Even if you’ve never heard of Das Racist, you might be familiar with “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” their ridiculous novelty track that hit the web in late 2008. “I’m at the Pizza Hut” “I’m at the Taco Bell” “I’m at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” While mildly amusing, I’d rank it among the worst songs I’ve ever heard, but its musical quality is irrelevant since it’s just a joke, which is obvious when you hear the group’s non-fast food themed songs on Shut Up Dude, their new mix tape presented by Brooklyn-based fashion designer Mishka NYC.
“Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” is an accurate indicator of the group’s sense of humor, easily their defining characteristic, but what you can’t tell from the call-and-response chorus and silly banter is that Das Racist are actually skilled wordsmiths. Their rhymes are often nonsensical, lyrical substance is not their m.o., but they’ve got wordplay for days. The best example of their style, and finest moment in their short career, is “Rainbow in the Dark,” their second single and the standout track on Shut Up Dude. (the music video is embedded at the bottom of this post)
In case there are any metal fans reading this, yes, the song’s title is a reference to the second single from the 1983 Dio debut Holy Diver, which is confirmed by a line in the last verse. In fact, there are few lines in the song that aren’t a cultural reference of some sort, and at one point they mention Neutral Milk Hotel, Joe Pesci, and Popov Vodka in the span of two lines. Hip-hop has long been the most self-referential of all genres, but on Das Racist’s “Fake Patois,” where they use auto-tune and fake Jamaican accents while they rap about the prevalence of auto-tune and fake Jamaican accents, its taken to a new absurd plateau. This is meta-hop.
It’s strange enough for an artist to namedrop Jeff Mangum and Ronnie James Dio, but random musical references are only the tip of the iceberg. The group formed at Wesleyan, where they were classmates with the members of MGMT, and their education is apparent in references to international politics (Hugo Chavez), world history (Cro-Magnons), and literary figures (Emerson and Thoreau). Das Racist may be a gimmick, but their unique brand of conceptual hip-hop is one the most complex gimmicks you’ll ever come across. The gimmick can wear thin, and often does on lackluster, repetitive beats like “Chicken and Meat” and “Ek Shaneesh,” but on tracks like “Shorty Said” and the Billy Joel-sampling “You Oughta Know,” the beats are nice enough to sustain interest. I dare anyone not to at least crack a smile when they hear the hook to the latter of the two.
Beats aside, a lot of these tracks are simply too long, perhaps to emphasize their lyrical skills (this is a mixtape after all), but I hope they exercise more restraint on their proper debut whenever it drops. In true mixtape fashion, Shut Up Dude also contains instrumentals borrowed from other rap artists. “Nutmeg” is a seemingly never-ending freestyle over the Ghostface track of the same name from Supreme Clientele and “Deep Ass Shit,” their tribute to weed smoking, takes its beat, and subject matter, from “America’s Most Blunted” off MF Doom and Madlib’s Madvillainny. These tracks aren’t particularly great, although the latter of the two is good for a laugh, but they do remove any doubt as to what emcees and albums Das Racist’s esoteric style was most influenced by.
Shut Up Dude is not great by any means, but it’s not that bad either, and that’s an encouraging sign for their future. I don’t expect these guys to kick-start a new underground movement, but it’s abundantly clear that they truly love hip-hop, and they don’t pretend to be anything but what they are, two characteristics I’d like to see more of in modern rap. Whether you hate or love “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” this one is definitely worth the download for tracks like “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Shut Up Dude.” Plus, it’s FREE! Check out the low-budget music video for “Rainbow” below and follow this link to Mishka NYC’s site to download the whole mixtape.