Q: Are we not meme?
A: We are Das Racist!
The blog-championed joke-rap group (does it even need to be mentioned they live in Brooklyn?) was a bit out of its element at a sold-out Rock & Roll Hotel on Friday night. The duo of Himanshu Suri and Victor Vasquez -- joined in concert by hype dude Ashok Kondablu -- has a natural habitat of the Internet. That's where its 2008 song "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" became a surprise hit, and that's where the band releases all of its music for free. And it's also via Internet that Das Racist issues videos that double as interactive video games, guest-blogs about television for music site Stereogum and has the occasional cartoon contest with New Yorker illustrators.
Which isn't to say Das Racist is simply desperate to be an eternal trending topic; the material has merit. Songs from well-received mixtapes "Shut Up, Dude" and "Sit Down, Man" are at once both low-brow and high-intellect, a parade of punchlines that usually hit the mark. It's social commentary masked as stoner comedy, peppered with references that will have listeners repeatedly checking Wikipedia. Imagine the Lonely Island if Andy Samberg's rapping partner was Dennis Miller, only they were Hispanic and Indian.
On record -- well, MP3 -- it's a gas. In concert it didn't serve as much of a purpose. The trio was clearly enjoying itself, whether that meant unfurling the venue's on-stage movie screen, hawking t-shirts mid-show or simply posing and leaping. But the songs hinge on precise and dynamic wordplay and as is the case with many rap shows, it failed to completely translate in a live setting thanks to group-shouted raps and iffy sound.
If you can only make out "W.E.B. DuBois" and not the "We be da boys" line that comes next on "Hugo Chavez," what's the point? On songs such as "Who's That? Brooown!" and "Shorty Said" it was mostly the proper names that could be plucked out -- Carlos Mencia, Jake Gyllenhaal, Larry Bird, Mel Gibson. Das Racist is better than simply the "Family Guy" of rap -- references with no context -- but seeing them in concert won't easily prove that point.
When it was all over after barely 45 minutes the band's DJ blasted Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" as Vazquez and Suri sang along for a few moments before walking off the stage as the song continued to blare through the speakers. It was a fitting end to the show -- Das Racist's own version of a Rick-Roll.