So Das Racist, ever since receiving the "Pitchfork Best New Music" tag, touring everywhere and appearing on every decent "Best of 2010" list (including mine - GET HYPE), has been "blowing up" lately. Their popularity is relevant to me, as I am planning on seeing them in Toronto and Hamilton in January, and I'm wondering what sort of crowd there'll be. Here's the problem: if there's one thing that fills me with UNQUENCHABLE IRRATIONAL RAGE more than people enjoying things I didn't enjoy (see: a lot of movies) or not enjoying things that I did enjoy (see: Endless Eight), it's people enjoying the same things as me, but FOR THE WRONG REASONS. It's the sense of camaraderie, the sense that they treat me as one of them, but I am not one of them! But they say, "if you are not one of us, what are you doing here?". But I am one the one that deserves to be there, the rest of them do not understand! They are wretched scum that do not deserve to sweep up after a Das Racist concert. But I know they will be! I hear them scurrying about in preparation, these sub-humans, sub-roaches! Their evil is boundless and unfathomable, their motives aligned with the grotesque Gods of pagan hell, their transport a fixed gear death tank fueled by corpses of the innocent, which they use to pick up their expensive coffee that they drink ironically from the skulls of... well, you know whom I speak of. HIPSTERS.
Woah, the "h-bomb"
So yeah, the definition of hipster is always a weird one, and using the word is actually pretty dumb. 99% of the time its usage refers to "a person doing or liking something that the speaker feels is weird and cannot explain". However, I've come up with a definition that I personally like, and it's this definition I mean when I use the word, and it's the specific case of this definition that makes the presence of hipsters at Das Racist so worrying.
What is a "hipster"
A common definition of a hipster is someone who is contrary for the sake of individualism, but I don't think this is quite accurate. Other common usages refer to people with certain fashion senses or tastes in music, but these are merely symptoms of the problem. Moreover, these are not definitive symptoms either, as the idea of mimetic culture allows many who aren't hipsters under my definition to act as "true hipsters" do - of course, these people are part of the wide and varied class of "poseurs", and are thus below mention.
The basis for hipsterism is entirely mental, and the symptoms merely outcomes of the mentality being used to make choices in a given environment. To say hipsters are contrary tells half the story, but the cause of being contrary or "doing things ironically" isn't individualism but rather justification, or specifically, a exterior rationalization of a previous justification.
I can summarize my thoughts thusly: A hipster is a person who tries to make emotional preferences artistically valid. The psychology of the "why" of this is more complicated and out of my scope, but I would guess it's primarily to get attention.
Here's an example: say a hipster is a big fan of music, as many of them are. Now, people in general "cannot help" what they enjoy in terms of the arts. Even I, a believer in objective and universal ideals of quality in art, can admit the existence of things that are "not someone's cup of tea". Most people who dislike things often do acknowledge that there is a quality that they can appreciate, it's just not what they enjoy. The existence of both preference and quality in art is something that I feel to be somewhat widely believed, albeit with varying strength. What this leads to is people who feel their "taste" in art is superior because it correlates more with "good art". Of course, this is kind of silly already as no one can help disliking or liking some music no more than they can help disliking some good wine or liking cheap candy instead. What's even sillier is the lengths people (hipsters) will go to prove they have "good taste".
You might wonder what the harm is in listening to good music instead of bad music, and I would agree, there is absolutely no harm in that. You might even wonder what the problem with being proud of these listening habits are, and I would still agree: pride in your tastes suggests understanding, critical thought in regards to them and opens up new avenues of knowledge. But what people need to do is stop kidding themselves. Being able to fully appreciate classical music, or free form jazz, or abstract hip hop, or whatever other deep and wonderful music you can think of probably does require intelligence, knowledge and study, yes. Being able to enjoy it does not. Neither does the inability to enjoy it suggest a lack of anything. And here is the root issue: hipsters get what they enjoy and what they appreciate all mixed up and they get their taste and their knowledge confused.
So what happens is this: A hipster finds a band he enjoys. Well, since he knows he has to have "good taste", the band must be good. Or lets say he finds a band he doesn't enjoy - same deal, band must be bad. Pretty standard behavior. Where it gets weirder is when someone else says they like the band, and the hipster, wanting to get in on that band, feels like the band must be good. So now you have a hipster praising a band he doesn't like and knows or suspects isn't good. This is where things start shorting out in the hipster brain, and their justifications for listening to it get stranger and stranger.
The big one, of course, is irony. The idea of "liking something ironically" is something I have joked about many times but I don't really understand it. If you enjoy bad music, you enjoy bad music. You don't enjoy it ironically. Even if you enjoy the music just to mock it, it's more like you're enjoying the mockery, your love for the music isn't really ironic. The only way it begins to make sense is that you don't actually like it at all, you sit there listening and not enjoying or even appreciating, and the reason you're doing it is to be "ironic". And am I crazy in thinking that that's pretty stupid? Don't get me wrong, this is a gray area filled with subtle distinction, but there are ways for categorization and resulting judgment. I hear about ties to dadaism and post modernism and deconstruction but those terms are usually involved in creation, not appreciation. And I enjoy all sorts of dadaist sub-art that is by all objective quality bad until one looks at the message it sends by being bad. Likewise, I enjoy a lot of stuff that is also strictly bad but doesn't have any redeeming metaquality, like Souljah Boy. I know that my tastes can include things that are bad without compromising my ability to appreciate good things, I don't claim it's anything it isn't, and my interest is sincere. That's another good summary: hipsters are those with insincere interests.
