Das Racist: Totally Juvenile or Culturally Incisive?
SXSW runs its music showcases like a tight ship. Some sets run over, but they generally keep to schedule.
So when I had already spent 20 minutes waiting for Das Racist to begin its set last night at Buffalo Billiards, I felt pretty annoyed when the onstage technician called to the sound booth that we were "just waiting for the band."
But the hip-hop duo -- Victor Vazquez and Himanshu Suri, joined by "hype man" Ashok Kondabolu -- had no trouble melting my annoyance. Vazquez squeezed right by me to make his way onstage, then asked the guy next to me to grab him a tequila and grapefruit from the bar and was genuinely grateful when two were delivered to him.
Das Racist has all the charisma and energy of a boy band with none of the choreography. It replaces it with a self-awareness that dials right into taste of the slightly nerdy, mostly white hipster crowd that waited 25 minutes to hear a song about the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
I imagined most of them were somewhat like me: university-educated, suburban-raised, blog-reading Obama voters without much semblance of actual culture to identify with. Many of us may really like hip-hop, but can't really say it's about us or our personal experience.
Until someone raps a line about the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Then we forward it to our friends on the Internet and smile knowingly over our coffees when Death and Taxes magazine calls it "an existential meditation on consumer identity in corporate America."
At one point, Queens-born Suri called out, "We're from a little band called Vampire Weekend," which got a big laugh from Vasquez -- but an even bigger one from the crowd. Because opposite as Das Racist is from the Columbia University pop band that rose to fame at the same time, everyone there probably was a Vampire Weekend fan. And we laughed because we all knew it.
If there's one thing Das Racist delivers, it's irony. And you can dance to it.