The future is unwritten for hip-hop’s sharp-witted satirist
The subversive hip-hop formula that Himanshu Suri, a.k.a Heems, created with his former group Das Racist juxtaposes dumb cultural jokes and serious political references against infectious hooks and unconventional party beats. It’s allowed the Brooklyn based rapper to cultivate a massive cult following, propelling him and his former band into mainstream consciousness and solidifying his vision as the head of the forward- thinking rap label Greedhead Music.
Following Das Racist’s recent dissolution, Heems has embarked on a European tour to promote his latest solo effort, Wild Water Kingdom. The mixtape utilises a near-schizophrenic hook selection, featuring a dubstep-lite beat, the riddim of Cee Gee’s dub reggae and even a club track featuring Childish Gambino. Clearly the man understands pop music. Disappointingly, his latest effort isn’t spliced with the kind of political commentary that was so crucial to his solo debut, Nehru Jackets, but the new mixtape is infested with the kind of irreverent cultural nods that made Das Racist so charming and funny, referencing everything from Ludacris to Princess Diana. On the hilarious intro track, Cowabunga Gnarly, Heems mimics rap’s rags-to-riches grand narrative with a statement that’s simultaneously boastful and self-deprecating: ‘Mr. Potential Abortion Stat / To that cat that pay his momma mortgage cash is back’. Wild Water Kingdom isn’t a joke record, but due to Heems’ multiple layers of irony, it would be easy to mistake it for one.
Mike Finito, who produced Nehru Jackets single-handed, is joined here by Keyboard Kid, LE1F and Harry Fraud among others. “It is a fun, cohesive thing to work with one producer, but I found that working with a lot of producers is the way I like doing it, because I feel a lot of different things at a lot of different times and I can adapt,” Heems tells us as we’re sat on a stoop opposite Bristol venue Start The Bus.
Killing Time, a track from the new tape which uses a sample from Echo & The Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon, is trivialised with the lyric “I’m bored, I’m bored”, rapidly increasing in tempo. Later he tells us that he’s most interested in developing his managerial roles, and it’s hard to work out whether the lyric is a play on words or a hint at his future as an MC.
“With Das Racist I liked managing the band a lot more than being out in front and being in the public eye, and having to deal with whatever social anxiety from that side of the stage, or whatever anxiety generally”, Heems tells us, seeming slightly fazed when we press him on the subject, although it’s hard to tell through his approachable, often hilarious, demeanour. The group shelved material already recorded for a new album, which by some accounts runs to five/six tracks, and the reasons behind the split was never fully explained to the group’s devoted fan base.
Das Rascist’s first, and last, official release Relax came out in 2011. Despite the fact that the track Girl appeared, controversially, in a Walmart commercial, the album wasn’t as critically revered as mixtapes Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man. The band’s break came with a song about the smell of their favourite fast food restaurants, ‘I’ve got that taco smell / That pescado smell / I’ve got a lot of smells/ I’ve rolled a lot of Ls’, went the mantra. Yet Heems’ cultural commentary is a crucial part of enjoying his music. And he’s an ex-Wall Street head hunter and Forbes Magazine-branded “indie rap mogul”. It’s an interesting dichotomy.
Heems’ next album is already in the works and could be released as soon as April. He says an album from Victor Vazquez, i.e ex-Das Racist bandmate Kool AD, should drop on the same day. After that? It looks like he’ll push to a management and promotion role: “I don’t know how much more I’m going to be making music, but I know I’m going to be working with music and non-music for a long time.”
In the background Heems has been working on building the Greedhead Music label, which was formed to manage Das Racist in 2008. Since the band split he’s building the label’s roster, which includes E-40’s eccentric son Issue, the witty Big Baby Ghandi and the brilliant, proudly gay rapper Le1F. “I’m focused on what the next kind of look is, which is why I signed Le1f and Big Baby Gandhi”, he says. “And I kind of developed the label with Das Racist to push rap that might not meet the preconceived notions about what rap should be out there.”
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Wild Water Kingdom is available to download now.
Words: Christopher Goodfellow