Album Review: Heems – Nehru Jackets




Fans of deconstructionist hip-hop mirth-makers Das Racist had to have mixed feelings about the fact that the three collaborators in the mix each promised a solo mixtape this year. On the one hand, duh, more material from these guys is a good sign, but, on the other, fracturing their voices could be problematic. How would Victor “Kool A.D.” Vazquez’s spacey, absurdist sense of humor work without Himanshu “Heems” Suri’s Dada bravado, and vice versa?

When A.D.’s Palm Wine Drinkard mixtape hit, there was even more cause for concern. The whole thing felt half-baked, with a severe deficit of actual rapping. But we all know that Heems is “fucking great at rapping,” so there was no way he’d turn in a similar effort. When the very first track of his solo tape, “Thug Handles”, unfolds like the Das Racist we all know and love, it’s like a sigh of relief. There’s the repetition of mindless buzzwords and the boasting about something as innocuous as his “junk food game,” boasting “burritos til’ I die.”

Kool A.D. gets a verse on the trippy “Swate”, giving a shout-out to his dad’s Bluetooth and calling Slavoj Zizek sexy. This is the Victor Vazquez that should’ve been on Palm Wine Drinkard, and a track that could’ve easily been on a Das Racist album. On the super-goofy “Womyn”, producer Mike Finito contributes a stellar, stumbling marimba and female vocal beat right in Heems’ wheelhouse, from which the two sing that “these chicks is women” to the tune of Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison”, reminding us that women are “better than steak, or high-stakes poker.”

But Heems isn’t all Now And Laters and jokes; he’s got some well-informed social/political views, and he can let that fly as a solo artist. On “Bad, Bad, Bad”, Heems begins his screed against the New York police, repeating the line “if you wear a turban you can’t be a cop/but you can shoot one.” Later, on the particularly brutal “NYC Cops”, he lists a gut-wrenching number of police brutality cases before hitting the hook with a pointed question: “Who wants to be a cop but a power hungry idiot?” The deep discussion isn’t all aimed at the police, either. He references his late night Twitter conversations with acclaimed author Salman Rushdie, one of the better name-drops of recent rap history.

“Desi Shoegaze Taiko” manages to reference Fab Five Freddie, Madonna, and Gandhi in one breath, but Heems divulges a lot of his personal life too, something not as prominent on D.R. group releases. Heems took this solo opportunity and ran with it, giving the fan base a closer look at his individual part of the Das Racist ethos, a better look at his world without too closely echoing or leaving behind his group.

Essential Tracks: “SWATE”, “Bangles”, and “Thug Handles”