Das Racist occupies a unique place in hip hop. Its free-associative rap goes a mile a minute, riddled with the sort of postmodern deconstructionist lyrics that make publications like the New York Times rave. Much has been written about the group and its perceived seriousness, which, in turn, is turned into more fodder for Das Racist’s rhymes (as evidenced in the track “hahahaha jk,” posted below).
Whatever your opinion of its music, there’s no question that Das Racist wears its cultural and political awareness on its proverbial sleeve. With that in mind, we asked Ashok Kondabolu of the Brooklyn-based trio to name his favorite political rap songs.
Das Racist: “hahahaha jk” (Sit Down, Man, Mishka / Mad Decent / Greedhead)
1. Public Enemy: “Shut ‘Em Down” (Pete Rock Remix)
My favorite remix of all time. Pete’s short verse is ill (and sort of hilarious), and the beat’s insistence over and under Chuck D‘s screaming-ass voice is incredible. The clipped rapping on here serves really well as some “movement music.”
My mama cried
Black people died
When the other man lied”
I mean, that’s an awesome way to start a song about corporate redistribution of wealth!
2. El-P: “Patriotism”
This song brings together a lot of the disparate and bitter elements into a seemingly full feeling of depression I ran with for most of high school. El’s on extra grind with the wordiness and loathing that appealed to me much more than an Immortal Technique song about United Fruit or something (fuck Chiquita Banana). AND ALL BEFORE 9/11! I think it’s finely paired with “Accidents Don’t Happen” off El’s first solo jam Fantastic Damage, which is run through the paranoia scrubber with a fine hell-wash at the end.
3. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony: “1st of tha Month”
Chris Rock once accurately described this song as a “Welfare Carol.” While one could easily trot out a neat little argument about how this is a De Certeau-ian celebration of the mundane as a tactic of human-scale resistance to the various oppressions of poverty and the condescending nature of bureaucratic aid to the poor, the simple fact remains that five black men cashed welfare checks, bought drugs and alcohol, had a cookout, and then wrote a beautiful song about it that EVERYBODY loves, that peaked at #14 on the charts, went gold, and launched a two-decade long musical career.
4. The Coup: “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish”
I remember in 7th grade, my dude Loren (shout out New Earth Creeps) was like, “My cousin is in this rap group called The Coup,” and he played me this track off its second album, Genocide and Juice. The line “The streetlight reflects off the piss on the ground, which reflects off the hamburger sign that turns ’round, which reflects off the chrome on the BMW, which reflects off the fact that I’m broke, now what the fuck is new?” was probably one of my first “run that back” moments.
In this five-minute story rap, Boots gets on the bus with a stolen bus pass, intimidates a white woman, pickpockets a dude, flirts with a girl at the burger stand for a free burger, refers to a mall cop as a rent-a-pig, puts on a tuxedo, and serves hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party where he overhears a Coca-Cola executive talking to the mayor of Oakland about manipulating media connects and using corporate lobbying power to help create public consent for turning low-income housing into condos. The track is seamless, filled with punchlines, and manages to speak with nuance about class without coming off as preachy.
5. Waka Flocka Flame: “Fuck This Industry”
Pretty straightforward. A classic take on the “industry vs. the streets” dichotomy first proposed by Foxy Brown on “Oh Yeah” with Spragga Benz. The dopest thing about this song is after talking a little bit about the industry (“Make sure your lawyer know what he doing,” “Don’t get a 360; that shit ain’t 100”), it becomes clear the song is mostly about loving your family and friends. The video is weird too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8g-suzna5Rg