I’ve officially given up on understanding Das Racist. Are they the new wave of terminal, nonchalant New York cool? Are they race-baiting rabble-rousers? Are they the petulant rap internet turned loose on itself? Are they all of those? None of them? Are they serious? Are they fucking with us? The only thing that is clear about the last year and a half of the trio’s (Are they a trio or a duo? What does Dap do? Is he Das Racist’s Flavor Flav?) career in meta-rap is that this is a group dedicated to turning internet age hip hop on its ear and magnifying the principal ridiculousness of the tropes we take for granted on a daily basis. Well, up until now. Relax, the group’s debut album, feels like a conscious move away from the “We’re rapping about rap!” aesthetic that informed mixtape gems like “Fake Patois”, but what Relax sacrifices in slapstick is recouped in pure tuneful songwriting.
Relax is more tuneful than 2010’s Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man, thanks in part to the production, provided here by a cadre of New York underground music luminaries ranging from Patrick Wimberly of Chairlift to Anand Wilder of Yeasayer to El-P to Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend. The album’s production team presents a vision of modern hip-hop that is equally informed by electropop, indie rock and Indian music. The results are a mixed bag; Relax bounces from hyped up Bollywood bangers like lead single “Michael Jackson” to straightforward dance numbers like “Girl” and “Booty in the Air” and on to laidback rock numbers like “The Trick” and “Brand New Dance” without faltering or losing much steam. “Booty in the Air” is the closest thing to a misfire that you’ll get, but it’s endearing to me largely because it sounds like the answer to the question: “What if Depeche Mode did a track with Uncle Luke?”, which is a fucking crazy mix of influences.
Many of Relax’s tunes find the group reining in much of the eccentric free associative word play that characterized early work like “Shorty Said” in favor of the more traditional lyricism of Sit Down, Man. Heems and Kool A.D. are more assured and skilled on the mic than ever before, but the real surprise of Relax is how much singing goes on. Most of “Brand New Dance” and “Girl” as well as pretty much all of “The Trick” and “Celebration” finds the duo singing instead of rapping, and it turns out the group’s got a great ear for melody too. That’s not to say they’ve pulled a Ja Rule or anything. There’s still plenty of playful rhymes, off the wall references, damaging couplets, and the occasional whiff of a message to be found in Relax’s lyric sheet.
Making the jump from releasing free mixtapes to asking fans to pay for full albums is never easy, and the road from mixtape success to the Billboard charts is fraught with countless great ideas that failed to launch, but Das Racist came to this affair armed and ready. Relax finds Das Racist refining what people have come to love about them, trying a few new things, and best of all, bringing their extremely talented friends along for the ride. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable effort from a group with a refreshing point of view. Swag these dudes the fuck out and gitchu a copy.