Danny Brown entered the stage at The Met sporting a Mishka varsity jacket, skinny jeans, Jordans, and an emo combover. This, admittedly, is an image one expects from hipster rapper, more than a hardcore rapper, but Danny Brown is not just hardcore: he’s Detroit hardcore, a fact he never fails to bring up both in and between his tracks. The prejudices of his image notwithstanding, Danny Brown dealt crack, went to jail (on a charge unrelated to crack distribution), got out, and started rapping about his experiences.
After talks with G-Unit fell through, Brown self-released his debut album The Hybrid in March of 2010 to critical acclaim, but without the obvious widespread recognition a deal with G-Unit would have given him. It wasn’t until a year later that he signed with a label, the Brooklyn-based Fool’s Gold Records, which released his phenomenal XXX in August. The title is his age in Roman numerals, and in his thirty years, he has seen a lot. He describes many of his experiences, all fairly horrifying, with a hyperrealism that suggests someone who, after years of experiencing them, has graduated from those scenes, rather than someone who is attempting to glorify them.
If he didn’t have a genius sense of humor, his tracks would be almost impossibke to listen to, though that wouldn’t be the only reason many find his music irritating. Danny Brown’s yelp sounds like a cross between a cat whose tail is being pulled and a balloon that is being slowly deflated. It’s a voice that is both intriguing and grating, and one to which very few people can instantly take. It’s also not his real voice, but rather one he adopts, like his punch lines, to pad his subject matter. Imagine Gilbert Gottfried reading a New York Times article about genocide aloud: the subject matter is still serious, but its weight is mitigated by his inherently comical voice. Simply put, because Brown sounds like a birthday party clown, he is more successful at presenting hardcore ghetto imagery than many of his contemporaries.
Brown isn’t particularly flashy or excessive on stage, but relies on his natural ability as a performer to carry a crowd of captive listeners. Which he did perfectly for fifteen tracks, most from XXX. Dopehead, a member of his crew, the Bruiser Brigade, and his hypeman joined Brown onstage, providing some bass to Brown’s yelp. As one might imagine, Brown’s image contributes a great deal to his stage presence. His voice is more interesting live than on record, though this is mostly because some people still can’t believe that kind of sound can come from someone rocking jeans that may as well be painted on who sports an emo combover. Brown had a robust following in the crowd that rapped along with him, attempting to imitate his helium-infused voice. It’s refreshing that no matter how esoteric he may be to mainstream audiences, Brown still has a cult following, and what Danny Brown is and most likely will remain, is a cult rapper.
Brown’s pairing with Das Racist makes perfect sense—they both appeal to the same niche—though Brown exudes a great deal more unpredictability than they do (a natural function of being a former crack-dealing, self-described “Adderall Admiral”). Brown’s performance was about raw rapping, not theatrics, which made his image on stage that much more powerful. You get the sense that his performance doesn’t come from any pretense of wanting to entertain the audience, so everything from his bizarre hair to his nasally yelp carried more raw swagger than a thousand 50 Cents. I came to the show cautiously hopeful and I left surprised at how well he was able to entertain for almost an hour without any stage tricks, short of bringing his personality with him. He carries his public persona with him onstage, which is why he delivers both on record and live. I would like to see him whenever, and maybe get my hair did like his.
MICHAEL DANZIGER B’13 is Detroit hardcore
I was first acquainted with Das Racist by a friend of mine who was studying at Wesleyan. He sat my classmate and I on a sofa, played us “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” and told us that Das Racist was the future of hip-hop. At the time, I was a sophomore in high school, and I found it impossibly hard to believe him. They weren’t hip-hop, they were joke rap. There was no distinction between this and Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat” or LMFAO’s “I’m in Miami Bitch.” All three songs followed a similar model: make fun of hip-hop braggadocio by transporting it into the realm of the ridiculous. While Jay-Z brags about losing $30 million as if it’s nothing to him, Das Racist brags about buying pizza and tacos in the same place, or being as wild as 4Loko. I thought it was pretty funny, but not very substantive. But as it turns out, writing off Das Racist as a joke was one of the stupider things I did in high school. They’re far more than joke rap, and their surrealist juxtapositions and absurd hooks place them at the forefront of an intellectual (yet simultaneously anti-intellectual) rap movement.
Das Racist’s show at the Met cemented for me their dichotomous relationship with the light-hearted and the serious. They opened with “Brand New Dance” off the recently released Relax (their first full length LP). The surprisingly sparse crowd, only ten rows deep, waved their hands to a chorus of “It’s a brand new dance / Give us all your money / Everybody love everybody,” while MCs Kool A.D. (Victor Vazquez) and Heems (Himanshu Suri) swapped verses about selling oxycontin on Palm Pixies and eating Indian food while on Safari. As the song ended, Vazquez shouted, “That was our first song, this is our second song!” This seemingly straightforward and joking remark struck me as a statement quintessential to the group’s style and message. Das Racist is about making the over-literal and hyper-real into something substantive. Whether it’s screaming “Michael Jackson / A million dollars / You feel me? / Holler!” or whispering “Carlos Santana, Juelz Santana” on “Chicken and Meat,” the sonic associations between words and their absurd placement in a rap song are what comprise Das Racist’s art. Every simple statement Das Racist makes has a deliberate implication; all words are precise.
The second song was “Who’s That? Brooown.” Heems is of Indian descent and Kool A.D. is both Afro-Cuban and Italian, and many Das Racist tracks reference “tan” or “brown” as descriptors of race. In an interview with a Wesleyan magazine in the spring of 2009 Heems described Das Racist’s aim “to take all the seriousness out of making legitimate commentary on race, because [it] can get very annoying.” On “Brooown” they re-imagine a history where a brown Larry Bird played on the ‘97 Celtics, and assert that, “Never have you ever seen anything like it.” By approaching race not as something to be feared, ignored, or glamorized, Das Racist have a unique existence in the modern day hip-hop landscape.
Their first commercial album, Relax, came out a month after Kanye West and Jay-Z releaced their hip-hop magnum opus Watch The Throne—to much less fanfare. Arguably the two most talked about hip-hop albums of the year are polar opposites. While Jay and Kanye swap verses about the problems of poverty over beats with samples that cost thousands to clear, Das Racist deconstruct rap entirely. Heems shouts, “I’m fucking great at rapping!!!” on “Michael Jackson,” an entirely different sentiment from Jay’s “I invented swag” on Throne. There’s no claim to authority or authenticity, only jokes about what a joke hip-hop has become. On “Power,” Kool A.D. gives the hook, “It’s too easy / Even if I told you about it / You prolly wouldn’t believe me.” By making the important distinction between joke rap and turning rap into a joke, Das Racist allow its absurd art to shine. The former pokes fun at the grandiosity of the genre, the latter employs rap’s core techniques to provide a non-flattering mirror. Rap shouldn’t always be taken seriously, and by conquering the notion that it should, Das Racist undercut mainstream hip-hop’s message of affluence, influence, and power. Jay-Z and Kanye West take everything too seriously, caught up in being the “Illest Motherfucker Alive,” whereas Das Racist exploit the opposite end of the spectrum.
The Met is a far cry from the TD Ameritrade Garden, where Jay and Kanye will stop during the Watch the Throne tour on November 21st, but Das Racist doesn’t need a large stage or histrionics to make a superior art. They could put on a better show from the roof of a combination Pizza Hut/Taco Bell.
TRISTAN RODMAN B’15 prefers a combination Arby’s and Long John Silver’s.