Das Racist

Over the weekend, the New York rap group Das Racist, in a messy and roundabout sort of way, announced that they were no longer a group. This is a shame! Das Racist were really good and important in some sneaky ways, and we need to talk about all of that. But first, here’s the breakup story:

On Saturday night, Das Racist were booked to play a show at Munich’s On3 Festival. But as Pitchfork reports, Heems, one third of the group, did a solo show instead. From the stage, he said, “You guys wanna know the secret? All right, so I’m going to do some Das Racist songs, but Das Racist is breaking up and we’re not a band anymore.”

Later on, Kool A.D., the other rapping member, confirmed the breakup on Twitter: “for the record i quit das racist 2 months ago and was asked by our manager not to announce it yet. apparently @himanshu wanted to do it tho.” (Heems response: “hah dag, my bad dont even remember saying that shit.”)

Talking to Spin, the group’s hypeman Dapwell had some interesting but also depressing things to say:

I was bummed when we actually broke up, when it was done, mostly because it was a way to make money really easily. Now, I probably won’t be able to make money that easily ever again… But we had a plan to break up around May. We had just signed this record deal and we were going to put out one proper album and then go on a farewell tour, release a proper breaking up statement that could have been really funny, maybe a weird, stupid video. Now, all of that has gone to shit… When we started in 2009, 2010, there wasn’t a New York rap scene. All that shit wasn’t around. And now there is all of this stuff that, when I see it, I’m like, ’Man, that looks like more fun than what I’m doing.’ But we kinda checked out and it was just about money, which some people can do, but apparently, we’re not good at doing things we don’t want to do anymore. It made everyone go crazy and get angry in such typical band fashion: guys arguing and then drinking. It’s just stupid. Because in the beginning, it was just us. We’d all hang out all the time, we all lived in this apartment together. Not that we were super friends, but sort of, you know? Really, it’s a huge opportunity squandered.”

Well, I’m sad to see Das Racist go, but I wouldn’t call their story an opportunity squandered. Das Racist’s recorded catalog wasn’t that deep — two great mixtapes and one album that a lot of people liked — but it had a pretty tremendous impact on New York’s underground rap scene, and it established a new sort of voice.

When Das Racist came onto the scene in 2009, New York’s rap scene was stratified and mostly retrograde, its underground dominated by crusty turn-back-the-clock types who prized formalism over charisma or inventiveness. And they arrived with “Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell,” a song that was as much an internet-era Jerky Boys skit as it was a song. It was something annoying for drunk people to yell at each other, and it was pure novelty. Personally, that song made me hate them pretty much instantly, and it took a while to convince myself to come around.

What convinced me was Shut Up, Dude, their excellent first mixtape, which was light and playful but dense with insider rap-dork and culture-dork references, and it had a sneaky cultural anger that white morons like me took a long time to figure out. Das Racist didn’t sound like rappity-rappers; there was a lazy back-and-forth playfulness to their cadences that kept them at a remove from the stridency of New York’s rappers. And they were funny. They treated their audience with the respect that, say, the writers of Mystery Science Theater 3000 used to do — keeping the namechecks and ideas flying with dizzying speed, knowing that hardly any listeners would catch everything, realizing that this would only make people want to listen harder. Sit Down, Man pushed it even further. They were onto something.

At the same time, they carved out for themselves a new place on the rap landscape, existing at the center of an ever-expanding circle of sharp and distinctive rap voices. At this point, their circle has expanded to the point where it includes El-P, Danny Brown, Roc Marciano, Action Bronson, Despot, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Young L, Childish Gambino, Le1f, Lakutis, and a ton of others. They’ve also put in work with producers of both the rap and indie rock persuasions, figuring out a musical identity with no room for divisions or lines in the sand.

Both Heems and Kool A.D. released two solo mixtapes apiece this year, and some of us figured that a breakup was imminent anyway. It’s worth noting that none of these guys are going away, that they’ll all be busy with other things. But now that they’ve called it quits as a crew, it’s worth celebrating everything they managed to pull off together. Let’s watch a couple of videos and talk about it in the comments section.

Comments (46)
  1. Yeah, I’m not too sad. These guys have put out so much music this year individually, I’m sure we’ll be hearing a bunch more.

  2. My thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Dosa Hunt family.

  3. This is what happens when that mad Kmart money starts rolling in.

  4. NOOOOOOOOOO, WHYYYYYYY

  5. kind of figured something was up, since besides the conan performance a year ago, there was little to no promotion for relax and little activity as a collective since then

    did anyone really think relax was that great anyway? i kind of didn’t

  6. I was trying to follow this on Twitter last night but gave up pretty quick (I couldn’t tell if they were joking or not which kind of sums up DRs entire existence). Kind of a bummer as I dig them together more than separately but dig them enough separately to not be too bummed. Better to have two people doing what they want than one group doing what other people want.

  7. “When we started in 2009, 2010, there wasn’t a New York rap scene. All that shit wasn’t around.”

    Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

  8. This is probably the best move. As far as I’m concerned, Kool A.D’s and Heems’s mixtapes were streets ahead of anything they did as Das Racist. That’s not saying DR was bad, I love the shit out of the mixtapes, but I’m really glad to see them evolving separately.

