By David Rolland
By David Von Bader
By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
In the hot-as-balls summer of 2009, three dudes from New York City — rappers Himanshu "Heems" Suri and Victor "Kool A.D." Vazquez, and hype guy Ashok "Dapwell" Kondabolu — banded together under the vaguely ominous moniker Das Racist, made some beats, spit some rhymes, smoked way too much weed, and contracted a seriously nasty case of the munchies. The result: a novelty hipster-hop track called "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" that earned them almost instant Internet fame.
Built on tinny beats, zippy synths, and lyrics that never really evolve beyond "I'm at the Pizza Hut (What?)/I'm at the Taco Bell (What?)/I'm at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," the song was smart, stupid, cheap, funny, and even — according to the New York Times, that foremost authority on youth culture — "hyperliterate."
Meanwhile, the Das Racist dudes never really gave two craps about shaping the public's perception of their breakthrough track, regularly dodging questions about its seriousness and sociopolitical context. 'Cause, c'mon, the song was basically written by accident.
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"The line actually comes from an older song of mine called 'I Zimbra,'" Kool explained, chatting by email with Village Voice in the weeks after "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" broke out all over the blogosphere like an infectious grease rash.
"At one of our first shows, we were doing that song and then just started repeating that line over and over, and people seemed to like it, because people seem to like dumb shit," he said. "I know I like dumb shit. We [recorded] it in one take on the same mike in our friend's basement like a week later."
It took only a blog minute. But Das Racist had become the nation's premier fast-food rap crew. Or maybe, as Heems, Kool, and Dap would put it, they had actually seized their spot as America's top "weed edge/Hare Krishna hard-core/art rap/freak folk music trio." Either way, these pop-culture metapranksters were catching major web heat.
And now, two years, a couple of mixtapes, and a freshly released full-length slab later, Das Racist is back with another idiotically ingenious hipster-hop anthem that's ripping its way across the interweb like a plastic surgery addict on ether. The song is called "Michael Jackson," and it's the first single off that aforementioned debut record, titled Relax.
Of course, the track itself is pretty rad — all glitchy, superpolished, and faux-thuggish. But the accompanying music video, a loose, semisarcastic remake of the King of Pop's 1991 MTV epic "Black or White," is the real online phenomenon, taking Heems, Kool, and Dap's smart, stupid, cheap, funny, and hyperliterate approach to bloggy pranksterism into the audio-visual realm.
This vid has everything. There's violent kidnapping, visual references to Abu Ghraib, a table full of luxurious snacks, caricaturish African tribesmen, Kabuki babes, Bollywood bitches, and a Michael Jackson tribute artist from Rhode Island. It's essentially a six-and-a-half-minute slice of commentary on our society's casual racism filtered through a satirical, viral-video-style deconstruction of Wacko Jacko's racial hangups.
As Dap told Village Voice recently: "That Michael Jackson was a strange man with unresolved issues regarding race. So good at dancing!" Translation: Don't wait for an explanation. The Das Racist dudes remain as evasive as ever about the meaning of their madness. So just watch "Michael Jackson" and gawk. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll be plagued for the rest of your life by nightmares about men in creepy King of Pop masks riding around in broke-ass cargo vans looking to abduct your ass.