Sufjan Stevens Completes Your Seasonal Music Collection With Rap Mixtape

Holiday rap music is a frequently recorded but highly underappreciated genre. Surely, most connoisseurs of both hip-hop and Christmas tunes know the most tried-and-true standards—Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas In Hollis,” Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’”—and those who maybe don’t exhibit the same appreciation for the genre still looked up that video of DMX singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” But the genre still has just so much potential, so many tracks left unnoticed and so many holiday raps to even attempt, and who better than to bring seasonal rap to the Twitterin’, content-farmin’ masses than the ultimate Christmas music overachiever himself… Sufjan Stevens?

Of course Sufjan Stevens made a free Christmas rap mixtape, on top of Silver & Gold, the five-album new holiday set released last month. Of course he did. And of course it’s called Chopped and Scrooged, which, if you’re going to make a Christmas rap mixtape with a punny name addressing both of these qualities, you might as well make it something as great as that.

You’re probably reading this and not even batting an eye. And the roster of artists he compiled is as varied as his own cross-genre festive material. Heems (formerly of Das Racist) opens the mixtape with the commanding “The Boy With A Star on His Head,” a decidedly less jovial holiday rap than, say, “Christmas In Hollis,” but still effective, especially with the weird, atmospheric middle section from Stevens. Elsewhere, bounce master Nicky Da B invites Santa Claus over for an NSFW rendezvous on the scandalous and very fun “Christmas in the Room” and Kitty Pryde (who previously tweeted about the album) addresses Kris Kringle in a different manner, asking for gifts in the form of “Implants and Yankee Candles.” You can download the mixtape here or stream it via AsthmaticKitty’s SoundCloud below.

Five Out Of Five Bobby Jindals for ‘Dosa Hunt’

“This never could have happened ten years ago,” Amrit Singh, the affable Stereogum blogger and director of the short documentary Dosa Hunt, explained to an audience Monday at Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg. “If you had told fifteen-year-old me that one day there would be guys in these great bands that looked like me, I never would have forgiven myself for not making this project.” The guys that look like him—Ashok “Dapwell” Kondabolu and Hima Suri of Das Racist, Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer’s Anand Wilder (“the pretty one”), jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, and Alan Palomo of Neon Indian—filled a Dodge Sprinter for the one-day food excursion that had less to do with dosas and more to do with the sort of existential humor of being a first-generation American artist.           

Even with a cuisine as eclectic as dosa—an Indian crepe-like pancake stuffed with potatoes and chilis, served with chutney sauce—I still think of Lewis Lapham’s word on this stuff: “The pleasures of the table [are] those to be found in the company and the conversation rather than in whatever [is] the sun-dried specialty on the plate.” For however gastronomically educational the movie is, the interesting parts all center around the opinions and attitudes slung about in the van. Slumdog Millionaire sucked (“I’m biologically opposed to it,” quipped Kondabolu). The dosa rating system relies on “an alternate universe” wherein Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal doesn’t support bigoted, reactionary policies. Bollywood is embraced as camp. On every socio-political topic, the confident, progressive verdict is followed with a shrug of measured apathy. Bobby Jindal is just a guy. Slumdog is just a movie.

Singh contends, justifiably so, that “the film wasn’t just a vanity project,” but there’s certainly the mark of a fanboy filmmaker not yet jaded by the Merchants of Cool-hood of pop music. The scoring is fantastic—you could watch Yeasayer-laced footage of the Queensboro Bridge all day long. And the music itself, from the tribal beats of “Madder Red” to the Afro-pop tinge of V.W.’s “Giving Up The Gun”, is rife with the political multiculturalism/we-like-what-we-like kind of sentiment that informs most of today’s best popular art. Heritage and ethnicity are points of pride, but you can also say, write, wear, or play whatever you want.

In perhaps the best scene of the movie, Heems of Das Racist (“Well who’s that, brown, downtown like Julie / mixed-race British chicks let me in they coochie”) walks through the aisles of an Indian grocery store in Jackson Heights, knowingly name-checking Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Bisquick (ironic dosa ingredients) with his mug in the camera a la MTV’s Cribs. You sense that the emotional palate these guys have grown up with is part racial consciousness, part where-were-you-when-Kurt-Cobain-died (John Norris, a friend and mentor of Singh’s, moderated the post-screening Q&A). After the final meal, Heems hops in the van and wonders with cheek if the “dosa is a metaphor for the American dream.” Why not?

