Live photos/review: Das Racist at Music Hall of Williamsburg

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  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

  • Photograph: Loren Wohl

Photograph: Loren Wohl

In the early-to-mid-2000s, there was one hip-hop consortium that could be counted upon to provide witty, discursive explorations of the genre's tropes, conventions and biases—that was El-P's Definitive Jux label, whose album-length deconstructions of hip-hop normalcy were the stuff of legend. Last night's Das Racist show at Music Hall of Williamsburg posed the question: What happens when you attempt to deconstruct a deconstruction?

The show started with Big Baby Gandhi, who could be best described as Das Racist but in high school. He played one song. The next rapper was Despot, a diminutive refugee from the now-defunct Def Jux, whose live show smacked of experimentalism for the sake of experimentalism: He conducted his stage banter as if in a drunken, apathetic fog, only to snap out of it to gladiatorially perform songs off of his upcoming Ratatat-produced record. At the end of his set, he flexed his muscles as if he'd just won a boxing match. The gesture was half in jest, half in earnest. The crowd loved it.

Next in the batting order was Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, a Crown Heights rap knucklehead whose appeal stems from his ability to instill Def Jux--style beats with gallows humor and genuine emotion, something even the best Jux releases often lacked. He wore a dashiki and, despite the fact that he had probably ten people onstage with him, displayed a madcap magnetism that many in hip-hop are missing. He got the biggest rise of the night when he performed "Huzzah," one of the catchiest hip-hop singles of the year.

Das Racist, made up of MCs Kool A.D. and Heems along with hype man Dapwell, has managed to kick off a nice mini movement with its post-Jux weirdness, offering an intelligent take on race and class in America. It doesn't hurt that its songs are funny as hell and contain a topsy-turvy logic all their own, like locking three drunk, hip-hop-obsessed grad students in a room and asking them to write a thesis, only to have them come up with a rap album instead.

Fresh off their well-received album Relax, the Brooklynites treated the occasion as less of a concert and more of an opportunity to engage in some controlled chaos, complete with stage dives and a show-stealing mini set by their compatriot Lakutis, who spent his nonperformance time teetering throughout the crowd in an almost heroically drunk reverie. Das Racist's unconventional take on the hip-hop live experience sometimes raised more questions than answers: Did DR ditch two of its original beats in favor of rapping over the instrumental to Dr. Dre's "Xxplosive" as a commentary on the fluidity of beats in hip-hop, or did the outfit just really dig the "Xxplosive" beat? They didn't even know, probably.

Kool A.D., otherwise known as Victor Vazquez, is perhaps the more talented rapper of the pair, infusing his rhymes with references to poststructuralist theory and homages to obscure Cam'ron lines with equal ease; however, it's Heems who at Music Hall served as the heart and soul of the group. He introduced Das Racist's DJ, whom he continually referred to as "DJ White Privilege," played air guitar with his microphone whenever he wasn't rapping, and prefaced the encore by saying, "We're gonna pretend to go away for a second and come back and rap some more." And when they did come back to rap some more, the entire gang came out—the 250-pound eXquire without his shirt on—to the tune of "The Last Huzzah," a remix of eXquire's "Huzzah" that's well on its way to being the posse cut of the year. The song's performance revealed the essential truth of DR: They're weirdos in hip-hop, but if you gather up enough weirdos in one room, you just might have a revolution on your hands.

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