Almost 3 years since the end of Das Racist, Heems – real name Humanshu Suri – steps out, following the release of mixtapes ‘Nehru Jackets’ and ‘Wild Water Kingdom’, to create a record with two sides. One, a hyperstylised and forever nocturnal amalgamation of every DJ Mustard track you’ve ever heard. The other, set in the wake of 9/11 New York, free of artifice and brimming with deprecation. Born out of a two-year trip around South Asia, he calls it “post 9/11 dystopian Brown man rap” and it works far more effectively than it should.
The constant juxtaposition of an all-too familiar club setting and the simmering tension surrounding the more internalised setting of New York almost casts the former as a distractive sanctuary from issues surrounding the latter. More atypical tracks like opener ‘Sometimes’, ‘Hubba Hubba’ and ‘Jawn Cage’ recall the bravado of 2011’s ‘Relax’, Suri’s unwavering confidence and self-parody maintaining trademark character in the face of potential vacuity. It’s with the ease of these tracks, that the record’s more visceral and autobiographical moments come to shine. You’ll find the same caustic production, only here matched with a more sobering vocal performance and issues such as heroin addiction and Islamaphobia. Heems’ lyricism takes centre stage – take something as sobering as “I was Osama / We were Osama”, on closing track ‘Patriot Act’.
Where the record loses sight of its own mission is in the integration of more synth-pop tracks, helmed by Harry Fraud and Gordon Voidwell. Here, Heems doesn’t find himself toe-to-toe with the instrumental but instead lost, both amidst a sea of ill-fitting synths and a message which lacks the idiosyncratic flare of other offerings. Even the Dev Hynes’ produced ‘Home’ lacks the nuance of previous works, like ‘High Street’, where the concept sounds almost faultless on paper. Suri’s relentless charisma across the record provide a more convincing case for his role as the ‘love ‘em and leave ‘em’ type than they do the lovelorn poet.
There are times when the calamity of Das Racist seep through and Heems’ attempts to turn his hand to anything and everything feel as though he’s bitten off more than he can chew. Outside these moments, where Heems channels his energy into more subdued and attentive confrontations of the past, there’s a sense of progress and evolution in his song writing that have made this effort both worth the wait and a signpost for his future.
Words: Liam O'Hanlon