Hobnobbing With Heems

One third of agitprop rap act Das Racist on going solo, his sophomore album that is a tribute to his strange relationship with water

Asif Khan December 21, 2021
Picture by Asif Khan

Picture by Asif Khan

“Yo Goaaa! Wassup Goa! Tonight, I’m Gonna fuck with you tonight, Goaaa!”

Somebody in the audience just wanted to fuck around: “BUT YOU’RE PLAYING IN DELHI, HEEMS!”

Himanshu Suri, part of the notorious trio of the Brooklyn agitprop rap act Das Racist, occupied stage on Wednesday night at Cocaine in New Delhi, for his solo set as Heems.

That retort from the audience seemed to faze him some bit as he turned his back to the audience. Seconds later he turned around, and started booming into the microphone. “HAHA. Yeah, this is Goa. This is New York City, man. Mets Stadium. Madison Square Garden.”

No he wasn’t high. His misplaced sense of geography is just his way of “fucking with them”. After all, he has a self-confessed affinity for provocation—including handing out advice to do things one wants, “especially if it makes other people uncomfortable for the wrong reasons.”

Earlier last month, Himanshu was in Pune to perform at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender. Earlier this week, he was at the Goa Literary and Arts Festival. In between which he held audiences at nightspots around Europe, and some bits around China and Hong Kong. To be fair, even though he might be fucking around, the guy deserved to carry a Goa hangover, judging by his busy touring schedule.

Hot on the heels of the release of his second solo effort, “Wild Water Kingdom” (his debut solo effort “Nehru Jackets” released to extremely positive reviews earlier last year), we caught up with Suri minutes before he was set to perform at Cocaine. “The name “Wild Water Kingdom” plays on multiple levels. There is an amusement park with the same name in Pennsylvania by that name,” says Suri, who recounts his childhood memories of visiting the park with cars full of families of distant relatives. It doesn’t take him long to throw another tangent though. “Plus I am a water sign, and I love water. Something that I just thought of right now—it is three great words together, they sound great together.” Suri builds on the sound of the album by calling “the stuff on it more wavy. By wavy, I mean more humorous compared to my earlier work.”

Water plays a much more important role for him. “I start taking a lot more showers when I get anxious. It helps. And my goal is to be in the ocean as much as I can. That’s my habitat.” For someone who starts taking showers, and has taken “seven, maybe eight showers over the course of a night, one for each hour” when he is anxious, it is tempting to know if abstaining from a shower for days at end is a sign that he’s at peace. It would be hard to find him to be a stinking mess though, because “as a rule of thumb, I shower at least once a day.”

(Later on, he was heard looking around for a place where he could take a shower before the show.)

A lot of his anxiety stems from the experiences he had growing up as a brown boy in the US, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, when he was a 16-year-old student at Wesleyan College, a premier liberal arts colleges situated just a few blocks away from the Ground Zero. “I’ve started thinking differently about race now, from how I used to think about it earlier. Now I also see that it’s about class. Something that you see even in places and conversations around Delhi.” Racial discrimination has figured prominently on Das Racist’s earlier work, and Suri has written and spoken extensively about it too. What purists have had a problem with is how he constantly speaks about serious social issues from under the veil of non-serious banter and dancey music.

The gig saw a slow start as DJs SuReal and Flash Hardcor began spinning thick old school hip-hop beats. By the time Suri got ready to get on stage, the place was packed comfortably.

After guffawing his way through the introduction, he didn’t waste time before breaking into familiar bars (I don’t wanna wait/For my life/To get over) from Thug Handles of his solo debut effort “Nehru Jackets.” This was the post Das Racist Heems, disappointing for the old timers because he was playing his newer solo stuff. The sample from the 1970s Bollywood hit Aap Jaisa Koi may have sounded familiar to those present, but barring a few, nobody seemed to know Cowabunga Gnarly from “Wild Water Kingdom.” A handful though sang along the bars along. To keep the crowd going though, he finally did perform crowd favourites beginning by dropping Das Racist tracks, starting with You Oughta Know and later moving on to Michael Jackson. The floor erupted to Holler on each instance that Suri pointed the mic towards them. Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell made way into the set too, but he played it extremely stripped-down, bare bones, low tempo version of the original. As a result the floor did start thinning out,with most people who were unacquainted with his newer stuff, and were uninspired to continue listening to itmoving to the terrace upstairs. The loyalists stuck around till the end, with swaying limbs and rhyming lips.

The man may give an impression of being confused about his coordinates. But he sure knows his place on the stage, even if his crowd thinned out at the end.