“Who the fuck you think you signed? I make post-9/11 dystopian brown man rap. Not very radio friendly,” Heems wrote in a now deleted tweet.
Himanshu Suri, AKA Heems, BKA 1/2 the voice of now defunct rap group Das Racist, has a rocky and rough history playing record label roulette. So rocky, that he has encouraged us to skip the middle man of buying his new album, Eat, Pray, Thug, on iTunes and other retailers, and is asking fans to PayPal him $10 directly and cut out the middle man a la Frank Lucas if they truly want to support.
wanna really really support me? Don’t buy on iTunes. Wait for illegal download and PayPal me 10$. HimaSuri at Gmail. Fuck the corporation.
— Eat Pray Thug 3/10 (@HIMANSHU) March 2, 2015
It is with this hands-on-the-wheel attitude that Heems skipped making songs for the label, endured a minor delay, and emerged as an unsuspecting voice for minority activism in a post-9/11 New York City and 21st century America.
Eat, Pray, Thug is peak Heems in every single category. If it were a game of poker, he played the entire 30+ minutes of the album with each hand face up and still emerged victorious.
Sometimes he rhymes slow, sometimes he rhymes quick. In the intro, “Sometimes,” he pays an unspoken homage out of the gate to NYC duo Nice & Smooth and the legendary Busta Rhymes. He’s “So NY” that he still doesn’t bump Tupac. He’s so New York that he lives with his momma, because he had to leave Williamsburg and all the white drama. His authoritative commentary on the changing social status of New York City through the first two tracks of the album is unparalleled from a rapper in recent memory. Where Your Old Droog has light-heartedly encouraged the gentrification of his hood to get some better coffee in the neighborhood (which, you can’t argue his point), Heems moved out of the 5 boroughs for Long Island to escape Williamsburg, drones, and the influx of Taylor Swift-recruited tourists, among other things.
“Crown Heights is lookin’ real different and shit these days, no?”
This outlook of a changing urban landscape isn’t far off from the festive commentary that Das Racist provided about the city, though EPT comes in a slightly less genial package than the trio could provide. He still bobs and weaves, dinks and dunks through impressive beats from the likes of Harry Fraud, staggering and unafraid to repeat bars to make a clear point.
Where Heems has stepped up as a solo artist is his incredibly unique take on pop songs. It’s Toro y Moi if Chaz headlined an episode of “Soul Train” in the 70s (could you imagine?). It’s Snoop Dogg on “Sexual Eruption” if he lived in Queens and fell in love on the 7 train home from Manhattan. “Damn, Girl,” “Pop Song,” and “Home,” the latter of which features Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, serve as brief timeouts to refuel and take a breath in between the rigors of the album’s more manifested commentary.
In mainstream music, there hasn’t been one distinct voice on the pressures of racism and discrimination that Southeast Asian people have felt against them in post-9/11 America. Until now. In a hip-hop market where most of the perspective comes from those of young to middle aged black males, Heems enters from the faraway land of Flushing, Queens, to share his journey as an Indian-American kid, as well as the discrimination against Indian, Pakistani, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Black, and Brown people all over the country. “Flag Shopping” shows the anger of a young man tormented by his peers calling his turban a rag or towel. It shows the rushed assimilation that his and many similar families felt after the World Trade Center attacks to buy American flags for their home and seem as patriotic as possible to neighbors and employers. On EPT, Heems slurs and stutters through chants of “USA!” and “Amerrrrica!” almost jaded at the exhaustive institution of patriotism as a whole, which culminates in a profound soliloquy covering xenophobia, New York City police, and his family’s struggles on “Patriot Act.”
Himanshu Suri’s work and voice as an activist shouldn’t outshine his work as an artist, both of the performing and visual variety. Though he has traveled the world, speaking and lecturing at universities, his work as an art curator is perhaps his most daring. His newest art exhibition at Aicon Gallery in New York, claiming the same name as the album, is a finely-curated multimedia reflection of many of the same themes as his music and this album, featuring artists with experiences similar to his.
If you were lucky enough to be in New York a few years back, you’ll remember the smokeforblues Festival at the Whitney Museum of American art, where Suri and Greedhead Music led performances, installations, live talks, and more inside one of the country’s most prestigious institutions of American art. Le1f painted himself white and got his very first tattoo live in front of everyone. It was cool.
There will be albums to come out this year that have slicker bars over more triumphant bass beats with more downloads and streams, but certainly no album will speak as loudly or make a larger social impact as EPT will. Heems has always been one of the voices we needed, but never quite a voice music fans deserved, that is, until more people sit down and ingest what he has taken years to prepare for us on EPT.
Read More →*Header image via Shivani Gupta/Courtesy of the artist/NPR
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Being involved with the music industry for over 3 years now, I thought in 2015 we were able to assume nothing but the utmost mutual respect to be shown between the media outlets and the artists (especially when these said outlets are largely responsible for their success) but unfortunately that’s not the case. I’ve included the tweets about the exchange after the jump.
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Listen to the track below.Read More →