You either love or you hate the Brooklyn-based, art-rap trio Das Racist. There's little room in between. And you really only need to sit down with one or two tracks to come to a decision. Take the title track to their 2010 album, Sit Down, Man, which sees one of the group's emcees, Ashok Kondabolu, calling out cultural and political figures — Robert Mugabe, Carlos Mencia, Glenn Beck, Toby Keith, Rand Paul — that he'd like to see disappear from the nation's consciousness. Or "Fake Patois," which chastises non-Jamaican artists such as Jay-Z, Miss Cleo and Jim Carrey who have performed with a stereotyped, Jamaican accent.
At the same time, Das Racist can throw quite the party at a live show. They got their start, after all, with the pot-infused silliness that was 2008's "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," in which emcees Victor Vazquez and Himanshu Suri trade identical lines ad infinitum — “I’m at the Pizza Hut, I’m at the Taco Bell / I’m at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" — before realizing that they might not be at the same Pizza Hut/Taco Bell. They may be serious about their politics, but they're also sensitive to the absurdity of our chain-malled American landscape.
Below, Vazquez (a.k.a. Kool A.D.) talks with NUVO via email about his group's latest album and his approach to performing live.
NUVO: Once upon a time, the members of Das Racist were on the typical “go-to-school-get-a-real-job” career path before meeting and forming the group. At what point did you say to hell with this shit and decide to pursue music instead?
KOOL A.D.: My old band Boy Criisis got signed in 2008; that was the last time I had a "real" job. Didn't really seriously consider music as a career until it was my career.
NUVO: A lot of super-producers (Diplo, Boi-1da, Scoop Deville, Devo Springsteen and Dame Grease) worked on your last mixtape. What made you venture away from the heavily-sampled format of Shut Up, Dude to the epic list of producers that you enlisted for Sit Down, Man?
KOOL A.D.: We had an investor for the second one, so we could afford to buy beats, and our manager at the time, Le'roy Benros, hooked us up with Boi-1da, Scoop, Devo and Dame Grease.
NUVO: Does collaborating with Das Racist outsiders make putting an album together easier or more challenging?
KOOL A.D.: Easier.
NUVO: What was it like working with Diplo?
KOOL A.D.: It was all via e-mail. Never met the guy 'til a few months ago actually. He's a fun dude. He looks like a professional snowboarder.
NUVO: You guys are advocates for social media, are you not? What kind of connections have you made through Twitter — both professional and personal?
KOOL A.D.: I tweeted at Jenny Holzer but she never hit me back.
NUVO:People make a pretty big deal of your lyrics and their potential to offend listeners. Do you think you’re offending listeners?
KOOL A.D.: Maybe. I don't know.
Do you care if you’re offending listeners?
KOOL A.D.: It depends on which listeners, I guess.
NUVO: You’ve received mixed reviews — some praising your raw energy, others (e.g. The Washington Post) all but dismissing your legitimacy as an artist. How do you respond those who call Das Racist the “The Family Guy of rap” due your ridiculous humor and tendency to use non sequiturs?
KOOL A.D.: Don't care.
NUVO: How do you prepare for and plan live shows?
KOOL A.D.: Show up at the venue, soundcheck, get drunk, smoke weed and rap.
NUVO: You’re given credit for racial, controversial lyrics and extremist views, but also known for being smartasses and partying hard. Do you try to make sure your music is both cerebral and good for a party?
KOOL A.D.: Not really sure if we "make sure" our music is anything.
NUVO: How do your political viewpoints inform your work?
KOOL A.D.: The richest two percent of the world owns half the world's wealth. The richest 10 percent owns 85 percent of the world's wealth. 1.4 million kids die per year of curable diseases. There's enough food on earth to feed all six billion or so of us twice but one out of every eight people on earth is starving. The US has spent over a trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where thousands of American soldiers (mostly poor) have died and an estimated million or so Iraqis and Afghanis have died. Our dependence on oil is poisoning the oceans, destroying the atmosphere and countless fragile ecosystems and is perpetuating mass violence and economic disparity. I'm not sure what use there is in making music aside from the fact that it's paying my rent right now.
NUVO: What is your ultimate goal when giving people a concert?
KOOL A.D.: I guess I want people to have fun or at least not be mad at us for taking their money.
NUVO: How was SXSW? Any interesting events or stories to share?
KOOL A.D.: [fellow bandmate] Heems got drunk and fell off the stage and Mexican metablogger Carlos of Hipsterrunoff.com wrote a deadpan, post-sarcastic blog entry about it with intentional misspellings. That band Trash Talk is fun.
NUVO: What’s currently on your plate? Are you working on any new projects?
KOOL A.D.: We're working on an album called RELAX that we'll sell for money.
Das Racist performs Friday April 1 at The White Rabbit Cabaret with local support from Andy D, Action Jackson, and Gabby Love.