During a news conference on Wednesday night, President Obama stood up for the prominent African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who had recently been arrested by a white police officer in Cambridge, Mass., in an incident rife with racial tension.
In a less publicized defense later that night at Union Pool in Brooklyn, the local art-rap group Das Racist offered a song to Mr. Gates, who famously testified on behalf of 2 Live Crew in a 1990 obscenity trial, locating that bawdy group’s performances in a long lineage of black oral traditions.
Mr. Gates, though, couldn’t have anticipated Das Racist, a pair of stoner jokesters: Himanshu Suri, whose parents emigrated from India, and Victor Vazquez, of Cuban and Italian heritage. But their sloppiness is a mask for detailed, affectionate hip-hop parody, name-dropping KRS-One and Asher Roth as easily as W. E. B. Du Bois and the literary critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Their act is a blend that inspires questions like this one in a recent interview in The Village Voice: “Is this a joke that everyone thinks is a graduate thesis, or vice versa?”
And this one, which Mr. Suri asked the tightly packed, largely white, artfully dressed and coifed crowd on Wednesday: “You guys like rap music at all?”
Both were fair questions. Das Racist formed at Wesleyan: if the Hoover administration promised a chicken in every pot, perhaps what the Obama era has to offer is a joke-rap ensemble at every liberal arts college. But Das Racist’s lack of piety has become an aesthetic of its own, with songs that are as much commentary on hip-hop as rigorous practice of it.
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[Thanks to JohnWesley for the tip.]
* Seriously Wes, we’re curious. Tell us.