Album Review: Heems - Eat Pray Thug

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

"Product of partition" - that's how Himanshu Suri, a.k.a. Heems, defines himself on Eat Pray Thug closer "Patriot Act". On that track, he talks about how growing up as a man of Indian descent in post-9/11 NYC was a nightmare. "From then on they called all of us Osama", he recalls towards the end, "Those old Sikh men on the bus were Osama. I was Osama, we were Osama... are you Osama?" People don't "get" Heems. This is the dude from that joke band Das Racist, right? He's also the guy whose first solo mixtape Nehru Jackets featured a Childish Gambino feature talking about watching New Girl and eating froyo and arguably the most scathing song about police brutality ("NYC Cops") of 2012 within a couple tracks of each other. Heems has been on a long, productive journey in the last couple years, and with his first solo LP, he's ready to tackle the identity crisis of modern hip-hop and make the whole melting pot his own. Racial partitioning is only one of many, many partitions that he takes a shot at breaking down over the course of Eat Pray Thug. There's also hip-hop culture, white assimilation, New York culture, and even the simple culture established between men and women in relationship. Heems goes all out on Eat Pray Thug, weirder and more daring than ever before, and he succeeds in pretty much every endeavor at hand here. Don't pass this one up just because you can't put it in a box.

In an interview with the Village Voice, "If you're in a rock band you might sing about love and girls, but with rap, it's identity". Heems is totally right. Whether rappers are making hard-nosed "a day in the life" records or trying to make a statement about the daily struggles of existence, rap tells a personal story that you, as a listener, can choose to participate in. The crazy thing about Heems is that holding to this pillar of identity that so many other rappers have also made their center makes Eat Pray Thug a radically different record than anything your going to see on the market this year. Heems' story, his sense of identity, and the way he interacts with the NY hip-hop culture are entirely their own, and it's for this reason that his solo record is so vital. Like most debut solo records, it's a detailed character introduction, one that we never fully explicitly with Das Racist (we got plenty of serious songs from Das Racist, don't get me wrong - we just never got to see Heems tell his own story verbatim).

So how does Heems choose to start page 1? He starts it on a roller coaster. "Sometimes" is four minutes flat of contradictions over the catchiest beat on the whole record. Over the course of the track, Heems gets high and he gets low (with every possible interpretation of each) and everywhere in between. It's a great thesis for Eat Pray Thug as it forces the listener to ask "Why is this dude all over the place?". Thankfully, we get the answer over the next 10 tracks.

"So NY" is exhibit 1 on Eat Pray Thug. After three minutes of positive energy tribute to his home town, the tone turns sharply. "I'm so New York, yo I live with my mama, had to leave Williamsburg and all the white drama. I had to leave my home they keep calling me Osama, had to leave my home because of drones and Obama." Here, we have the juxtaposition of "Sometimes" put to flesh and blood. Sure, Heems can lay claim to all the romanticized New York City tropes, not sleeping 'til Brooklyn and going heavy in the streets, but there's another side of it, one that only an Indian man living in a post-9/11 New York City witch hunting atmosphere sees. It's the same place Himanshu visits on "Flag Shopping", a brutal song recalling a childhood memory of his family going to buy American flags to decorate the house after 9/11 so that neighbors wouldn't throw rocks at the house. "We sad like they sad but now we buy their flag", Heems reminisces. On "Patriot Act", Himanshu remembers giving a nickname for his coworkers so that he wouldn't get labeled a troublemaker. It's in this atmosphere that Heems is forced to call into question his own identity. How much of Himanshu Suri is defined by the prevailing white culture that forces him to change for only their comfort and convenience? How much of him is left over after that?

Heems fills the gaps in between the record's heaviest cuts with another type of identity struggle: relationships. "Pop Song (Games)" is as good as it gets for brokenhearted pop magic. Heems totally switches up the tone of the record for this one off banger of a bummer pop jam. Then he caps "Pop Song" off with the record's sole ballad, a duet with Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) called "Home" that could melt icebergs. And ending with the record's best one-liner, it's a pitch perfect selling point. None of Heems's slow jams break the pace of the record - they just allow the heavier, more topical tracks to hit harder. "Hubba Hubba" stands as the record's only "I have enemies and critics but no one gets me" track - everywhere else Heems is just proving it firsthand. Maybe that's why Eat Pray Thug comes off so confrontational. Other rappers play into that strive for identity by selling it to you - Heems just lives it.

Eat Pray Thug is dope and it's out this week on Megaforce Records. Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Heems hasn't announced a tour in support of the new record yet, but keep an eye on his Twitter for news of it when it drops.

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