Das Racist: "We're Not Racist, We Love White People: Ford Trucks, Apple Pies, Bald Eagles"

by “David Shapiro”


last week Das Racist’s new mixtape got a glowing review and a score of 8.7 out of 10 on pitchfork, and a coveted Best New Music designation, and then the next day i was in central park seeing Pavement and when Pavement was finished playing, i texted Himanshu, one of the rappers in Das Racist, to see if i could ask him some questions. like a month ago i did this reading that Das Racist also did, and after the reading ended everyone went outside and i talked to Himanshu and i said i wanted to write something about Das Racist and asked him if i could talk to him about it at a later date and he said yes and gave me his phone number. so he texts me back, “how long is it finna take” and i say “about 20 min” and he texts me back with his address and i say “okay see you soon” and i take the subway from central park to bushwick

i knock on the door of the apartment building whose address he gave me because there are no buzzers even though there are multiple apartments in the building, and nothing happens so i text him “yo i’m here” and then i try to open the front door to the building and it is unlocked and i walk in and stand in the lobby area waiting for him, i am nervous and i am wishing i had taken an anti-anxiety pill and i wonder if i have one in my pocket so i check my pocket but i don’t and i think about running outside to buy a 40 but then Himanshu comes down the stairs. he is barefoot and he gets halfway down the stairs and crouches and looks at me for a second and smiles and gives me the finger guns and goes, “yo” and he smiles and i say “hey how’s it going?”

Himanshu is Indian and is olive-skinned and he is wearing gray skinny jeans and a black tanktop with white stripes across it. i am middle-eastern and also olive-skinned and wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a bull on it and a backpack and blue pants and later Himanshu asks me what brand my pants are and i say “Alife” and he says “are you into urban clothing?” and i say “i guess i am?” and he nods and looks like he is making a mental note

anyway he greets me and we walk up the stairs and into the living room of an apartment that has some paintings hanging on the walls and a table by a window and i ask him if it is his apartment or someone else’s. he says he is subletting a room in it but it is his friend’s place. he tells me he is subletting month-by-month and he won’t be here next month because Das Racist is touring in China. he tells me that Asia has more money to pay bands and the trend of more bands touring in Asia is a future trend that he is predicting, and he gestures that i should write that down

we talk a little bit and he is jovial but is a little nervous too and when he is talking to me he doesn’t make eye contact a lot of the time. i try to explain that i am not trying to skewer him or catch him saying something dumb, and he doesn’t have a reason to be nervous about this, and he seems relieved but still suspicious and says that there is a complex relationship between musicians and the people who are writing about them. i ask if i can use the bathroom and he says “go ahead man” and i go into the bathroom and there is a really stinky towel hanging off a hook on the bathroom door, i don’t know if it is Himanshu’s or someone else’s, and then i come out of the bathroom and we walk into one of the bedrooms and Himanshu wipes some ash off of the edge of the bed and i sit on the edge of the bed in the spot where he wiped the ash away

Himanshu sits up against the wall at the head of the bed. there is a guy sitting in a computer chair in front of a desk with a computer and a big bottle of vodka and personal-sized small bottles of grapefruit juice on the desk, and Himanshu introduces us and the guy asks me if i want a “greyhound” and i say “okay, is it just the vodka and grapefruit juice?” and himanshu says “damn you never had a greyhound?” and i said “i don’t think so but i’ll have one now”

so Himanshu’s friend makes me a greyhound and i drink some of it and i tell Himanshu that i am also subletting month-by-month in bushwick and that i don’t have a bed because i know i am going to just be moving soon anyway, it doesn’t make sense to buy a bed only to have to move it every month, so now i just sleep on a futon in the living room of an apartment with a guy i don’t know who doesn’t like me because i sleep in the living room so he can’t watch TV at night

Himanshu says that his parents moved to Long Island from Queens after he went to college and that his parents’ new house isn’t the place he grew up in and he is part of a diaspora and being a part of a diaspora means not having a home. i feel sad for a second. he says “not having a permanent place that you’re at for a year is a type of homelessness that will drive a man crazy.” i can’t think of any of my friends who are under 26 that have lived in a single place for more than a year. he looks sad for a second when he says that he hasn’t felt like he was home since before he went to college, which was seven years ago, and then he says that he and Victor, who is the other member of Das Racist, do not own computers and just use the computers that are in the places that they are staying. i try to think about how i feel when i can’t get on my computer for a few days and try to imagine what it is like to not even have a computer. this may not sound like a tragedy or particularly painful imposition but suffering and need are relative. i wonder if Das Racist’s frequent lyrics about the internet are rooted in not having computers

he turns to his friend and asks, “what does transient mean again?” and his friend goes “it means you change genders!” and laughs and i laugh too and Himanshu giggles and says “okay dude, i KNOW what it means, you just always have this sense of insecurity about what you are saying when you grow up with two languages”

