3.5 stars (out of 4)
Hip-hop’s resident wiseguys, Heems (Himanshu Suri) and Kool A.D. (Victor Vazquez), have delighted connoisseurs of off-kilter humor and surreal wordplay with a stream of free tracks and mixtapes the last couple of years.
Now comes Das Racist’s official debut, “Relax” (Greedhead), in which the duo sharpens its critique of hip-hop without coming off as finger-wagging scolds. “It’s a brand new dance,” they rap-sing with stoned languidness, “give us all your money.” As a send-up of the tired subject matter that pervades so many mainstream releases, “Relax” succeeds because it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. One minute Heems and Kool A.D. are dropping 10-dollar words like “sophistry” or referencing Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, the next they’re fantasizing about “Booty in the Air” like a couple of nerds who’d never make it past the bouncer at a strip club.
They are abetted by production that isn’t about banging beats so much as convention-shattering textures, whether it’s the steel-drum, Caribbean flavor of “Girl,” produced by Blood Diamonds; the madly cartoonish, skittering keyboards of Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberley on “Michael Jackson”; or the grid of computerized blips from Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij on “The Trick.”
The opening title song dissolves into what sounds like electronically damaged laughter, a demented cartoon soundtrack. “Celebration” brings the album to a close with a duet between two overserved MC’s who don’t seem to realize the party has long since ended. Heems and Kool A.D. affirm that they’re not typical MC’s bragging about their prodigious mike skills and libidos. Instead, they’re deceptively laid-back satirists who deliver their smackdowns amid da-da streams of consciousness, sometimes with such subtlety that by the time the joke finally registers they’re off on a fresh, equally strange and frequently hilarious tangent.
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