Last night we made our way to Emo’s East to see Das Racist. The evening began with performances by three fine, competent, enjoyable rappers—Fat Tony, Despot and Danny Brown. As each took the stage, I tried to find a common theme that linked them in order to gain some insight into Das Racist’s criteria for opening acts.
While they each had a different flow preoccupied with different subjects, they were all very good, engaging storytellers. But when Das Racist took the stage close to midnight and started their set with “Who’s That? Brooown!” the crowd hummed to life, with everyone throwing up their hands and following their own internal gyroscope. This is what they had been saving their energy for.
Kool AD began to move us together, gesturing for us to make a solid platform he could surf across. After a few chuckling false starts, he launched himself into the crowd and was carried outward before being delivered back to the stage like something the sea had rejected.
“Who wants to make an arbitrary hand gesture?” Heems asked, drawing attention to the scripted nature of the call and response and perhaps gently mocking us. But this itself felt highly scripted, as if Heems was running the paces of a routine.
Kool AD, Dap and Heems were in constant motion, moving to different segments of the audience to touch them or rap to them. At one point, Heems sat down at the edge of the stage and told us that we were nice, the people in Austin. He looked exhausted but hopeful; as the night wore on, he took off his shirt and moved to the DJ station to allow the DJ—who Despot had informed us earlier was not a DJ, but a rapper, before noting that there was nothing worse than to be mistaken for a DJ when you really wanted to be a rapper—take the microphone and show us his skill. He held his own up on stage, but then seemed not to know what to do with himself when he wasn’t rapping. He ended up taking off his shirt, loosening his long hair and moving about the stage with all the purpose and direction of a 4-year-old full of birthday cake.
To draw the show to a close, all of the night's perfomers returned to stage, and of course, we refused to leave until they had further entertained us. Dap came back out and asked for cigarettes, and a few people threw their packs on stage. When they reappeared they delivered a very worthwhile and sustained encore, not simply, “Well, here’s the hit you’ve been waiting for all night. Now go home and let us count your money.” I appreciated that. I hate tiny little bullshit encores.
Das Racist was amazing, but aspects of their stage routine need updating or replacing—the parts of their performance that aren’t strictly about being lyrical or lyrically adroit. Emo’s East doesn’t have any history yet, so going there was like chewing unflavored bubblegum. Though it was clean and there were water fountains, I imagine the place will grow on me as it gets broken in.