Das Racist is strange. They have characterized their work as “a realist painting of a collage” and “proto-postworld pop” in a hilarious and confusing interview with The New York Times. They always seem to be two steps ahead of their audience, which is mostly comprised of the “white devil” they make a habit of mocking — though that doesn’t keep all of us from laughing at those same lines.
Their style combines incredible intensity and energy with a pervasive sense of indifference. This paradox is harder to ignore on their new album, “Relax,” than it was on the group’s previous two albums, which gives “Relax” an unsettling edge.Although the album is a departure from their previous work, it still delivers the incredible modern hip-hop people have come to expect from the group.
One of the major changes in this album is that it is significantly less nonchalant than their first two. Before, Das Racist just seemed to be having a good time, rattling off four minute-long chains of wordy, free association tracks that managed to seem nerdy and danceable.
Now, however, they only occassionally find that straightforward energy in songs like “Booty in the Air” and “Girl.” These songs have the recognizable and irresistible catchiness that their earlier ones did, but a majority of their album is characterized by a weird conflict between what seem like opposing halves of the group, and it has definitely changed their sound as well as their ethos.
In short, the light and playful attitude that seemed to permeate “Sit Down, Man” and “Shut Up, Dude” — their previous albums — has been replaced by a gritty, dystopian feel. They’re still incredible musicians, and their raps breathe life into backbeats that would eat lesser men up, so it isn’t bad — it just feels different.
The real change has come in whether or not they enjoy what they’re doing anymore. The group seems disinterested to the point of boredom on much of the album, which features hooks like “It’s a brand new dance/Give us all your money,” while at other points it seems like they’re begging to be taken seriously, and the disconnect between the two is extremely confusing as a listener.
The song “Power,” an incredible track featuring mind-blowing verses from rappers Despot and Danny Brown, also strikes to the core of their apparent boredom: “It’s too easy/Even if I told you about it you probably wouldn’t even believe me.”
Das Racist is starting to expand their sound, and there is a sense of world-weariness on “Relax,” a sense of annoyance with everything and everyone around them, but also a feeling that they want people to really understand what it is they’re saying because they think it’s important.
The title track really captures these competing urges, featuring a chorus with the word “Relax” repeated over and over like it’s a command to fans who are trying too hard, but that chorus is surrounded by verses featuring lines like “Hoping you get it” that urges fans to try harder.
That seems to be the message “Relax” flits around — we want you to get it, but you aren’t going to, so don’t bother trying. Lines like “I don’t know why people think we give a fuck so often” make it a little hard to really immerse yourself in “Relax.” It feels like if you start enjoying the serious parts, you just need to back off and relax, but if you just appreciate the dispassionate references and clever wordplay, you just don’t understand what they’re doing.
Even after all of this, however, the album is still incredible and for a single reason: Das Racist emcee Heems himself sums it up best when he closes his verse on “Michael Jackson” by bellowing, “I’m fucking great at rapping!” Ultimately, once you get past the references to early ‘90s television shows and layers upon layers of irony and self-awareness, they haven’t lost any of their style and technical ability.It’s a little less easy to listen to, but the most important part of Das Racist — and this album — is their pure skill. “Relax” is a great album because Heems and his counterpart Kool A.D. are fucking great at rapping.
Druschel is a member of the class of 2014.