3/30 KUMD Album Review: Heems

Mar 30, 2015

In 2010, Queens-based hip hop group Das Racist popped up on many a radar with the comical, absurdist single “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”. Many heard the track and dismissed the group as facetious MCs who lacked in the way of artistry. However, critics have hailed the three projects they released together as highlights of the early 2010s. After their breakup in 2012, one member, Himanshu Suri (AKA Heems) released two solo mixtapes that carried on the soul of the group. It's 2015 and Heems is back with his debut album Eat Pray Thug, which sees a slight departure from the style that garnered him his underground fame, but highlights his range and ability to construct song concepts as well as overarching themes.

The album's production borrows heavily from current hip hop trends as it is loaded with skittering trap hi-hats and the spacey vibes that are the signature of what many call “cloud rap”. The songs “Hubba Hubba” and “Damn, Girl” in particular sound like they could be Drake B-sides, with their combination of off-kilter samples and fat 808 bass lines. Heems is also a known appreciator of Jamaican culture, and this affinity shows up on the Harry Fraud-produced, “So NY” with its prominent dub feel and reggae samples. When Heems isn't spitting over bangers such as those mentioned above, he opts for more intimate, R&B-infused instrumentals. “Home,” his collaboration with Blood Orange's Devonte Hynes, is a stand-out of these types of tracks, and is peppered with wailing guitars and exotic percussion.

Lyrically, Heems mostly abandons the hyper-referential, stream of consciousness raps that he showcased in most of his earlier work. Instead, he opts for a more straightforward approach, which pays off especially well on the more serious tracks on this album. The pinnacle of both storytelling and lyricism on this album occurs on “Flag Shopping,” which shows us the prejudice faced by Heems and other Middle Eastern people in New York following the 9/11 attacks. The song takes a personal turn when Heems tells us his dad lost his job as a cab driver due to discrimination and turned his anger towards his children, rapping “He take it out on you/His belt big like Orion's”.

Drug addiction and bad relationships are also major themes on the album and show up mostly in songs like “Damn, Girl” and “Home.” The latter draws parallels between drug withdrawals and a bad breakup, describing eloquently the negative emotions that come with both. Despite songs like these, Heems manages to fit in some light-hearted themes here and there. The best example in this case is the opener and lead single “Sometimes.” On this track Heems flows wonderfully over a psychedelic, hyphy-style beat. The song's central theme is dualities, with its fill-in-the-blank “Sometimes I'm _____/Sometimes I'm _____” hook. Gordon Voidwell's beat switches timbres almost as often as Heems' mood throughout the song, which, at times, is about every four measures.

So, many long-time fans of Heems and his past work may see this album as an abrupt and unwelcome departure from his past successes, but I see it in a more positive light. Prior to this album's release, Heems went through a well-documented spiral of depression and drug abuse, which could have ended in a much more dour fashion. Instead, we sit here with an album that excellently depicts these emotions and we see interviews that indicate Heems may have finally found some peace in this world. I see this album as a distinct display of growth; not only as an artist, but as a human being.

Favorite tracks | Flag Shopping, Sometimes, Home, So NY

RIYL | Das Racist, Open Mike Eagle, Action Bronson