Himanshu points out that his friend is wearing “great sock” because his socks have a fancy pattern and then he tells me that his friend is wearing great sock because he is French and comes from a great lineage and then tells me that he only hangs out with people from the best lineages and laughs

i tell Himanshu that i think Das Racist is a project about race with some jokes and pop culture and internet references in orbit around the race issues, and not vice versa, and the pitchfork review of their mixtape, which actually contains such a grave misapprehension of Das Racist’s mission that i think it is what prompted me to text Himanshu, only mentions the word “race” one time and glosses over how racially-focused their music is. i tell Himanshu that their pitchfork review was like a 1000-word review of Silence of the Lambs where the writer only mentions the serial killer one time, or a review of The Little Mermaid that only mentions an undersea princess one time, and he thinks for a second and agrees. i tell Himanshu that before they made everyone take their shoes off at the airport, they made me and my dad take our shoes off at the airport, and he laughs, and i am trying to indicate to him that there is an aspect of Das Racist’s paranoia about being treated differently for being brown that i feel too but it is hard to say something like that directly. maybe i need another greyhound

sometimes after Himanshu says something and i am writing down what he says, he turns to his friend and makes jokes. his friend says something about being hung over and Himanshu says that the best way to address a hangover is to put on a suit, because if you put on a suit, nobody will think you are hung over and you will feel like a million bucks! Himanshu goes on, “you don’t even need a suit, just dress pants and a button down and people who wear just wear jeans every day assume you’re wearing a suit” and he laughs and his friend laughs and then Himanshu gets up to go to the bathroom and knocks over a bottle of vodka that was on the floor. i think he is getting more comfortable

Himanshu says that Das Racist recorded the mixtape in 3 weeks and released it 2 weeks later and he hasn’t yet had time to build thoughts of it as a cohesive work because he has only listened to each song five or ten times and i am thinking that i have listened to it more times than that and i think about mentioning that to him and noting how it is weird that i have listened to his record more times than he has but then decide not to mention it

there is a lull in our conversation because i am writing stuff down and Himanshu asks me how Pavement was and i say “pretty good” and he says “i heard my first Pavement song two or three days ago” and i notice that he has a tattoo on his arm of an airplane and i say “what is the tattoo for?” and he says that airplanes are symbolic of recent waves of immigration, and he went to school a few blocks from Ground Zero and then he hesitates for a second and says “and lots of different reasons i guess?”

we talk more about socks and Himanshu says that his mom buys him his socks, and then i remember that the first time i met him, Himanshu told me that he used to work on wall street and he has a line where he says “still livin’ off severance cash” so i ask him what his job was and he sips his drink and goes, “i was a headhunter focusing on sales trading in emerging markets. i hired people who worked on emerging markets trading desks. if someone got fired, i would help them find a job. if someone wanted to move on, i helped them move on, and i facilitated compensation agreements” and then he tells me some more stuff about his particular responsibilities and i ask him how much money he made, and i know it is tacky to ask but i think if i was reading this right now i would want to know if the guy in Das Racist was making a ton of money and quit his job to be in an indie rap group full time, that sacrifice would lend a bunch of credibility to his endeavor, and he laughs and looks at his friend and then he looks back at me and says he isn’t going to tell me but it was a fair amount for someone in his line of work and then he laughs again but this time nervously. he makes himself another greyhound and pulls a pillow from under the covers in the middle of the bed and puts it on his lap and starts joking around with his friend

there is music playing out of computer speakers and MC Hammer by Rick Ross comes on and Himanshu stops in the middle of his sentence and raps along to Rick Ross for a second, “my gun dirty! my brick clean! i’m ridin dirty! my dick clean!” and then starts talking about working at the headhunting firm again

