Release Date: Mar 10, 2015
Record label: Megaforce
Genre(s): Rap, Alternative Rap, Underground Rap, Left-Field Hip-Hop
Let us pause and appreciate the irony that is my entrée into this rapper’s oeuvre being rendered, in video, in black and white - meaning an one of our most poignant, cutting, and constantly outspoken artists vis-a-vis race himself had no color. The verse, off the Knights of the Round (of the Underground King) remix of the then-Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire’s “Huzzah,” finds Heems joined by his former (then current) Das Racist running mate Kool A.
The kids may not know it, but Bobby McFerrin was only considered a serious jazz man before his megahit "Don't Worry Be Happy" became everyone's mom's favorite. As Heems rolled up to his debut, the McFerrin-esque pop albatross that hung around this alt-rapper's neck was his former crew Das Racist, more specifically "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," a fun, quirky jam like "Sandwiches" (Detroit Grand Pubahs) which, for most listeners, banished the group to the land of never being taken seriously again. Fans of the tune should still check Eat Pray Thug, as the title displays that same slick and quick sense of humor, but just a bit into the opener "Sometimes" ("Sometimes I'm sober, Sometimes I pass a fifth"), an instrumental breakdown sparks the solo rapper's own breakdown ("How do I live my life, when my life is all dualities?" and "I'm so confused, I could use some more clarity") because irony is much more than just humor to this complicated artist.
No one should be surprised by the scarcity of guest spots on Heems' official debut album, Eat, Pray, Thug. While his previous releases as past of hip-hop outfit Das Racist featured boldface names like El-P, Danny Brown and Vampire Weekend, bringing together art school kids and Hot 97 listeners, this record finds the rapper-turned-Forbes-profiled businessman turned indie label head (and back again) re-introducing himself as Himanshu Suri by asserting his own unfiltered truths. Recorded largely in India, Eat, Pray Thug is the soundtrack of a son of immigrant parents learning that while you might be able to return home, nothing will be the same as how you left it.
If rap music is the emotional and creative outlet for the underprivileged, discriminated and societally ignored, then Heems (formerly of ironic rap crew Das Racist), who is of Punjabi-Indian descent, has continued the tradition with his first solo LP, Eat Pray Thug. He does so by calling on his personal experiences as a Middle-Easterner in post-9/11 America, a perspective that hip-hop and popular culture in general has failed to examine on almost every level. Das Racist could be timidly political at times, particularly on racial issues, but Eat Pray Thug, an album that’s openly provocative in its politics, suggests that Heems was always the catalyst for those themes when explored by his never-serious group.
Rap has always been a voice of the disenfranchised. It doesn’t shy away from speaking for those without a medium. It hasn’t often been used as a mouthpiece for combating islamophobia, however, or the prejudice that plagues brown people of all faiths and nationalities. Those issues are being taken to task now thanks, in part, to Queens rapper Heems.
Himanshu Suri is that special kind of musician capable of making a romanti-political rap record. Eat Pray Thug, his solo debut LP, is the culmination of years of being Himanshu. Not Heems — Himanshu. Deeply personal and intensely agitated, the album manages to stay pissed off and in love at the same time, all while maintaining the wordsmith reputation he earned during his years with Das Racist.
What does the future look like for former members of a joke-rap group? What if things blew apart just as you stopped joking? Das Racist’s career arc was never an obvious one—sometimes it was hard to tell if they were shrugging or lunging at us—and its solo members are now puzzling their way through the aftermath of an ambiguous legacy. Himanshu Suri, aka Heems, always felt like the breakout star, if the crew had such a thing. They were all funny, but Heems was also quietly charismatic and occasionally vulnerable: On Das Racist tracks like "Amazing" or "You Can Sell Anything", he was all three at once.
A month before releasing his new and first commercially available solo album, Himanshu Suri (Heems) tweeted his frustrations with the promotion process. “I made an album at the end of 2013 in one of the darkest periods of my life,” the former Das Racist rapper wrote, “and now I have to relive it through interviews for promotion.” Midway through the resulting LP, you sense the Queens-born artist wasn’t joking. Heems and co-conspirator Kool A.D.
Heems (aka Himanshu Suri) made his name as part of Das Racist, famous for their unlikely 2008 novelty rap hit Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell. His debut solo album is much less focused on laughs, though. Instead, Eat Pray Thug is deeply personal and introspective, about being brown-skinned in America post-9/11 and a tough breakup that happened at the same time Das Racist imploded.