Follow James Ramsay on Twitter.

BlackBook Tracks #8: Gift Raps

I originally made this for my friend’s mixtape club under the theme “gift raps.” It is exactly what it says it is.

Le1f – “Wut”

Underground rap’s summer anthem of 2012 has been on repeat for weeks.

Iggy Azalea – “Murda Bizness” (ft. T.I.)

The latest party anthem from the Australian upstart shows off her undeniable star power. It’s also accompanied by one of the year’s best music videos so far, a spoof of the child pageant world.

Kanye West – “Monster” (ft. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver)

Remember those days when Nicki Minaj was just doing guest verses and had yet to do anything that people considered disappointing?

Angel Haze – “Werkin’ Girls”

NYC rapper Angel Haze is Universal’s toughest new signee, and this cut from her latest release Reservation shows why.

Das Racist – “You Can Sell Anything”

#RappersThatSpitTheTruth isn’t trending on Twitter any more, but this is still my pick.

M.I.A. – “URAQT”

Have a throwback to 2005 to remember that this bad girl has always done it well.

A-Trak – “Ray Ban Vision” (ft. CyHi The Prynce)

This hilarious/infectious track was a favorite in fall 2010 and still sounds fresh, thanks to the ever-reliable A-Trak’s amped-up production.

Dominique Young Unique – “Gangster Whips”

This Florida-based rapper has remained fairly underground for years now, but she’s slowly but surely going to make her way out.

Yelawolf – “Lick The Cat” (ft. Diamond)

This song contains the line “White boys eat pussy like a sandwich.” That is all you need to know about it.

Azealia Banks – “Fuck Up The Fun”

If you haven’t already, listen to this track from Azealia Banks and Diplo and you’ll immediately know why our friends at Vibe put this dream team on their cover.

Kitty Pryde – “Orion’s Belt” (ft. RiFF RAFF)

Resistance is futile. Recent Mad Decent signee RiFF RAFF is one of the most bizarre, compelling figures in pop culture today, and Kitty Pryde’s honesty and self-awareness is inherently likeable.

BlackBook Tracks #6: Is Your Summer Weird Yet?

It’s mid-July, and by now your summer’s probably getting really good or really weird. (My vote’s for weird, I don’t know about you.) Whatever’s going on, round out your soundtrack with this week’s musical picks.

JEFF the Brotherhood – “Six Pack”

Get to know another side of Nashville with JEFF the Brotherhood. The lead single from their new Dan Auerbach-produced album Hypnotic Nights shows how to stay optimistic about summer, even when it is too hot to live, also known as right now.

The Soft Pack – “Saratoga”

San Diego garage rockers the Soft Pack are getting ready to release their next album Strapped on Mexican Summer. First single “Saratoga” hints at the vibes to come.

Vampire Weekend – “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”

Remember when you first heard Vampire Weekend? Brooklyn’s finest have been keeping quiet while working on their third album, but they resurfaced at the Pitchfork Music Festival last weekend to remind everyone of just how great they are.

The Bewitched Hands – “Thank You, Goodbye, It’s Over”

The charming French indie pop band jangles its way through two and a half minutes of pure pleasantness.

Alt-J – “Tessellate”

See things in a slightly different way with these fast-rising Brits.

Lana Del Rey – “National Anthem” (Das Racist remix)

Nothing like a good remix to make Lana Del Rey more palatable, and Das Racist don’t disappoint.

MNDR – “Faster Horses”

MNDR knows her way around a slick electro-pop tune, and “Faster Horses” is no exception. Keep an eye out for her debut LP Feed Me Diamonds next month.

Discovery – “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” (ft. Deradoorian)

The blend of efficiency and pop production on Discovery’s LP make it a summer record with lasting power.

Bear In Heaven – “World Of Freakout”

Bear In Heaven bring the fuzzy, washed-out synths for a song that’s more complex than it initially lets on.

Poolside – “Just Fall In Love”

A record called Pacific Standard Time is irresistable by default, and the California duo Poolside have the disco-inflected chops to back it up.

Kindness – “Anyone Can Fall In Love”

A slow jam for summer nights, British up-and-comer Kindness has a knack for universal pop appeal.

Moonlight Matters – “Come For Me” (ft. Gustaph)

Getting people to dance to songs they’ve never heard before can be a challenge, but this track, assisted by Hercules and Love Affair’s Gustaph, is probably a good place to start.

