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Interview: Ashok “Dap” Kondabolu

I stumbled upon Das Racist in the summer of ’08 while working as a booking assistant. Looking into the milieu of local bands from Wesleyan, my alma mater, I recognized Victor Vasquez and Himanshu Suri on their Myspace, remembering them as funny and creative hip-hop heads. Their mixture of tightly knit bars and hilarious, almost deconstructive humor was everything I would have expected from them and more. A few weeks later a friend from Chicago asked if I had heard “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” and I flipped my shit, “HOW THE HELL DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT IS?”

Three years later, Das Racist has just released its debut LP Relax, which hovered at #1 on the iTunes hip-hop/rap charts, outselling The Carter IV and Watch The Throne.

During their meteoric rise, a third entity in the band arose. Ashok “Dap” Kondabolu was listed often as a “hypeman”, a designation steeped in Das Racist’s signature irony. He was the focal point of album art and music videos, and in practice his stage presence involved witticisms and a set of dance moves that challenged a rigid hip-hop lexicon. Pretty soon his name appeared on bills by itself, as a DJ, an engineer of events and a host of shows at places like the People’s Improv Theater. Whispers of a solo project have emanated from his Twitter. Like his bandmates, Dap has turned what first seemed like a joke into a wellspring of forward-thinking art.

"Here is a photo to use I took as I answered the questions. Hima in the back. He's wearing a Highland shirt designed by our friend Lizzie Owens."

What sort of behind-the-scenes role do you take in Das Racist? It seems like you have a bit of a say in managerial and technical affairs.

I update the website, I’ve set up merch (but I don’t do that anymore). I do sound checks (yeah, we do sound checks) and run the projections (which were created by Justin Hantz, a friend in Los Angeles). I’m a strange, physically weak roadie basically. I guess people like my dancing. I’m the man, though, don’t get me wrong.

How about creatively? Could some of the lyrical genius be attributed to your suggestions or guidance? Can we expect some solo tip rhymes a la “911 Is A Joke”?

I’ve had a little input, mostly early on. Some of the stuff I’ve talked about ended up on the early records. Guidance, no way. I’m coming out with my own record Winky Taterz in a few weeks. It’ll be “okay” I think. Who knows.

Your brother Hari Kondabolu is easily one of the fastest-rising talents in stand-up comedy, and much of his material, interestingly enough involves pointing out what’s racist. Is it safe to say that there was a lot of racial tension surrounding you two growing up?

As kids growing up in Queens, my friend’s parents usually spoke two languages (or one if they didn’t speak English) and had nothing in common with each other. I went to high school in Manhattan and am a pretty smart dude. Wasn’t too hard to figure out what was “going on” around me.

Nobody was spraying me or my brother with fire hoses but I definitely felt somewhat excluded from the “black-white duality” of American discourse/culture. Or what I perceived to be that duality. I felt somewhat excluded, like a spectator, as an Indian person. I guess it afforded me a “unique” perspective in that regard. We have to do it for the people who don’t have the privilege of flaunting their pithiness. Who knows!

Also, I don’t know if he’s “one of the fastest-rising talents” in stand-up. He’s THE ONLY RISING TALENT IN STAND-UP COMEDY.

The Untitled Kondabolu Brothers Project, an improv-heavy comedy talk show that features you and Hari,  is building up a lot of steam, landing in venues from NYC all the way to Seattle and San Francisco. Has this sparked any desire to foray deeper into the world of  comedy?

I’m working on a TV show called Chillin Island right now. First episode is done and we started on the second episode. It’s got a lot of comedic elements. Soon there’s going to be some light sketchery involved. I don’t have any plans on doing “straight” comedy although I do appreciate it and know/like a lot of comedians/funny people. We’re working on getting out our “funny jones” in our own weird ways.

I won’t ask you any “name your top 5 MC’s” bullshit questions, but what artists, hip-hop or otherwise, are capturing your imagination these days?

Action Bronson, Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire, Danny Brown. My dude Meyhem Lauren. This one dude Despot is a total loser but is making some good rap music. To be honest I’m not up on the newest shit. Spaceghost Purp is great. Blood Diamonds is awesome. Big Baby Gandhi, my good friend Lakutis is putting out a mixtape. Fat Tony is a Greedhead superstar. I don’t know, who cares. Am I right?

There is a physical component to the Dap experience, as you’ve taken to showcasing some of your dance moves during Das Racist performances. Is there a signature move that we can attribute to you should we see it on a dance floor somewhere?

I have a move where I slide across the stage horizontally while facing forward saluting. I have a few knee-knocker moves I’ve never quite seen anyone do before. A couple of twirls. I think I bring it all together quite nicely.

What would you say are the most obnoxious misconceptions about Das Racist?

That we’re “slackers” or “stoners” or “hipsters” or “goofballs.” I prefer being called an idiot. At least that means that I’m not particularly intelligent or am misguided and not much else. Also that we hang out all the time and are goofball stoners and drunks.

I haven’t really smoked weed since 2004. I barely drink anymore. “Oh, they were so fucked up!” People who say that are usually squares who can’t imagine anyone doing anything “unusual” without being wasted because they themselves are awkward. Not to say we weren’t constantly fucked up doing terrible shows 2008/2009.

You and Hari organized the Minorityfest night at Glasslands in 2009 that brought together a pretty solid array of commentators, comedians and musicians. Do the rumors of Minorityfest’s return hold any merit?

Absolutely. It’s just a matter of getting our schedules together. We did some preliminary work on one for this summer but it didn’t work out. Expect one this year. Baron Vaughn was just on Conan, Ali Wong was just ont he Tonight Show. Gordon Voidwell is just about to put out an album. Kumail’s “doing his thing hard.” We’re looking to get a “mix of old and new” for this next one.

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