Published Mar 10, 2015No one should be surprised by the scarcity of guest spots on Heems' official debut album, Eat, Pray, Thug. While his previous releases as past of hip-hop outfit Das Racist featured boldface names like El-P, Danny Brown and Vampire Weekend, bringing together art school kids and Hot 97 listeners, this record finds the rapper-turned-Forbes-profiled businessman turned indie label head (and back again) re-introducing himself as Himanshu Suri by asserting his own unfiltered truths. Recorded largely in India, Eat, Pray Thug is the soundtrack of a son of immigrant parents learning that while you might be able to return home, nothing will be the same as how you left it.
Charging out of the gate, the one-two jabs of "Sometimes" (with nods to Nice & Smooth's "Sometimes I Rhyme Slow" and Busta Rhymes' "Touch It") and "So NY," which contain the DNA strands of New York rap radio, finds him in dexterous fighting form. "Sometimes I'm pacifist, sometimes I pass the fist," he raps on the former over Gordon Voidwell's five-alarm fire production, pausing flippant name-checks of Helen Hunt and indie rock band the Wrens only to beckon for a gulp of Courvoisier.
Yet before you can say you miss the old Heems, he's told you not to tempt him; "Sometimes" ends with the self-described "Deepak Choppa" stating "I'm too white, I'm too black," emphasizing the dualities of his career. On "Home" the rapper grapples with the dissolution of a romantic relationship as Dev Hynes' (a.k.a. Blood Orange) backup vocals ring like echoes of his innermost thoughts and a serpentine Bollywood-influenced guitar riff propels the song.
Never one to shy away from stating his political beliefs and opinions — whether it be on past tracks (see "Soup Boys (Pretty Drones)" from the critically underrated 2012 mixtape Wild Water Kingdom) or Twitter — Heems' lyrics here are pointed, more personal. He's seen the blood on the leaves, but instead of coming across as preachy, he uses his self-made platform to be a voice for the disenfranchised and underrepresented.
On songs like "Flag Shopping" and "Patriot Act," he addresses that while the smoke from the 9/11 attacks may have dissipated, the Islamophobia and xenophobia faced by South Asian and other POC communities in the U.S. and worldwide have not. In "Suicide By Cop" (complete with whirring sirens), the rapper recounts growing up in Queens in the '90s, but he could easily be talking about police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri or any small American town. There are more questions here than resolutions, making Eat, Pray, Thug a thinking person's record, but that's a good thing, especially now that he's speaking to his largest audience yet. (Megaforce/Greenhead)