his firm was run by south asians, for the purpose of finding jobs for other south asians, and he says that the job was a sales job and there was a lot of hustling involved, and some of the people who worked there were pretty clean-cut and some were rough around the edges and they just wanted to hustle and he did the job for two years and really enjoyed it for the first year but then didn’t enjoy it any more

i want to mention that almost everything Himanshu tells me is directly or indirectly about race or discrimination, like his friend’s “lineage” or how the firm he worked for was run by south asians for the purpose of finding jobs for other south asians, how his tattoo is about recent waves of immigration and like twenty other things that you’ll notice. he is preoccupied with brown peoples’ exclusion when he talks about race, and he is sort of on a constant quest to highlight discrimination and explain the world through the lens of being brown. i am thinking about the introduction to the song “Fashion Party” on his mixtape where a woman’s voice says “how do you pronounce that, ra-CISTE? sorry, you’re not on the list” and then you can hear another voice in the background saying “step aside please.” Himanshu says that Das Racist is about pan-brownism

when we talked outside the reading, Himanshu told me that he manages 5 bands and has gotten 3 of them signed to record deals. he has not been able to get Das Racist signed. there is an underpinning of frustration and disappointment about that in Das Racist, but himanshu and victor sublimate their frustration about what Himanshu terms America’s “matrix of discrimination” into jokes about it, and the jokes are so funny that listeners forget what is going on behind and within the jokes. on the new mixtape there is a line where that goes, “we’re not racist, we love white people: ford trucks, apple pies… bald eagles!”

he talks more about his old job and then he looks sad for a second and says that he was working for his firm in 2008 and he personally witnessed the collapses of Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he said people were getting laid off left and right. his friend tells me that he got laid off at that time too, he was the first person at his firm to get laid off. Himanshu says that it was his job to meet with people who got laid off and set them up with their next job, and i guess he was meeting with a lot of scared and frustrated and disappointed people

a few minutes later he looks wistful and sounds disheartened when he tells me that it is a really weird time to make music, by which he means that nobody has any money to pay musicians and it is so hard to make a living from being a musician. he tells me that soon every person in America is “gonna be on their west indian shit — multiple hustles” meaning everyone will have more than one job. i ask him if he makes a living off Das Racist and he says that he does but it is modest

we talk a little more about the pitchfork review and Himanshu notes that the review gave Victor, who goes by MC Kool A.D., credit for some of Himanshu’s lines: “…Kool A.D. gives a tender, relatable treatise on the effects of soft substance abuse. Though he notes that fan interaction tends to be way friendlier when you rap about weed, he reminisces about a youth of ‘Yo! MTV Raps’ cards and Nautica sweatshirts and realizes ‘we used to play basketball, then we started drinking.’” i mention one of their lines about how people can’t tell them apart, which itself points out a subtle racism in not being able to tell an indian dude apart from a cuban/italian dude, and Himanshu nods

we go up to the roof of the apartment building, which is slanted, and there is a table that is consequently also slanted and we sit down around the table and Himanshu’s friend lights a cigarette. Himanshu says, “people think of us as a collective energy but nobody has written about how we are different,” which is obviously frustrating for him, and he continues “but we’re different in a lot of ways. like he’s from the west coast and i’m from the east coast, his flow is laid back and mine is in your ear” and he finishes his drink

we talk about the near future and i tell Himanshu about wanting to go to law school and Himanshu says, “i have ambitions larger than being in a fairly popular indie rap group too” and me and his friend look at him expectantly and he says “yeah, i want to solve the issue of poverty through access to water and access to the internet. and also change the nature of internet venture capital to incorporate the developing world” and then he looks at his blackberry and almost jumps up in his seat and says “oh shit one of the bands i manage is playing at Glasslands right now! i gotta go to that!” and i say “can i come?” and he says “sure but we gotta bounce right now” so we go inside and he gets his jacket and we run downstairs and catch a taxi on metropolitan avenue

Himanshu starts talking to the taxi driver in Panjabi. the only words i can understand are “Lahore” (which is the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab), “music business,” “long island,” “queens,” and “government”

when we get to the gallery i ask him what he was talking to the cab driver about and he says that the cab driver has eight children and 35 grandchildren. two of his grandchildren are policemen and two are detectives. Himanshu says the cab driver is “from the old country” and that he was in Pakistan in 1947 during the mass exodus of hindus and sikhs from territory that had just been declared to be Pakistan. my grandparents met in a holocaust refugee camp the same year

