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Das Racist

Relax

Rating: 3.8/5.0

Label: Greedhead

Did Das Racist title their full length debut Relax as a preemptive defense? It’s definitely possible, especially given that their brother on the other end of the indie hip-hop spectrum, Tyler, the Creator, met with far more discussion about his personality than the merits of his “debut.” But it’s also possible that Relax is meant more as a plea, an effort to immediately let listeners know that while they’re serious about their hip-hop, that doesn’t mean they should be taken too seriously. That theory might explain why the album’s title track and opener ends with a fit of laughter.

That ending is just part of what makes “Relax,” the track, such a convenient document of Relax, the album. Cycling through some choppy vocal sampling a la Northeast peers Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead”, “Relax” doesn’t take long to completely shift gears, from minimalist ’80s Bronx chic to Detroit futurism and back again. Relax, album and track, is ADHD hip-hop, a goofy exploration of any number of paths the genre has and could have gone down over the years and, for the most part, it’s a fun excursion. But there are moments, like that ramshackle laugh-in ending, that feel silly in the irritating way rather than the enjoyable way: Adam Sandler versus prime-era Steve Martin, basically.

On a mixtape, where the stakes are somehow lower, a little bit of amateur hour lack of focus isn’t a killer, but on a real album? An album people are paying money for? Well, it’s different, isn’t it? Yes, and no. Das Racist are all too aware that the stakes are higher, but their cheekiness has always been a big part of their appeal and they’re not going to sacrifice or minimize that, which is why there’s the command to relax right up front. Unsurprisingly, the songs that draw upon that quality fare better. There’s “Michael Jackson” with its dumb-yet-genius title and its climax of giddy self-posturing in the form of variations of the phrase, “Yo, I’m good at rapping,” or the self-explanatory “Booty in the Air.” It’s when the product is too stunted to function as fun when the problems arise, such as “Brand New Dance” and its go-nowhere meandering.

Some of the diversions are interesting in theory but not so much in execution, particularly the Odd Future progression tacked onto the otherwise normally Eastern-influenced “Middle of the Cake.” Or the Diplo-produced “Happy Rappy,” which likely would have worked better as a Major Lazer joint, with all the svelte vocal stylings that would have entailed. Others, like the Blood Diamonds-produced ’80s throwback “Girl,” work far better than they should. But when the best track on the album, “Rainbow in the Dark,” comes from one of those still-celebrated mixtapes, it’s hard to completely relax and shut out that sense of entitlement.

“Rainbow in the Dark” at least seems to signify that Das Racist aren’t completely unaware that they’re at least partially to blame for the high stakes they’re facing. Yet by acknowledging that, it puts that plea to not be taken seriously in a different light, where that seems less of a jovial defense and more of a way of shifting responsibility. Their joking aside, Das Racist is a decidedly talented group that can do better than the enjoyable-but-not-fully-realized effort that is Relax, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect such from them.

by Nick Hanover

Key Tracks: Michael Jackson, Rainbow in the Dark

See Also: Das Racist: Sit Down, Man

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