Well, Since You Asked, Here's What I Think of the New Das Racist Album, or: How Many White Devils Does It Take to Review Relax?

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Rap Genius dot com is white devil sophistry/Urban Dictionary is for demons with college degrees--Kool AD, "Middle of the Cake"

Huh, OK. I wasn't expecting to get called to account on this one, but I don't want to leave anyone wondering (and I am a fan), so here goes: my thoughts on Das Racist's new album, Relax. First of all, we gotta quit with this hand-wringing shit that DR are SOOO hard to parse or whatever. (The application deadline for that essay was last year.) They're smart and they're funny and they can rap--it's all pretty simple. Anyway, Relax is the group's commercial debut--following two mixtapes in 2010 which charted rapid development--and it sounds like it: The stoned sprawl of those tapes is here concentrated into 14 pretty self-contained songs (including The Song for the Ladies and The Song for the Underground Rap Heads [featuring El-P]); there are more (and more poppy) choruses; and while they still pack their songs with pointy-headed references and inside jokes, it all feels like it's being intentionally pitched at an audience much broader than just undergrads and rap bloggers.

Perhaps no single song is more indicative of the shift than "Booty in the Air"--sadly, not an Ypsilanti All Stars cover, but in fact a recycle of an old DR beat from 2008, previously called "Different Schools." Back then, DR were rapping with fake patois about the anxieties of a Wesleyan dude dating a Pratt chick or whatever (CAN YOU IMAGINE?!); now, they've (largely) ditched the Shaun Bridgmohan angle and repositioned the song as a more general--and Juvenile--ode. They reprise the old "Me like this giiiiirl/And she like me too" chorus, but pointedly don't mention schools.

Of course, Das Racist treat their commercial ambitions with typically self-aware humor, rapping choruses of "Michael Jackson/A million dollars" and "It's a brand new dance/Give us all your money"--the latter of which is followed by the platitudinous "Everybody/Love everybody," which inspires fellow White Devil Rap Blogger(TM) Andrew Matson to muse: "What's it making fun of, money-obsessed rap (Jay-Z), dance-craze rap (Soulja Boy), the entire idea of commercial art? Probably all of the above."

So, yeah, on first listen, I didn't think much of the above-quoted song "Michael Jackson"--was put off by Heem's gravelly tough-guy voice, annoyed with the chorus. But the chorus sticks, and Heems turns out to use the gruffness sparingly. I didn't think much of Relax in general on first listen, either. But of course 1st-listen Relax can't compare with 234th-listen Sit Down, Man, after all the jokes and hooks and clever turns of phrase have had time to be dissected and digested. And over just the course of a week, Relax-and "Michael Jackson"--have grown on me significantly.

The tracks, as Todd suggests, are perhaps a little more polished musically, and while the density of the samples and programming felt claustrophobic at first, if you dig in, there are a lot of fun, tricky hooks to get lost in. The whole first half, from "Relax" to "Shut Up, Man" is ace, turns out. The back half I'm not fully through with yet, but it's nice to see "Rainbow in the Dark" get a repeat here. Away from the Internet and my iPod for the weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to find the game, goofy chorus of "Middle of the Cake" stuck in my head on repeat. And, you know, they're FUCKING GREAT AT RAPPING.

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