The fall of 2011 may have been the worst, most soul-crushing time of my life (at least so far, things could always get worse!) That summer I had graduated from high school and, unfortunately, discovered weed. By the time September hit I was starting my first term of real-deal college and struggling with the weight of what that meant. Most of my friends had moved away and I was going to a massive school where I knew no one and everyone was older than me. I was in a new situation, scared, and alone, so I clung onto the things that I knew would comfort me. At the time, that meant weed. I ran in the worst direction possible.
Weed made me feel perfect. It was almost literally heaven on earth. It is terrifying knowing it takes so little to make me so happy, but it also meant my ideal night involved a vape, podcasts, and copious amounts of junk food. I was drawn towards it because it felt like the only way to adjust. I could tell college represented a major shift in my life, and I could also tell I was not ready for it. I just wanted to keep playing video games and fucking around with my friends from high school, but that was now impossible. So instead I smoked and played video games by myself. Great.
I tried pairing pot with everything I could think of, and (aside from social interaction) it made everything better. Listening to music on weed? The most heavenly sound I’d ever heard. Listening to a podcast on weed? I had a hard time trying to breathe between all the laughter. A single Jones Soda was world-shatteringly delicious. In a way it was beautiful. It made the things I already liked even better. Something as insignificant as a 99 cent can of Arizona from the shithole 7-11 around the corner could be the highpoint of my night. It was beautiful and terrifying.
I recently read a quote from Anthony Bourdain that perfectly sums up what I’ve learned from this time: “There’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, and smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons, and old movies. I could easily do that. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid and outwit that guy.” I don’t want to fall into that. I don’t want to go down that well. I won’t.
I still learned something from this period. I learned about myself, I learned how not to handle pressure, and (more importantly) I discovered some great art during this time. I discovered the comedy podcast Uhh Yeah Dude, the crushing heaviness of stoner rock (a bit on-the-nose), and the hip-hop group Das Racist.
Aside from Eminem (every white kid’s favorite rapper), Das Racist was the first hip-hop group I genuinely enjoyed. They were the first artist within this genre that I discovered on my own. It’s selfish, but sometimes there’s a gross satisfaction with being the first person in your group of friends to discover something. For me, that was DR.
Das Racist are a now-defunct comedic hip-hop trio based out of Brooklyn, New York comprised of rappers Himanshu Kumar Suri (Heems), and Victor Vazquez (Kool A.D.), as well as hype man Ashok Kondabolu (Dapwell). Many people were first exposed to the group in 2008 through their fluke viral hit “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” While literal essays have been written dissecting the song’s lyrics and meaning, it’s likely that if you listen to this track on your own you’ll get something out of it on at least one level.
As a group, they’ve often sat in a weird position, half of the people that heard “Pizza Hut” assumed they were some one-off youtube comedy group. The actual hip-hop community still seems divided between one camp who initially dismissed them as joke rap and a second that stuck around saw something deeper. The group’s hip-hop identity crisis is perfectly encapsulated in (what I consider) their definitive song “hahaha jk?”
When I was first turned onto the group they only had two mixtapes out: Shut up, DudeandSit Down, Man. Because my only other deep exposure to hip-hop at the time was Eminem, something about Das Racist opened a door in my mind. I didn’t know that hip-hop could be this funny or this tapped into pop culture. The trio’s incessant references to junk food, internet in-jokes, and 80’s icons was an intoxicating mix. To witness all of the things that these guys were pulling from and then piecing it together for myself was a fucking trip. And even if I didn’t get every reference the group was dropping, their delivery was so silky smooth that I didn’t even mind.
The reason I started this off by talking about weed is because, yes, I used it to escape, but it has also forever tainted the way I perceive most of the music I was listening to at this time. Maybe this filter was more from the overall darkness and feeling of treading water, but the weed certainly didn’t help. Sometimes an album, video game, podcast, or movie, can become so entangled in a feeling that it becomes impossible to separate. I guess it’s kind of like nostalgia, only it’s not necessarily a positive feeling. In this case, the fall of 2011 was an absolutely terrible time in my life. I ran to weed and used it to accentuate my already isolationist and habitual tendencies. I’d listen to the same songs, podcasts, and albums while smoking. As much as I love it, it’s hard for me to listen to Uhh Yeah Dude just because the host’s voices bring this feeling back so strongly. What once was an incredible escape has now become tainted with darkness and listlessness (which is exactly the opposite of what a comedy podcast should evoke).
Nearly everything I was consuming at this time has been filtered through this lense, it’s all associated with this weird, dark, directionless sinking feeling… All of it except Das Racist. Somehow they are the one that gets a pass, and I don’t know why. I listened to “Amazing” nearly every day. The released their debut studio album that same fall. You’d think they would be just as tied to this negative emotion as the rest of what I was consuming at the time, but somehow they came out unscathed.
I think it’s just a testament to how fucking good they are. Das Racist is somehow able to levitate above my own mental connections, above this weird filter, and above my own negative nostalgia. That’s impressive. I have absolutely no idea how to end this other than saying Das Racist aren’t the typical rap group. There’s a stretch of songs on their second mixtape that exemplifies everything the group does well: Rapping 2 U, Rooftop, and Return to Innocence. DR were able to make something wholly unique within the hip-hop genre (a scene that I was decidedly not a part of and wanted nothing to do with). They created something that left a major impression on me and is one of the few things from that time in my life that I can still listen to fresh and without any negative associations.
Weed fucking sucks. I obviously “get” weed, but after enough bad trips, stupid decisions, and perspective, I’ve come to realize that it’s not for me. I don’t look down on people that smoke, and after all, it genuinely helps some people… but I just think that in my case it did more harm than good. I’m glad that I experienced it, and it absolutely opened my mind up in different directions, but it’s not something I’d ever want to “return to.” Das Racist is my one solid tie still remaining from that point in my life, and the fact that their music was able to come out the other side of that experience unaffected is fucking commendable. It’s rap no one else does, and that no one else can do. It was cultural, self-aware, tapped-in hip-hop that is not only unaffected by my own stupid brain, but a genuine joy to listen to. It showed me what hip-hop was possible of achieving, and the fact that it’s just as comedic as it is genuine is an incredibly rare feat. Thank god for this group of three racially-ambiguous men.