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.