Things get really crazy when these rationalizations balloon out into their own general logic and soon you see "irony" and "satire" and such as positive qualities in candidates for transportation, clothes, food, facial hair, etc, etc. They need to do this, or else the irrationality of their previous ironic actions will become evident. The easiest way to prevent a mistake from looking like a mistake is to make it a standard - even easier if you don't view the original mistake as a mistake in the first place.
So the end result of all of this is a guy doing things he doesn't enjoy and coming up with strange reasons to prove the things he does are "good". That's a hipster, to me. A hipster to other people isn't far off, though, and it sucks, because the whole justification of tastes works backwards. Someone who feels that "hipsters like it" = "hipsters like it ironically" will often dismiss some pretty good music that they might have enjoyed otherwise. The thing to remember is that hipsters often know about a lot of really cool stuff because they place such importance on knowing about really cool stuff. Sure, their eagerness to make sure every interesting thing they see is also "good" or "worthy" sometimes leads them to "like things for the wrong reason" (wow it took me like ten paragraphs to get back to this), but they know cool stuff all the same. And this leads into:
My Apology For What I Just Said
OK, so I've said a lot of bad things about hipsters. This is true. Basically, I've suggested they are so desperate for validation that they take refuge in their taste, which they have meticulously groomed for this purpose. I feel comfortable saying people do this because I used to do this. I still do this, to an extent - I feel disappointed and sometimes ashamed when I dislike something critically acclaimed, even if I feel like I understand why it was critically acclaimed. What I have stopped doing is disliking things that aren't critically acclaimed, or acclaimed by the wrong people, which I think is an important thing to do if you want to enjoy art on an emotional level, not just an analytical/informative level.
But yeah, pretty much all through high school I was happy to say that the most interesting thing about me is what bands I liked. Maybe that still is the most interesting thing about me. Now I'm proud that I know a lot about music and that I can speak somewhat knowledgeably about the quality of music, but I'm not proud that I happen to like "cool bands", nor am I ashamed that a lot of times I want to listen to dubstep instead of classical.
Basically, this post is more retrospective self-deprecating instead of judgmental. That was my intent at least.
No this post is about Das Racist where is the stuff about Das Racist
Well, back a few years ago, when I first heard "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell", or even worse, back even further when I dismissed "99% of hip hop" as "unlistenable garbage" (back then I thought that was a word???), I would not have deserved to hear Das Racist Live In Concert In Hamilton and/or Toronto. I can remember my entire thought process regarding "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" when I first encountered it: I read some post in reference to it, I looked up the song, I thought "haha this is pretty stupid" then "haha this is pretty catchy, too bad i'm gonna get sick of it so fast" and then, after hearing the lyrics more "ok this is some brilliant parody thing, genius!". And I thought that about them right up until somewhere in their first mixtape when I realized I was hella hella wrong. It was brilliant. But it wasn't some parody thing. It wasn't some deconstructionalist ironic satire. It wasn't dada or pop art or a statement on anything.
Hipsters are starting to love Das Racist, but they need to know why, and they need to explain why they're good. And they're getting it pretty wrong! "hahaha jk" off Sit Down, Man explains the puzzle that critics and hipsters alike are struggling with: are they joking, or are they serious?? Is it an elaborate parody or honest outsider art??? True drugged out weirdos or satirical personas????
BUT ARRRRRRRGH IT'S NEITHER. I mean, it's obvious they aren't dumb to anyone who actually hears the two mixtapes and not just CPH&TB. "So how do you explain all this silly music they keep making???", people might say, pointing to great "satirical pieces" - "this must be some sort of parody or deconstruction or dadaist postmodern rap or something!". Das Racist is a post modern dadaist deconstruction of hip hop in the same way that Harold and Kumar is a post modern dadaist deconstruction of stoner comedies and the romantic epic storytelling form. It is, but why does that somehow imply that Das Racist isn't some of the best hip hop of the year and Harold and Kumar go to White Castle isn't a funny movie? Man this example is bad because H&K isn't even half as funny as DR is good at rapping.
