AT THEIR HOUSE in Queens, the Kondabolus are doing something right: They're growing iconoclasts.
Their two sons, Hari and Ashok Kondabolu, are artists who explore race, identity, and politics through raw, cutting, hilarious screeds. Hari is a stand-up comedian, while Ashok raps in Das Racist. And it's through understanding comedy that Das Racist unfurls.
"Two of us are Indian," Ashok says of the band, which also includes Himanshu Suri and Victor Vazquez. "And there's not too many Indian people in music or in any entertainment. Victor is Afro-Cuban and white, so he seems racially ambiguous. So people just think we're more amusing and harder to make sense of in their bullshit racial matrices. We're much more difficult to peg, so they don't know how to approach somebody like that."
But the song that put Das Racist on the map had nothing to do with race. It was a kiss-off, a joke. "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" is sparse, repetitive, and mindless—two dudes lost in the buzzing corporate haze.
Its popularity sometimes surprises the band. "This is literally something that was goofing off," says Ashok. "One of the songs took off unexpectedly and was kind of a way to get everything going."
The ensuing mixtapes, Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man, introduced Das Racist as dexterous, melodic rappers with something to say—albeit under a guise of clever, coded wordplay. Among jokes about sex and drugs, Das Racist gets real, and here the comedic ethos comes into play: As generations of political stand-up comedians have explained, the jokes have to come first—audiences don't pay to be yelled at.
"Talking about significant things, it's less off-putting initially," says Ashok of the jokey nature. "If you just start straight-talking about identity politics and race and white people, nobody wants to hear that. Especially a white dude, I imagine."
That Das Racist outlived the hype surrounding "Pizza Hut" is a testament to more than a laugh or racial novelty. They combine glitchy, sparse, chopped, modern production with old-school reverence—rather than relying on hooks, long and intricate verses take precedent. They pride themselves in energetic, odd, and confrontational performances.
"We got press for our live show before we got press for 'Pizza Hut Taco Bell,'" explains Suri. "We would've gotten the project heard no matter what."