Where the magic happens
Das Racist’s new mixtape, Sit Down, Man, is out next week; among its many delights is “Free Jazzmatazz,” a self-explanatory collaboration with wildly feted jazz pianist Vijay Iyer. It seemed like a good idea to a) ask Iyer if we could chat about how this unlikely (?) union came to pass, and b) ask Heems and Victor of Das Racist if we could post the result a few days early. Both parties graciously accepted.
So: Download “Free Jazzmatazz” — without question the druggiest-sounding DR track to date — below, and enjoy a Q&A wherein Iyer, while recalling the recording process, admits that “I don’t think I’ve felt that old in a long time.” Spoiler alert: This song is better than “Für Elise.”
Tell me everything you know about Das Racist.
In terms of my connection to them, we connected on Twitter. I didn’t even meet them in person until last month. But we’ve been corresponding, just kicking jokes around, basically, which is what Twitter’s good for. And they’re pretty good for jokes.
Heems told me — at some point we tried to do an interview that stalled, he and I were trying to do some sort of joint conversation… we started doing this kind of Gchat interview, mutual interview, mostly about being South Asian American and trying to be an artist of some kind, and how we each made the choices we made. But then things basically got so deep that we couldn’t continue them on Gchat. But in the meantime we just kept in touch, and I finally mentioned that I’d be up for collaborating or remixing or doing something with them sometime.
Also, one thing I did, last year I was asked to do a Top 10 Best of 2009 for Artforum, and I put them on that list, which, I don’t know if it contributed to the buzz or killed it.
Did you highlight “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” specifically, or just them in general?
I just did their unreleased tracks that are on their MySpace page, but I think made special mention of that track. I also said that my favorite, at least at the time, was “Shorty Said.” Mainly because I could relate.
I just like that they kind of bring this very well-read and schooled critical sensibility, very grounded and very well-rounded, into this very playful arena. I think they’ve just been getting better over the last year.
In terms of making this one track that’s on the new mixtape, I just bounced through the studio on one of the days they were in, and of course they were even later than I was. But I got there and just got started messing around on analog synthesizers, and they showed up and we kicked some jokes around, and then they just sat down at the drum pads, and we just really spontaneously created the track, which is basically unedited in terms of the basic structure. I think overdubbed a bassline, and I overdubbed a couple of extra synth “touches” or something like that. It has this kind of organic and stumbling kind of quality to it. Which I really enjoyed. It’s really like we improvised this track into existence, and then finally, it can exist no more, and it collapses.
I’m relieved to hear you say you were actually in the same room together, in this age of artists “meeting” solely on Twitter.
Right, right. Yes. The collab. The Age of the Collab. The Age of the Upload. The Age of FTP.
So what can you tell me about the song? Did they bend to you, or did you bend to them, artistically?
I don’t know if there was much bending — it’s as bent as you might expect. I only just read their verses the other day. So I was glad they put some more time into it. [Laughs.] We made a couple other beats, and also I’ve been working on some other stuff with Guillermo Brown. So there’s more to come, I imagine. But you know, I have to say that I loved working with these guys and they’re hilarious, but I don’t think I’ve felt that old in a long time. Being in a room with these guys, or I think it was another night, maybe a couple weeks before, I went to see
Ticklah Tecla and some other people, and Guillermo was doing a set — that was when I met these guys for the first time. So those two times, which were just a week apart, I really haven’t felt older. The only other thing that makes me feel that old is taking my daughter to school. Cause you know, I’m 38, and these guys are maybe 12 to 15 years younger than that, and they’re just on to what’s next. I’m glad I could be a part of it, but I also don’t have any illusions about being really a part of it. I’ll be the crotchety old uncle who drops by every now and then and kicks some tracks.
So you heard their verses later — what do they address? Do you endorse their lyrical message on this particular track?
It’s very — it’s clearly freestyle. It’s pretty hilarious. They keep me rolling. There’s certainly some things I’m not proud to play for my mom. But I really admire how authentic they are, they’re very unedited and unscripted, and it feels really fresh and alive. In a way, that feels closer to what I do than a lot of other people who do what I do, actually.
So I have it on good authority that this song is better than “Juicy.”
At the end, Victor, his freestyling starts to devolve. You know, the whole track is kind of grinding to this tragic halt, I guess you’d say. And meanwhile he’s saying, “This is the best track ever. Better than ‘Juicy,’ better than ‘Für Elise,’ better than anything ever made by Jay-Z.” They’re so deadpan about it.
Did the title come first, or did that arise organically?
I think the title was my idea, I think I may have said it before we recorded. Because they were kind of making fun of rap-jazz: “Let’s do a rap-jazz collaboration. Like Jazzmatazz.” And I said, “How about ‘Free Jazzmatazz.'” I didn’t imagine they’d use it. It’s now immortalized. When I first met Heems, he was saying, “I respect you, I admire your achievements, but if I didn’t like your jokes, we wouldn’t be working together.” And so the fact that they used that title, which was basically my joke — that’s another kind of respect that I appreciate.
Vijay Iyer performs at (le) poisson rouge tonight, Friday Sept. 10. A Das Racist cameo is unlikely.