After dropping two mixtapes in 2012, Heems (a.k.a. Himanshu Suri, formerly of Das Racist) had a decidedly low profile last year. Fortunately fans hungry for fresh bars from the rapper have a wealth of new material to look forward to. In addition to finishing up his first proper solo album, Heems has teamed up with London-based actor and rapper Riz MC (a.k.a. Riz Ahmed) for a joint project under the moniker Swet Shop Boys.
Swet Shop Boys have just released a video for the Ryan-Hemsworth produced “Benny Lava,” which will appear on an EP coming out later in the year. The track finds Queens-born Punjabi Heems and London-based Pakistani Riz on common ground, mixing braggadocio with blunt commentary on identity politics. Prashant Bhargava and Tanuj Chopra directed the clip.
Heems has been on an interesting trajectory since the early days of Das Racist When his former group first received attention it was for a song that prompted countless think pieces from music critics debating whether it was pure novelty or had hidden layers of meaning.
Das Racist then shocked naysayers by putting out two critically acclaimed mixtapes that proved their ability to rap while managing to be hilarious, political, experimental, and pop culturally-savvy all at once. One the group fell apart Heems opted for a grittier sound with his solo material – spitting more world-wearied lyrics and less of his carefree free-associative humor.
On “Benny Lava” Heems has pretty much abandoned using humor, instead channeling his acute paranoia from feeling like an outsider as a young brown man. He lashes out at the some of the US’ sordid history like the Tuskegee experiments, worrying that such events make white America seem like a villain from his perspective.
Needless to say it’s some seriously irreverent material that is likely to make many listeners uncomfortable. However, much like the ending of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing his controversial thoughts are sure to spark some important conversations about race.
It will be interesting to see what tone Heems strikes when he releases his solo album, which according to his Twitter feed is almost complete.