It's only the end of July, but it's already been an eventful year for Heems. The New York rapper dropped his first proper solo LP, Eat Pray Thug back in March, an excellent record that tells a heavy-handed story of what it's like to like in a perpetually post-9/11 New York as a person of Indian descent. But after the label, according to Heems, restricted distribution channels and prevented him from approaching another album the way he wanted, it seems that Eat Pray Thug's sequel will have another home. Furthermore, that home won't be Heems' own Greedhead label either, which Himanshu dissolved earlier this month due to financial issues. Thus, it's with a heavy backdrop that Heems embarks on his first full headlining tour in support of Eat Pray Thug, but with a team of excellent opening acts for each of the tour legs, he's set on bringing the magic of his new record, as well as some Das Racist and Swet Shop Boys material, to the stage for dedicated fans across the country. Together with dance rap wonder Spank Rock, Heems threw a party at the Sunset and stood defiant in a series of unfortunate recent events. Sometimes he's up, sometimes he's down, but Heems is always Heems, and nobody's going to stop that.I don't think anybody out there has more hype than Spank Rock. Whether the dude is playing a headliner or an opening set, it is a fact that after Spank Rock is done doing his thing, the crowd will be pouring drinks like crazy and having a time like none other. This week, Spank Rock opens for Heems. Next week, he travels the country opening for Boys Noize. I guarantee you, not a single person at any of those shows will walk away saying "Yeah, Spank Rock was just ok" - it's impossible when that dude is on fire 24/7. The new The Upside EP appeared almost in its entirety. Lead single "Gully" was an inferno. Heems jumped into the crowd for "12 O'Clock Boys", whiskey ginger in hand, turning the party up a couple degrees further. High fives and dancing in the crowd abounding, the tiny Sunset stage felt like a warehouse full of fans for the 45 minute jam session. Spank Rock dropped a flawless opening set and kept the stage at searing temperatures before Heems arrived for his own party.
If you follow Heems on Twitter, you get a lot of antics, but occasionally you get a deeper picture into the weird world of the industry in which Himanshu operates. One of the things he has emphasized on this tour is trying for a punk presence above a rap one. It's an approach that almost no one would think to ask for, but suits Heems surprisingly well given his historical love of non-sequiturs. As he blazes through Eat Pray Thug tracks played off his smart phone with whiskey ginger (made specifically with Jameson, mind you) in hand, his live voice is only barely audible above the one on the track. Alternating between two mics, one with reverb and echo and one with no effects, Himanshu slurs through "Sometimes" and "So NY" without a ton of inflection. The sound cuts halfway through "Sometimes" for a couple seconds as Heems gets a text alert to which he responds on stage. He stops "Flag Shopping" 3/4 of the way through to do karaoke to 112's 1998 classic "Funny Feelings". He plays another track and does the same thing with K-Ci & JoJo's "All My Life" (seriously, huge shout out to 1998 - freakishly awesome year for karaoke-ready R&B).
Later, Heems makes it deeper into his back catalogue, repeating the recipe, doing more covers, consistently weirding out everyone in the room, including the couple over eager dudes in the front row who got lost thinking this was a Run The Jewels show. A couple towards the back peel out, confused past the point of enjoyment. And yet, I've got to believe there's a real method to the Heems' madness. He warned us - this is a punk show, after all, and given Heems' year I can't help but think this tour is a statement of defiance in the face of the haters around the globe. Heems drops a deeply personal record about a very specific experience with the American dream. Growing up with post-9/11 racial presumptions thrown left and right, lessons learned in an effort to not be labeled a troublemaker as he grows into his manhood, Heems is now given the unique experience of making it in the music industry. And yet, the narrative sounds all too familiar: moderately successful label signs distribution deal with edgy, unique perspective guy, hedging all losses, and toeing all expenses into other courts. On the other side of it, typical rap tour is expected, complete with low budget hype man, low budget setup/tear down, and the consumer experience they all want: giving whoever comes in the door the superman feeling of being invited into a narrative they have zero liability possessing for the evening. Can't you see a bit of Johnny Rotten in this at all, looking out at the overwhelmingly white crowd (myself included), full of expectation each and every night for the same old schtick where they get to be "so New York" for a night?
After being through the ringer this year with only seven months of it past, I can see full well why Himanshu Suri is making an abrasive statement with this tour. Going back and listening to Eat Pray Thug again with this show in mind, I'm humbled, thinking with my first pass, I could try and see eye to eye with the multi-dimensional person that made this record, with a history and heritage that I'll never possess. Megaforce wanted a record for consumption, and Heems gave them one for contemplation - the rest is history. With the Eat Pray Thug tour, Heems puts on the most DIY, punk show you'll see this summer. It's a bold move - he might not get much in return. But I think it's exactly what he needs to do right now to work through the end of this insane chapter of a truly incomparable career arc. Walking on stage to whoops and hollers, Heems waits until the crowd is quiet. "Yo, anybody in the audience got a spare guitar? I won't even plug it in I swear... Cool, whatever. Guess you guys aren't cool with jamming." I guess they aren't, man, I guess they aren't.
Eat Pray Thug is out now. Go pick it up at your local record store on CD or vinyl so you can hold that gorgeous album art in your hands.
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