Das Racist’s Ashok Kondabolu, better known as Dap, is too cool for school, but not too cool for Columbia. The rapper will be bringing his hipster style to the Bacchanal stage this Saturday. With the song “hahahaha jk?” named one of the 50 best singles of 2010 by Rolling Stone, Das Racist is anything but a joke.
The video for “Who’s That? Brooown!” featured a playable 8-bit video game where Himanshu Suri and Victor Vazquez were on the search through the boroughs to find you. What did it feel like to be the end goal of a video game that people were playing? Was it very objectifying?
It is very objectifying, but so is a great deal of the performance and distribution of music. I don’t mind, as long as it allows me to make some money and do some of the weird things I want to do in New York City. I was a little upset that I didn’t get an 8-bit close-up in the video like the other guys did, I got to be honest.
And then the video became a Pitchfork Top 40 of 2010 video and was selected to screen at Sundance. What does it feel like to be co-opted by hipsters and film-goers?
I’d consider myself to be a part of those two groups, although “hipster” is an annoying word that can be used to describe pretty much any group of people who don’t want to sit around eating Doritos and watching American football. We don’t exist inside a special “rap universe,” although I wish we did! What would it be like?
Das Racist as a group is very reluctant to talk about meaning of songs. Do you feel that all artists should be silent about meaning, or is this something specific to your work?
I think that it’s more interesting to allow the music to speak for itself while it’s being made and still fairly new. Years later, it’s a different story, and artists might want to divulge some of the history or whatever behind the music. I don’t think our music is especially difficult to understand, although maybe it is to parse. Most of the slang is pretty well known, though we say some wildino shit in “real life.” Though I do wonder what Lil B is talking about in that “Ellen Degeneres” song. A subtle shot at Chris Brown, perhaps? I hope so—Chris Brown is terrible.
So you’ll be at Columbia to perform with Snoop Dogg. Did you listen to Snoop Dogg back in your younger days?
The first time I heard “Drop It Like It’s Hot” was on the steps of the Columbia library with my friend Dave Marcus. I used to live on 104th Street and Broadway, and we’d hang out on the campus sometimes and bother students. Not sure how much of an influence he is, although I’ve heard his music thousands of times since I was like 7, so how can we even tell? It’s like radon gas poisoning.
Speaking of being here at Columbia, you and Suri both attended Stuyvesant High School, the prestigious New York City public high school. As I’m sure you know, many Stuy students wind up at Columbia. How do you feel about that? Your band’s site has said that Suri and Vazquez met at “Sarah Lawrence Bard Pomona Wesleyan Art College.” Do you feel like Columbia fits this description?
Well, people go to Stuyvesant to end up at colleges like Columbia, so I’m not surprised. Those are all liberal arts colleges. Columbia’s in a different zone. Shouts to Barnard, where I used to spend time in 2004-2005!
You often bring up race in your songs. Recently, Stuyvesant had a scandal over a “racist video” and students were suspended. Yet, Stuyvesant is 72 percent Asian. How do you feel about this? Suri has said, “I think being minorities at a liberal arts college and that type of environment had an impact on both the way we view race and our sense of humor, which people often use as a tool to deal with race.”
Stuyvesant was something like 50 percent Asian when I went there. Me and Hima spent time with Indian kids on the fourth floor for a while and were part of a group called Third World that was like all the kids of color rolling around. I think being in Manhattan and taking the train and walking around the entire city for the first time was more important than the actual school experience. Also, I’m a mildly intelligent kid from “7-train Queens,” so, you know, I had some idea about what was going on. So basically, I don’t know!
Das Racist has been hailed as both “an urgent new voice in rap” and dismissed as a joke. In your song “hahahaha jk?” you say, “We’re not joking. Just joking.” So are you really just joking?
After hearing a bunch of dudes in their late 20s and early 30s talking about Earl Sweatshirt, a 16-year-old boy, and what his plans for the future might be, I choose not to speculate about what other people think about this particular rap group’s music. Many people are bored and overeducated with a lot of free time and a worthless degree and a sense of entitlement, so who cares what they think? Take it or leave it, there’s plenty of shit to listen to. But if you don’t like it, fuck you.
According to your website, you were in Portland for 4/20. Did you go to celebrate the holidays?
We were actually in Austin, Texas, playing at a NORML event. I don’t smoke weed very often. Legalization seems to make sense, but it would really fuck with a lot of my friends’ money, if you know what I mean.