I really think it's downright insulting to think of Das Racist as mere "joke rap" just because they have jokes. And it's crazy that people are saying "Das Racist is good, they aren't serious, it's a satire of hip hop" instead of "Das Racist is good, it is good hip hop, they have amazing flows and lyrics and beats and hooks and samples", crazy to the point that I shout "hipster" and cry myself to sleep, slowly stroking my ego as I reassure myself that I am AMONG THE TRUE FANS. I can't blame them, though, because Das Racist is sort of challenging to fully appreciate. Does that sound elitist? I don't care, it's true! The thing is dense, full of obscure allusions strung together with subtle but sublime stream-of-consciousness style connections. The "true messages" of the songs (oh man I'd slap myself if I wasn't me) are only discernible after the web has been untangled, and the commentary contained within them is nowhere near as simple as the "har har various established cultural norms are silly" that people have pulled from them. And that's the thing, the music itself, although dense and complex, is at the same time catchy and simple. To me, the reception Das Racist has gotten so far is like someone who has heard the old milk commercials where they set "Drink milk, love life etc etc" to "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (geez I hope I remembered that right, they played them when I was a kid, too lazy to look it up) and thought "Wow this is catchy" and then thought "Can't let my KEWL FRIENDZ see me listening to MUSIC from a COMMERCIAL" and then said "This music is actually a commentary on the vitalizing power of nutrition in humanity, the lyrics an ironic twist on the scientific explanation commonly given for said effects. Bach is actually a pretty darn good musician, guys!!!". FRUSTRATING, maybe.
What's really good
So what is really good about Das Racist, then? Well, as I mentioned before, they are really good rappers on pretty much every metric on which a rapper can be judged. The style of their songs are varied, the content clever and the message insightful. They're hilarious to the point of genuine "lol"s and "I gotta rewind that I cannot believe they just said that"s. They can be surprisingly poignant in flashes. They reflect their interesting lives in their music in a non-intrusive way. Best of all, they're sincere, some of the most sincere music I've ever seen in hip hop. I think I talked earlier about the powerful effect sincerity can have on music, and it really shines here. The new Kanye West album also surprisingly gives me the same sense, I'll probably talk about that on my best of 2010 list (GET HYPE, AGAIN). What's best, though, and where their sincerity shines strongest, is in the sense the music gives of "being in on something". This is another thing I find in art sometimes and struggle to get in words. You see it in Tim and Eric or other sketch comedy shows, although it isn't always just "inside jokes" - there's the idea of "inside drama" too, I think. Basically, it's the sense of the music connecting with you personally via the witnessing of something personal to the artist that you feel you can immediately understand, even though, and perhaps especially because, it is definitively outside your understanding.
On the deepest level, Das Racist does this in ways that are simply beyond my recognition - brief flashes of memes in their community and incidents of their lives that flash past too fast to leave anything but the effect. However, this is also seen in the references they make and the way they make them. The assumed familiarity with the subjects at hand, varied and rapid-fire as they may be, suggests an intimacy more along the lines of friends sharing a joke instead of the typical artist-listener relationship. With this in mind, I finally move to the main purpose of the article: a quiz on the cultural base of Das Racist that I would have everyone complete, to prove they can appreciate the band fully and for the correct reasons, before they could attend the concert.
But why do you care when you also said people should learn to like what they like separately from what they feel is good?
Well because I honestly think that a lot of the people who are going to the show might not actually like Das Racist were it not for their misunderstanding of why Das Racist is good. And I don't think they should suffer through it like that! If Victor takes his shirt off and starts singing Beastie Boys songs out of his mind on drugs, I don't want people to say "What brilliant satire!" because it isn't! It's just awesome, is all! Even if I can't hear them over the awesome music I don't want them to look at me with their DIRTY EYES and think that I have a thought in common with their DIRTY BRAINS. Alright yeah hyperbole territory again but I just think it's weird that a lot of folks who don't like hip hop at all, or maybe like "1%" of hip hop, claim to love Das Racist. Notice I said "like", not "appreciate", there. And if you just recognize the brilliance of Das Racist but aren't a big fan of hip hop in general and therefore don't find their music particularly pleasant, I'm gonna say you prolly should go elsewhere??? Is that insensitive of me??!??
ANYWAYS I made this quiz because I just find this thing pretty funny and I wanted to make such a quiz. No wait I didn't because this blog post is hella hella long and off topic already.
Might as well keep going off topic:
So I watched two things yesterday: The Tim and Eric Chrimbus Special and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Both of these were highly anticipated extra-length specials based off of shows I loved. Both of them had me stupefied after I finished watching them, one with "ha ha wtf did i just see lol" and the other with "wah wah wtf did i just see bawww" (use your intuition to figure out which one is for which!). Seriously though I have a lot to say about "The Disappearance" so I figure that one will wait until another post, "The Chrimbus Special" I can really summarize as "more of the same" and hope everyone can figure out if they'll like it based off of that. I didn't like it as much as "Man Milk", the series finale and pseudo-special, but it was better than most single episodes, and was definitely worth the watch.
Also uh what else, putting together BEST OF 2010 LIST GET HYPE FOR THE FIFTY BEST ALBUMS OF 2010 IN MY OPINION, it's going "alright", feel like it'll be a lot of work but fun to do, perhaps like "climbing a big mountain". Kinda bugs me that it'll probably only get done after "list season" when everyone's stopped caring, but everyone else finished their list before Apollo Kids and Whatever the Gorillaz Chrimbus Album is Called came out, even though they're totally legit 2010 releases. So what's the deal, premature list makers?? When Tomboy and the New Radiohead Album this is the same album it has both Radiohead and Panda Bear drops tomorrow, in my dreams, your lists are gonna look pretty silly in years to come!!
I guess that's it, study up for that quiz!