Linkage: Levon Helm Dies At 71, Occupy’s May Day Event Gets A Lineup

The Band’s Levon Helm has lost his battle with throat cancer. He was 71 and with music in his bones well into the end. [NYT]

Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio is back, still with the steel drums but minus the band mates. "Tanto" is the first song off of his first solo EP, Sunburn, which is scheduled for a May 21st release. [Fader]

Never mind what Wikipedia says, Waka Flocka Flame’s middle name is actually "James." [Interview]

Madonna revealed on a British talk show this morning that what she really wanted for her Superbowl halftime show was to perform with a mother’s favorite Adele, but because Adele was having "her throat problem or throat operation or something," she was instead stuck with wild-eyes Minaj and the rabble-rousing M.I.A. [Page Six]

Worry not if you missed last weekend’s Brooklyn Zine Fest, the event was successful enough that organizers are already working to make it an annual thing. [Capital]

Weekend One of Coachella was the most well attended in recent years and also, apparently, the most rowdy: 134 arrests have already been made, up from last year’s 48, and there is still a weekend of festival to go. Stay safe, kids. [Spin]

Das Racist, Dan Deacon and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello have all signed up to play Occupy’s May Day rally in Union Square. Immortal Technique, Talib Kweli, David Byrne and The Roots have also been invited the event that organizers are calling "Occupy Wall Street’s biggest action ever," but have yet to confirm. [D+T]

And to keep things all in perspective, Gloria Steinem doesn’t know what Girls is. [Vulture]

Members of Vampire Weekend and Das Racist Go on a ‘Dosa Hunt’

The search for proper ethnic food can lead a man to madness, if nowhere else. How could mainstream eateries possibly recreate the traditional dishes prepared by mothers and grandmothers of yesteryear? In Dosa Hunt, Stereogum’s Amrit Singh looks to find an answer to that question. He and Das Racist’s Himanshu Suri collected a handful of NYC-based Indian musicians like Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo, among others, to comb the Big Apple streets in search of a proper dosa, the traditional South Indian crepe. As this promotional trailer opens up, the whole crew is collected into one car, with Palomo explaining his mission on the phone. "Just sitting in a van on a dosa hunt with a bunch of Indian dudes," he says, and from there it’s off to the races. 

Produced and hosted by Singh, it looks like a charming documentary/travelogue that will inform you about things that you’re not very informed about, like the best Indian places in town and just how Palomo gets his acid wash looking so fly. A release date hasn’t been announced, but you can follow the official Dosa Hunt Tumblr for more information.

Das Racist’s Heems Releases ‘Nehru Jackets’ Mixtape

Das Racist rapper Heems is well established as a goofy dude, but his newest project is wholeheartedly on the level: he’s released a free mixtape entitled Nehru Jackets in alliance with SEVA NY, an organization looking to raise awareness about political redistricting in Queens. Speaking to the New York Observer earlier this month, he said, “This is a record where, doing it myself and not in Das Racist, I talk more about myself and my experiences being an Indian kid from Queens, and even before I met SEVA that’s in large part what the record was about." You can download the mixtape for free, but Heems encourages you to make a donation.

There’s appearances from Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, and Das Racist partner Kool A.D., among others. ”Listen to "Womyn 2," featuring Childish Gambino, below. Quoth Gambino, "Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em / It seems like we like them, we always rap about them." Hard to argue with that.

Watch the Brand New Video for Das Racist’s ‘Brand New Dance’

Das Racist’s Relax is one of the best if not most confusing albums of the year. Ping ponging between straightforward B-Boy oneupsmanship and slacker goofiness, Heems and Victor made the epitome of a Das Racist record. That’s no small feat, considering they could’ve played it a little more seriously for a wider audience. (Judging by the number of dislikes, we’re guessing mainstream America is simply not ready for performances like this.)

Today, the New York rappers dropped the video for "Brand New Dance," one of the more laconic tracks off Relax. That’s the one with the immortal Victor line — " is white devil sophistry / Urban Dictionary is for demons with college degrees." It’s not one of the more obvious choices for a single, but what about them is obvious? The video looks as stoned as they must have been while making it. 

Last month, we caught up with DR for a tour through Brooklyn; check that out, if you didn’t know by now.

