Maybe Das Racist’s breakup was more predictable than most. The Queens-founded (but only two parts Queens-bred – resident beardo Kool A.D. is from San Francisco) rap trio arrived as if they were the fully realized version of L’Homme Run, the Columbia-days comedy rap group of Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. During the roughly four years they were a concern, Das Racist were three smart guys lacing deliberately languid verses with neurotic references to subjects as disparate (or maybe not) as hip-hop’s Golden Age and postmodern literary idols; three guys who, as soon as that last part became the selling point for much of the general public, were funneled into the world of “joke rap”; three guys who would eventually split, in addition to whatever intangibles there may have been, to pursue solo interests. When Victor “Kool A.D.” Vazquez debuted his first solo material, it finally became clear that he was probably funnier, but no less technically able than Heems (who soon found solo success of his own) or Dapwell. With the release of his Not O.K., though, the 30-year-old A.D. is better than ever at assembling songs that, for all the easy gags and absurdist ad libs, are as casually listenable as they are rewarding over four, five, or more listens.
There are still plenty of gags and vaguely postmodern moves, of course, in addition to the traditional metrics of A.D.’s verses. His punchlines usually connect, and his comedic timing remains as easy as, say, Tig Notaro’s. It’s impossible for me to hear “Exotic” as anything other than a parody of Migos’ viral-rap repetition (“Exotic exotic exotic exotic exotic exotic exotic exotic exotic” x8), but it’s probably the highlight here. And when A.D. does his best Lil B on “Tiger Style” — which he hilariously introduces as featuring the “best rap verse you ever heard since ‘Halftime’ by Nas” — it’s both tongue-in-cheek and a show of respect for the Based God and the Internet empire he’s built. When we get a song that goes on for a minute or two before any jokes pop up, as on the Del the Funky Homosapien-assisted “CNN”, it’s apparent enough that A.D. knows how to piece together a traditionally operating rap song.
It would be hard to mistake A.D. as anything but a former Das Racist member because, well, no one besides Heems and Dapwell sounds like him. On the production end, though, he continues to veer outside the East Coast tendencies of Das Racist, with the stairwell rattle of “Fettucini” and “Insane Computer Raps” being notable exceptions. His go-to producer remains the Bay’s Amaze 88, though the tape also includes a sidesaddle beat from Stones Throw vet Oh No (“V”) and one from rap-production dabbler Toro Y Moi (“Fettucini”). There’s also Jay Casio’s springy “Exotic”, maybe the dumbest, catchiest song A.D. has recorded since “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”. “Swole” is similarly kinetic, but sleekly so.
As he oscillates between sincere irreverence and irreverent sincerity, A.D. is oddly reliable. But, though it’s obviously the product of a judicious mind, Not O.K. has its imperfections. A couple of Vazquez’s lyrical tics get old somewhere along the tape’s 15 songs: There are the dozens of examples of the generally directionless formula “I think I’m [famous person or thing], [proper noun associated with same person]” (e.g., “I think I’m Shamu, Marine World”). There are also the ellipses-flows he uncorks time and again to feign confusion (“I think I’m Leonard Cohen…and I’m not even sure I can name a Leonard Cohen track…is Leonard Cohen wack?”). Given the connections of Das Racist’s Relax, the guest list here also could have been heavier. That Del cameo comes paired with a surprising spot from Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca, but the next-best-known comes from Wisconsin’s Milo — suffice it to say, I hadn’t heard most of the other MCs before Not O.K., and save for Raheem Recess and Alim, I’m left uninterested in whatever material of their own they may have. Still, as it compares to recent Bay Area releases like Lil B’s ultramarathon 05 Fuck Em and the fourth, fifth, and sixth installments of E-40’s Block Brochure series, Not O.K. is easy to parse, but just as worth inhabiting for an afternoon. More importantly, it’s further evidence that maybe Vazquez is best off doing his own thing, after all.
Essential Tracks: “V”, “Exotic”, and “Cuidado”