Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Heems [extended]

  • Nehru Jackets [free download, 2012] A-
  • Wild Water Kingdom [Greedhead download, 2012] A-
  • Eat Pray Thug [Megaforce, 2015] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Himanshu: Nehru Jackets [free download, 2012]
Following his partner Kool A.D.'s more scattered Palm Wine Drinkard mixtape by just a few weeks, Das Racist's Heems comes up with a free album highlighted by two songs as strong as anything on Relax: "Womyn," a theological codicil to the devotional "Booty in the Air," and "NYC Cops," a brutal, fact-filled catalogue of people of color dead by peace officer. It dips in the middle, and though the PSAs from Ravi Shankar and, if I'm not mistaken, the late great Jocko Henderson sustain themselves, the up-and-comer cameos--Action Bronson, Danny Brown, Mr. Muthafuckin Ed, Puerile Gambino--make you wish the new veteran would jump back in. And then, starting with the quasi-autobiographical "Desi Shoegaze Taiko" two thirds of the way in, the material rights itself so smartly you'd think he could do this forever. So remember that he can't and get it while you can. A-

Wild Water Kingdom [Greedhead download, 2012]
Flushing is in the F'ing house--namechecking Quaker hegemony resister John Bowne and college-bound bus route Kissena Boulevard, Himanshu Suri is my Cherry Avenue homeboy. And although more far-out referents might arguably block my passway to his freewheeling freestyles, subcontinental beats like Keyboard Kid's electro-Carnatic "Let It Go" and Harry Fraud's serpent-charming "Wild Water Kingdom" mean to create a world of fun for everyone: "When Heema rappin'/This is what happen/Everybody foot gets to tappin'/Everybody dance like they Latin/Everybody clothes turn to silk and to satin/Everybody metal turn from silver to platinum/Everybody set like director said action." Climaxed by a love song to an r&b also-ran whose first name rhymes with Tone-Loc's favorite love potion, this jumpy tribute to substance exploitation may be his gangsta album. But it comes with a PSA: "Don't do drugs. They're bad for you, they make you feel strange, your friends won't love you anymore." A-

Eat Pray Thug [Megaforce, 2015]
Heems has always been explicit about the unimaginable extra burden of racism borne by African-Americans in this country. But on the 9/11 rhyme "Flag Shopping" ("We're going flag shopping/For American flags/They're staring at our turbans/They're calling them rags") and the 9/11 recitation "Patriot Act" ("They would come at night and they would make a mess and the mess upset his wife"), he documents the racism Americans who look like him suffered after the towers fell--a disaster he watched horrified from Stuyvesant High School a few blocks away. Nothing else here can match those tracks. But I'm almost as down with "Sometimes," a "Personality Crisis" for outer boroughs kids of the immigrant generation, and assume it sums up who Heems is: not bipolar because his psyche is too multi, but moody and chronically confused. Note that two out of three love songs would be a feat for the most unconfused rapper, with the placeholding "Pop Song (Games)" obviously a sop to the label--the other two project emotions too smart for radio's confused-breakup norm. And beneath all this burble beats that suit a musicality worthy of the artist one song here spells "Jawn Cage." This is rapping that foregrounds the variegations of the ordinary speaking voice--its cracks, its rumbles, its anxious highs, its distracted lows, its deep-seated imperfections and insecurities. It's very American. A