  9. Their mixtapes played a huge part in me initially getting into rap in the first place, so I think it’s quite sad that they aren’t going to be making more music together. However, I’ve been enjoying their solo stuff (Heems’ especially) and if they’re happier doing that then hopefully they’ll continue to grow and develop seperately and maybe put out something even better;

  10. Unsure about this. I kind of feel like heems was the better of the two anyway, so I don’t know. Could be bad. Was george michael better than Wham? No. Was Run better without dmc? ask Stephan Jenkins. simon without garfunkel?

    THAT SAID, sometimes solo can be a good thing:

    “What killed the dinosaurs? DE ICE AGE.” So maybe it will be okay. Always enjoy Heems releases (TWSS).

    • I would say Simon was/is better without Garfunkel. Paul Simon? Graceland? Rhythm of the Saints?

      • i like graceland just fine (though will ALWAYS switch to vampire weeknd 2 songs in)
        rhythm of the saints is the jam (but prefer rostam’s don’t let it get to you)

        I was going to apologize but I dont’ give a fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck bros. i prefer vampire weeknd’s rips any day of the goddamn week, especially monday. maybe its the shit 80′s production maybe who cares? Probably should have kept these opinions on the DL

        gotta share these dark secrets – someone out there will understand me.

    • Nah dude, Heems had better verses on Relax, but Victor was the star of the mixtapes to me.

  11. Das a bummer

  12. We’ll always have the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

  13. The “…BROOOWN!” video. So great.

    “Don’t get by the garland, or else you’ll have to get married.”

  14. Corny as hell. They just started going in cool new directions this year with the mixtapes, though Dapwell bailed on his like a puss. A lil “Drones” w. a little 51 would’ve been the shit. Kool AD had the flow and Heems has the vision, which made for a pretty good team, but this seems like fate. They always had a million ideas, restless spirits and diverse interests.

    I always had a love/hate/jealousy thing goin on w. DR – like they did it how I would do it if I found rap success, but I hated their whole “I’m an idiot who went to Wesleyan” vibe. Then again, that’s kinda the fun thing about rap, like no matter how smart you are you’re working in a ridiculous genre that values ignorance so your intelligence has to be filtered through that.

    For some reason, when I saw this I was thinkin it was fuel for the hating-on-millennial fire. Two of the most cutting-edge, iconic bands touted by ‘Gum and others – Das Racist and Girls – couldn’t manage a more than few year run of decent to great music. That’s pretty bad. Kinda feelin like we need to get our shit together.

    • What’s the appropriate amount of time for a band making great music to stay together? Minor Threat lasted three years and produced as few recordings as Das Racist or Girls; is that in any way a comment on their vitality or on the eighties?

      • No, and that’s a good point. One that I was sort of considering while I wrote my comment – how much am I generalizing and internalizing here…?

        I guess you’re right that it doesn’t really diminish their impact. And that other bands from the eighties and other eras had similarly short runs. Another point against my original one might be that Girls and DR are poor examples to choose to link to our generation. They’re fringe artists without much mainstream success who are on some level kind of prone to implode more than the average band in the first place. DR was confrontational and mocked everything about the music industry and themselves. Girls were led by a confessional train wreck who talked openly about his serious addiction to opiates.

        But still, it seems like nowadays bands are quitting, forming side projects and switching up their names more than ever, which gives the appearance to the outside world of a bunch of young assholes who can’t stay on track for more than a couple albums. I’ll find out about a band for the first time and they’ll already have a side project, or be featured on a song by another band. Maybe it’s more a symptom of getting our info from hyperactive indie press, but it seems like it’s constantly happening. Then if you include the breakdowns/lineup changes/constant tour cancellation/shroud-of-silence-to-the-point-where-everyone-loses-interest (Wavves, Wavves/Best Coast, Grimes, The Weeknd respectively) that beset some of the most “buzzin indie bands,” it’s like we’re a bunch of infantile losers.

        And I’d say the appropriate amount of time for a band to make great music together would ideally be over a decade, as achieved by legends like The Clash. Alas though, if all bands achieved that there’d be way too many legends around… damn even using the word “legend” here points out the fallacy of duration being a factor in a band’s greatness. Cus to me it calls to mind The Sex Pistols, another punk “legend” who lasted approximately 2 weekends after recording their only album.

        • But is it necessarily any better for bands to stay together well past their sell by date in order to hold on to a brand rather than branch out, try to stay inspired and in the end hopefully make better music?

  15. Sad story… I heard this news when i signed onto Hulu Plus last night.

    Dammit, now i’ve admitted to Hulu Plussing.

  16. Anyone else think it’s a little suspicious that we found out Das Racist broke up the same day we found out that Kate Middleton is pregnant? I sure as hell do, and I’m pretty certain it has everything to do with the Illuminati. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!!!!!

  17. Alternate Headline:

    “Das Racist Sit Down… Man.”

  18. Das Racist Quits Girls

  19. Who’s that? FROWNNNNNNNN

  20. Not a surprise. Even in the beginning with “Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell”, they were never quite on the same page.

  21. I am so bummed… and at the same time so glad I just went to see them- smoked weed with them and got their autographs on the record and a poster (and the Relax hat). I’m sure they’ll get together again in the future… I hope- I thought Victor and Heems sounded perfect together.

  22. At least we’ll have the Stereogum “best comments” posts to remember them by. :(

  23. honestly i liked their album and mixtapes, but these guys came off as not caring and shitty to me from the start- i saw them a few times and each set was as poor as the last- they just just seemed totally not in it- out of practice- and sloppy- made me not really care about them as much as other up and coming rap acts and the news of this break up is funny if anything- ends up being a big whatever…

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