Cynically, I was ready to be disappointed when Das Racist released its first physical CD after the intellectual jokester hip-hop trio captured widespread acclaim with a pair of free, download-only albums in 2010. But the first single from Relax, "Michael Jackson," is as artistically radical and sarcastically insightful as anything from last year's Sit Down, Man and Shut Up, Dude.
The tune is musically assaultive, riding an annoying/infectious sampled riff that sounds like a digitized combination of a crowing rooster and a video game. And it starts with the chorus: "Michael Jackson / A million dollars / You feel me? / Holler!" That catchy bit of minimalist nonsense almost re-creates the mood of the YouTube sensation "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell."
One could spend twice the space of this review exploring the cultural references and deconstructing the raps by Kool A.D. (Victor Vazquez) and Heems (Himanshu Suri) on this track. These guys romp within the conventions of hip-hop while exposing the contradictions and misconceptions inherent in the genre. It's safe to say that no other act today name-drops Fran Drescher, Oompa Loompas, Parenthood, Lady Gaga, Gruyère cheese, Google, Oban Scotch, sophomoric sex jokes, Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and "playin' bass in jam bands up at Wesleyan" while creating cutting-edge urban music.
The group also takes on dance music on the tunefully sung "Girl," while collaborating with El-P on "Shut Up, Man" and Bhangra singer Bikram Singh on "Punjabi Song." For good measure, they include the pure-genius "Rainbow in the Dark," repeated from Shut Up, Dude.