Hip-hop Trio Das Racist Take a Hazy Stroll Through Brooklyn

Does anyone have any volumizing product?” asks Himanshu Suri, a.k.a Heems (center), returning from a quick glance in his bedroom mirror and stepping out into the living room of the messy ground-floor apartment he rents in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. So I Married an Axe Murderer is playing on a flat screen. Clouds of smoke waft through the room. After running a dollop of mousse through his hair, the 25-year-old rapper decides on a gray snapback and lights a joint, offering it to his Das Racist bandmates Victor Vazquez (left) and Ashok Kondabolu.

Last month, Das Racist released their debut album, Relax, the official follow-up to their 2010 mixtapes Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man. “Calling it an album and not a mixtape and then selling it for money will probably make people think of it as something more ‘real,’” says Vazquez. “But it’s not all that different from the music we’ve made previously.” That music, which includes the 2008 viral hit “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” and more recent singles like “hahahaha jk?” are part of Das Racist’s catalog of seemingly puerile pothead raps, which, when actually given a serious listen, tell stories from the perspective of disaffected American minorities. (Suri and Kondabolu, who went to high school together, are both of Indian descent and were born in Queens; Vazquez, a San Francisco native, is of Afro-Cuban and Italian heritage.)
“There are a lot of inside jokes in the music, but I think people like that—they seem to like feeling a bit confused,” says Vazquez. The title of their new album is a perfect example: “Heems and Dapwell (Kondabolu’s stage name) used to sell T-shirts at Coney Island that showed a joint smoking a cigarette, with the word ‘relax’ on them,” he says. “There was another one with a hot dog eating a hamburger and it said ‘fresh.’” Says Kondabolu, “We made 60 of each shirt, but we only sold one to a high Mexican dude from a biker gang.” Still, the joke obviously stuck, and now the image features in their cover art. It’s also become a laid-back mantra of sorts—something Kondabolu, Suri, and Vazquez proved while languorously and happily stopping in at a few of their favorite Brooklyn hangouts.
Das Racist 2
Manhattan Inn, 632 Manhattan Avenue
Greenpoint, NYC – 718-383-0885
“Our friend Brooke Baxter co-owns Glasslands, where we used to play a lot of shows, but we’ve been coming here ever since she opened this venue. It’s basically the fancy version of Glasslands, plus a lot of our friends DJ here, and it’s in the neighborhood.” —HS
“We had mussels here with one of the dudes from the Lonely Island one time. The mezcal margaritas are very good here. I’ve been on acid in this place like four times.” —VV
Das Racist 3
Brooklyn Fire Proof, 119 Ingraham Street
Bushwick, NYC – 347-223-4211
“We filmed the video for our single ‘Michael Jackson’ across the street. We needed a warehouse area, and they had a big space, so we got a Michael Jackson impersonator and we reenacted the ‘Black or White’ video. We pretty much stole shamelessly from Jackson’s video, but anyway, we came here for lunch and had the lobster roll with bacon and avocado.” —VV
Das Racist 4
East River Ferry, Foot of India Street
Greenpoint, NYC
“You can come here at night and smoke, if that’s what you’re into, but I’m more of a get-in-trouble-for-open-containers kind of guy. I just come and sit here, and I’ve been meaning to bring my sketchbook. I once set a mouse free by the rocks, then I saw a cat a few seconds later. But when I got home there was a mouse in the apartment, so I think he followed us back.” —HS
Das Racist 5
New China Wok, 57 4th Avenue
Boerum Hill, NYC 718-638-1898
“North Brooklyn has terrible Chinese food, plus I don’t eat meat, so I can’t fuck with a lot of stuff people generally get at Chinese food places. I’m typically stuck eating eggplant or bean curd, but this family figured that they’re close enough to Park Slope that a lot of white people would be ordering non-meat food. They do tofu incredibly well—very crispy and not oily or fried, with lots of scallions and garlic sauce.” —AK
Das Racist 6
The Brooklyn Improvement Company, 360 Third Avenue
Gowanus, NYC 
“I like this building because it looks eerie. There was a dude named Edwin C. Litchfield who owned a lot of property in Brooklyn about 150 years ago, and the offices of his Brooklyn Improvement Company were in this building, surrounded by other very old, beautiful buildings that Whole Foods destroyed when they bought the lot next door. This is the only building left on the block. Across the street there’s half of the wall from a stadium that housed the Brooklyn Superbas baseball team. They’re called the Dodgers now.” —AK
Photography by Phil Knot