I have been waiting for Heems’, aka Himanshu Suri, solo album to drop as soon as I saw him on stage performing with Das Racist in a tiny, dank little lounge in LA like four years ago. Since that day he’s been picking up new artists, grassroots musicians like him, for his label Greedhead Music as well as joining up with Riz MC for a brief stint as the Swet Shop Boys. I have been fangirling, screaming, and holding my breath for this album. And it’s difficult to say exactly how I feel about it.
Though the album doesn’t officially come out till March 10, NPR has been streaming his album, Eat, Pray, Thug, all week as part of their First Listen series. Their review chalked it up to an opus that tested the concept of binary thinking as it moved smoothly between tough rap and soft soul. It was mostly liberal arts mumbo jumbo. Musically, the album is fine. It’s nice to listen to but that’s it.
His songs about relationships and heartbreak, ‘Pop Song (Games)’ and ‘Home’ in particular, are my favorite bits of this album. They’re easy listening and their breathlessness creates a quiet existential crisis. Everyone loves break up songs when they’re in a happy relationship and these are written specifically for your ‘Dash of Morning Drama’ playlist.
For the most part, the beats on Eat, Pray, Thug are dirty and the rhymes are catchy. Heems’ rough, spiky spit delivers it but the songs don’t stick out to me. Rap has always been about talking up your street cred and proving your legitimacy, Heems does that. His songs are peppered with kitsch Indian references and talk of New York, playing his Queens boy and brown man cards at the same time.
Das Racist always had on-point lyrics that dilated between humor and politics to create a satire that hit you in the gut. But the activism in Eat, Pray, Thug feels stale. Talking about 9/11 and the anti-brown prejudice that came out of that is real but he isn’t saying anything new. With ‘and from then on they call us all Osama/ the old Sikh man on the bus was Osama/ I was Osama/ we were Osama/ are you Osama?’ I don’t feel attached anymore. It makes me wonder if oppression is the currency of this album — we are not the intended audience, he isn’t creating for brown people, but it’s as though he’s trying to share our world with outsiders and the best way to do it is with a dumbed down version of our dark history.
I think, in this case, it was my expectations that ruined the album for me. I was expecting something hard-hitting from Heems, not just a regurgitation of some diaspora Tumblr post. He’s telling our stories, yeah, but I’ve already heard them.