Himanshu tells me he said to the cab driver, “you musta seen a lot a shit in your day” referring to mass murder during the exodus, and the cab driver said “yeah i saw a lot in my day” and Himanshu says that his grandparents were part of the mass exodus too. he says that sometimes talking to cab drivers is more interesting than talking to his friends

we get out of the cab at Glasslands and walk past a girl and Himanshu says “she was pretty,” with a hint of longing, and we get to the door and the doorman recognizes Himanshu and pats him on the back as Himanshu goes inside, and then when we are inside Himanshu sees that the band he manages is on stage but finds out that they have only played half a song and he looks at me and yells, because it is loud inside the venue, “IT’S THE FIRST SONG OF THE SET, I’M NOT LATE,” and we walk around the venue as he introduces me to some people and the band plays a few songs. he asks me if i want a drink and i say “no thanks” and he tells me that Avey Tare from Animal Collective is DJing and i ask “why?” and Himanshu says it’s because his wife was supposed to play the show but then she cancelled and also Avey Tare has a new record out that he is probably looking to promote

after a few songs Himanshu goes to the bathroom and i walk behind him to go to the DJ booth and as Himanshu passes the DJ booth he salutes Avey Tare. while Himanshu is in the bathroom i go up to the DJ booth and see Avey Tare sitting cross-legged on the ground in the booth. he is wearing a graphic t-shirt and a white trucker hat with like neon cartoon ghosts on the front of the hat, and the hat has a white brim and white netting. Avey Tare is smiling and drinking a cocktail

i go up to him and crouch down and say “hi, my name is David and i write a music blog — could i ask you three questions please?” and he says “sure!”

i say, “do you believe in god?” but then instantly i regret asking because i should have led off with something on the lighter side

he laughs and thinks for a second and looks at my face and says “hmmmm… it’s complicated?” and he looks like he is trying to formulate a more direct response but i stop him and ask him another question because i regretted asking the first question

i say, “do you listen to rap?” and he says “yes” so i say, “what rap?”

Avey Tare says, “mostly late 80s and early 90s hip-hop. some jay dee, tribe called quest, NWA, EPMD”

i say, “okay cool. how do you think the world will end?”

he thinks about it again and looks around. he takes a sip of his drink and looks at my sneakers and i look at the crates of records that are in front of him. he says, “very slowly and painfully” and then laughs and i thank him and walk back to Himanshu who is congratulating his band because they just finished playing

Himanshu saw me talking to Avey Tare and told me that i shouldn’t have typed out his answers right in front of him with my blackberry in his face, that i should have waited until he finished answering and then walked away and written his answers down because nobody likes getting a tape recorder or a blackberry shoved in their face. i tell him i have a really bad memory and i don’t want to misquote people. i tell Himanshu that i am thinking about leaving. i want to tell him about my dad, who came to America in 1985 and has spent the last 25 years realizing that discrimination in America exists just like it does everywhere else in the world but there are laws against it here so it has to be really subtle. my dad wants to leave America and move to Europe as soon as he can, where he hopes that people there will at least drop the pretense of being post-race. the “Das” in Das Racist rhymes with “pass” and is supposed to sound like “that’s racist” but it first brings to mind Das Boot, the movie about the German U-Boat in WWII, which is a movie that my dad watches because he is obsessed with the holocaust. i want to tell Himanshu that to me, Das Racist is a project about immigrant disillusionment, about realizing that the possibilities for immigrants in America are not as vast as they appeared from outside it, and when i listen to Das Racist it helps me understand my dad because sometimes it is hard for him to be direct about why he wants to leave. but it is weird to tell someone something so direct and personal like that so i skip it

Himanshu asks me if he can drop a couple names that i will write in whatever i am writing about him and i say “maybe, what names are they?” and he says “my band that just played Headless Horseman and the blogger Dallas Penn who was onto us before anybody else was” and then we walk to the backstage area and the band is putting away their equipment and Himanshu looks at me and says, “okay i don’t wanna be on the record anymore” and i say “okay, what should i write to end this naturally though?” and he goes, “just write, ‘Himanshu said he wanted to be off the record and then we hung out’” and i say “okay” and then he left the backstage area to talk to some more people, i think, and then he came back and i said goodbye and i left and then i went to the bus stop in the Hasidic area in Williamsburg and thought about exclusion

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