Das Racist: hip-hop for hipsters, or taking it back to Slick Rick?

Mixtapes reveal bi-coastal Indian American duo as an urgent new voice in rap

With mainstream label hip-hop albums on the wane, it's mixtapes where the state of the art can be found. Hip-hop fans these days find themselves with an even greater glut of incessant garbage from which to pluck gold, but when that gold glimmers out it shines all the brighter because of the worldwide welter of wank that surrounds it. It's supremely urgent then that you find/steal/rip Das Racist's Sit Down, Man. Why? Because while a few million people will go to datpiff.com today to download another Weezy snoozeathon, Das Racist are polarising opinion, shaking things up, and going all the way back to find hip-hop's future again.

Their controversy goes beyond that name alone: top to bottom this "weed-edge/Hare Krishna hardcore/art-rap/freak-folk music trio" mess with rap's ever-tightening presets. A bi-coastal crew (Indian-Americans Himanshu Suri and Ashok Kondabolu hail from Queens; Victor Vazquez from San Francisco), Suri and Kondabolu's rare-Asian-in-rap status has given them an auslander's irreverence and obsessiveness about hip-hop culture. They first came to prominence with their track Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell, and the Shut Up, Dude mixtape that followed. Opinion was explosively divided, some hailing the track's monomaniacal repetition as a wild new twist on rap lyricism, others savaging it as a hipster take on hip-hop. For those who remember Slick Rick, the Beasties, Biz Markie and Black Sheep, it's quite clear that DR are in fact hip-hop in excelsis.

They describe their technique as "deconstructionalist … sawing the legs out from under hip-hop as we celebrate it". Throughout Sit Down, Man hip-hop conventions are frenziedly ripped apart and exalted with equal verve and venom, the dizzying array of new and veteran producers making sure the music stays as demented as Suri and Vasquez's unashamedly brainy rhymes. Shambolic live shows and online spats with critics have been triumphs of righteous hype but now that the initial shock of DR's emergence is over, Sit Down, Man reveals that DR's freewheeling verbosity, sense of sonic impropriety and sheer lunatic range of subject matter and sound gets closer to rap's original pioneering spirit than anything else in 2010.

Crucially, Das Racist, by sheer dint of their personnel, are bringing new racial and cultural identities to rap that have rarely spoken before, erasing the tribal baggage hip-hop's getting squashed by and opening things up to a Technicolor, worldwide future. With so much po-faced posturing elsewhere, DR know that if rap wants reanimation it has to recall that what made hip-hop so revolutionary was its ability to go anywhere, and to say – and sound like – anything. So seek out Sit Down, Man and Shut Up Dude now. It's time to get stoopid; here we go again.

Neil Kulkarni

The GuardianTramp

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