Q&A: Das Racist On The “Michael Jackson” Video


In the two years since stumbling across viral MP3 stardom with “Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell,” Brooklyn’s Das Racist have evolved from insular meta-rap blogger obsession to some of our city’s most electric assonance merchants. Their first official, hold-it-in-yr-paws physical release, Relax (out now via rapper Himanshu “Heems” Suri’s own Greedhead Records), ups the ante from their two mixtapes, with 8-bit boom-bop courtesy of Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly and head-crackers from El-P and Diplo. Their lyrical material is like 1999-era Eminem for the Wikipedia age, riffing on everything from Sister Sister‘s Tamera Mowry to House Of The Spirits author Isabel Allende to arcane Lil B source material; at one point they also claim that “ is white devil sophistry/ UrbanDictionary is for demons with college degrees.” “Michael Jackson” is glorious broken videogame funk with a video that’s a pitch-perfect parody of the gloved one’s “Black Or White”—basically a racially conscious 2011 dialogue about a racially conscious 1991 video. The uncut, swear-heavy version that MTV wouldn’t show you, below.

Das Racist, “Michael Jackson” (director’s cut)”

Q&A: Das Racist on “Michael Jackson”

What inspired the line, “YEAH, I’M FUCKING GREAT AT RAPPING”?

Himanshu “Heems” Suri: As I was writing it I was like, “Whoa, this is pretty good.” Then as I was rapping it I got real tired and had a bar to fill and was excited about how it was good and decided I wanted to strip rap down to one bar.

What did the “Black Or White” video mean to you guys as kids?

Ashok “Dap” Kondabolu: That Michael Jackson was a strange man with unresolved issues regarding race. So good at dancing!

Heems: It was confusing. I identified more with the In Living Color sketch making fun of it where he’s literally like, “Am I black? Am I white?” and gets real frustrated.

What were your impressions of the original MJ video after revisiting it as adults?

Heems: I think the slurs on the windows he smashes are funnier as an adult.

Victor “Kool A.D.” Vazquez: One of them said “KKK RULEZ.”

Dap: Least offensive fetishization of foreign dancers ever! The big East Asian guy during the morphing was godbody. Peace to that guy wherever he is.

Who is the MJ impersonator in the video? What was it like working with him?

Dap: He was awesome!

Heems: He came from Rhode Island.

Kool A.D.: His name was Michael too. And he spoke in the MJ voice and stayed in character for the whole shoot. He’s been doing it since he was 14 and he also impersonates Johnny Depp.

Julia Simpson, Das Racist co-manager: His name is Michael Knight. We found him on the internet. He took a bus down to New York and stayed in our basement for a night. He doesn’t look or sound anything like Michael Jackson until he puts on his costume and makeup, which takes 2.5 hours.

The morphing in the original “Black & White” was some of the most expensive special effects of its day. Exactly how easy is it to do in 2011?

Dap: It took our friend Jordan Fish many days of tedious studio wizardry in a basement in Brooklyn.

Heems: Perhaps not as expensive, although still very time- and effort-consuming.

Kool A.D.: What up, Jordan Fish!

What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?

Dap: Your mom’s house… Chinatown, though.

Heems: Punjabi Kebab House, Hicksville, Long Island.

Kool A.D.: Chinatown. Or your mom’s house.