“With Nehru Jackets and 51 out maybe people can realize we're not the same fucking person”—Himanshu “Heems” Suri, Das Racist
Despite the two principle members having distinct personalities, despite them both saying their names on their songs all the time, and despite them having a song about how (predominantly white) people can’t tell them apart, people still don’t see Das Racist members as individual people. Early (and even recent) reviews confused MCs Heems and Victor “Kool A.D.” Vazquez to a tragic degree, confusing their verses, and proving the song “Puerto Rican Cousins” isn’t a hilarious fiction but a sad reality. It’s something they talked about last year in a Spin cover story, and in a lengthy interview with Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. It was a fair thing to complain about: no one talks about how Heems and Kool A.D. are different—Heems is “New York,” rapping like an underground mixtape rapper lost in 1997, while Kool A.D. is Bay Area cool, a laid-back smirking comedian.
That lack of individual recognition served as the impetus for the group’s plan in 2012: Heems, Kool A.D. and hypeman Dap are all releasing solo material this year. In January, Heems issued the superlative Nehru Jackets, a tape that showed off his grimy aesthetic, informed by years spent in the crucible of hip-hop. Kool A.D.’s first 2012 release, however, Palm Wine Drinkard, was a “hyphy ballad” mixtape, a release that found him singing over west coast dub-influenced production. It’s for completists only. But it hinted that if given album-length space, Vazquez might not skew towards the claustrophobic, lo-fi beats of Das Racist releases.
Recorded entirely in Oakland, Kool A.D.’s great 51 confirms that. Featuring production from a handful of West Coast young guns—Young L, Trackademics, and the tape’s MVP, Amaze 88—who lend their best soul samples and hyphy-inspired beats to the tape, and plentiful guest verses from Main Attrakionz, Dope G, and Boots Riley, 51 is the L.A. answer to the New York insularism of Nehru Jackets. The whole ethos of the tape can be summed up by Kool’s first words on “No”: “It’s me Kool A.D., hey what up/ Fuck around in New York, but still Bay as fuck.”
In Das Racist, Vazquez is the most likely to cut up listeners with classic ad-libs (his “Sports!” might be the most quoted ad-lib in the history of Twitter) and hilarious inside jokes and references. He’s the same on 51, naturally, devoting equal time on the excellent “Ooh” to dropping references to Danny Brown’s XXX and being profound (“What’s real to me might not be real to you”) as he does to giving vague directions around San Francisco. He strikes back against critics who call Das Racist’s rap “indifferent” by dropping this during “Arrested Development”: “Fuck with Short Cuts like I’m Robert Altman/ Fuck with long shots like I’m Robert Altman/Fuck with actresses like I’m Robert Altman/ Recycled like half a verse, but that’s art man.” If you can’t see the humor and greatness in that section, have fun with Yo Gotti.
Though it’s the lighter, sunny afternoon drive material like “Town Business” and “Ooh” that are sure to rack up summer plays, 51 bears, as Craig Jenkins said on Potholes in My Blog, the same humor-based subterfuge of Das Racist’s music proper. Humor leads to page views and to ears being near your music, but this is also a mixtape that has an entire song given over to a Huey Newton speech (“Gentry”), a song about how mass media distorts our reality, and impacts the perception of minorities (“TV Eye”), and a song that samples a speech by Highly Selassie to the U.N. about humans needing to treat each other better (“A Milli”). It’s an unfortunate reality that the “I’m Drake vs. Common, who cares?” line is going to get more publicity than any of the deep thoughts on 51.
But that’s really just another way of saying 51 is a damn fine mixtape—album, release, whatever. It’s a trip down into Kool A.D.’s psyche, a demonstrable showing that while Das Racist might be based in New York, one of their members is spiritually Bay. It’s hard to think of another group—rap or otherwise—who has had as strong a 2012 as Das Racist, especially stylistically. Three releases and three divergent albums, another one of this young year’s best.
Download the mixtape: http://mishkanyc.bandcamp.com/album/51