suri at Wesleyan; they, alongside Vazquez, recorded three songs with their friends who were in a band.
“I find that a lot of rock people are super eager to record rap groups because, you know, a lot of them, in the back of their heads — they’re thinking it would be pretty cool if a guy just came in here and rapped for 20 minutes and then just left,” Dap said.
Of the few songs they put together, one — “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” — put them in the spotlight. “That became, whatever people now call it — watched it on YouTube. I guess that’s called a ‘hit song’ even though no one makes any money,” Dap added. Since then, Das Racist released two well-received mixtapes, and this September they released their first commercial album.
On the topic of social stigmas from “selling out,” Suri admitted to giving some of their work a more mainstream tone. “There definitely was some effort to make songs that had a larger appeal, or whatever,” he said. “But I don’t think we pandered. I don’t think we made anything that people were surprised we made.” Indeed, while Relax was a bit more pop than Das Racist’s usual work, they stayed true to their roots.
Das Racist’s debut album proved to be a commercial and critical success. Their small fan base only circulated it among themselves, but it lacked the star power that could popularize it among a broader consumer base. Hopefully, Georgetown can set the stage for Das Racist: Open them to a wider audience, push them into mainstream and make their brand of intelligent stupidity all the more appealing.