Heems – Nehru Jackets (REVIEW)

February 2, 2012 8 comments

Have you ever met “that guy” who seems to have a force field of irony and jest surrounding every statement he makes? An air of sarcasm that blurs the line between earnest discourse and some kind of, real-life, social satire that’s only decipherable to those he chooses to invite in? Well, Das Racist’s Himanshu Suri (or Heems) has essentially made a career of being “that guy”. Not for nothing, certainly, as Heems, along with partner in rhyme Victor Vazquez (and incomparable hype man Dapwell), have thrived off of their, often, pasquillic delivery. But, on Nehru Jackets, Heems steps up to the solo role and, through some of the best MC-ing of his career, lets a few of us in on the joke.

Of course, it’s not all pastiche and parody for Heems. From the divisively brilliant 2010 mixtapes Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man, to last year’s even more polarizing commercial debut Relax, Das Racist has shown themselves to be some of the more distinctive, and culturally probing, voices in indie hip-hop. Whereas Vasquez (who recently released his solo mixtape, The Palm Wine Drinkard, under alias Kool A.D.) plays the more blunted, misanthropic role, Heems, conversely, has an ability to seemingly chuckle through equal parts junk food rap (wink, wink) and poignant social commentary.

With that interplay taking center stage on Jackets, Heems takes advantage of his lyrical ambiguity and sprints out of the gate with bombastic beats and quotables aplenty. I say “quotables” because, while the lyrics here are definitely a highlight, the structure of Heems’ lines shift so often that it’s hard to pick out one particular sentence specifically. Within the first five tracks you get lines about freegans, the DHARMA Innitiative, Ric Ocasek (I know, right?), and a multitude of other references that continue to hover just above my head. Heems’ flow, muddled as it is, remains impeccable, which is what makes his anomalous delivery relatively accessible, but it can be difficult to recall a verse that definitively sticks out.

What does stick out are producer Mike Finito’s beats. Heems’ “man since he was fourteen” comes through on Jackets with some of the most layered, bass-booming, Hindi-inspired instrumentals I’ve ever heard. And, almost like the unveiling of a secret weapon, Finito’s score spans the entire 70 minutes of the tape. The continuity this adds is evident from the start. “Thug Handles” opens the album with wonky synths, thick boom-bap drums, and a seemingly ever-present bassline. The perfect pacemaker for what’s to come.

Where Victor Vasquez is missed as the steady flow for Heems to bounce idiosyncrasies off of, Finito’s role is more geared toward matching the energy and urgency of our featured rhymer. And, he succeeds on almost all instances. On “SWATE”, eerie samples and guitar plucks wave in and out of the alternating backgrounds in a way that conjures Alchemist’s grittier work with Prodigy. The following track, “NYC Cops” feels as though it goes from one hard beat, to another, harder beat, to a feverish climax that’s only intensified by Heems waxing poetic about Timothy Stansbury, Sean Bell, corrupt cops and any other injustices he can belt over the fanfare.

The Hindi influence is also prevalent throughout. Tracks like “Coca Cola Freestyle” and “Tu Nach” have that Punjabi feel in the instrumental. But, “Choorhay Lare” features verses from Lovedeep Singh (not THAT one) and Pawan that aren’t even spit in English. Same goes for “Chakklo”, with guest MC Ravi EAH Singh, but the language barrier only adds an extra layer of intrigue. Heems has never shied away from difficult racial conversation, and throwing his own ethnic influence (whether it be genuine or calculated) in the listeners face is another creative way to address that taboo. Even if it comes by way of some fleeting feature MC’s.

Features play a huge role on Nehru Jackets. The lineup is as varied and esoteric as Heems himself. Danny brown and Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire steal the show on “You Have To Ride the Wave” (Exquire drops a Lil Wayne line that left me in stitches). Despot shows up to murder some bars on “Kate Boosh” (guess who gets sampled on that beat?), Big Baby Gandhi (get familiar) shines on “Bangles”, and everyone’s favorite former cuisinier, Action Bronson, shows up on “Yo What’s Good New York”. Even Childish Gambino pops in on “Womyn 2″ with a verse that may have me chewing on a few sentences from my last critique of Mr. Glover.

From description, Nehru Jackets sounds rather gimmicky. From the comedic disposition, to the multi-layered, interchangeable Bollywood samples, to the Gluco-biscuits album cover (go ahead and reminisce… I’ll wait), it’s fairly easy to dismiss the real content. And, in many cases, most releases that are Das Racist related are overlooked for those reasons. This is different, though. There’s a translucency to Heems here. A cracking in the Kaufman-like armor that’s veiled his motivations thus far. Nehru Jackets isn’t an all-inclusive invitation to the joke, and it doesn’t clear the air on who, exactly, Heems is. But, it doesn’t have to, because what we get are 25 tracks that show us, slightly, who Himanshu is. And, I can definitely appreciate “that guy”.

9.2/10

Download Nehru Jackets here

& check out lyrics & explanations from the users of RapGenius:

Heems – Alien Gonzalez Lyrics
Heems – Bad, Bad, Bad Lyrics
Heems – Bangles Lyrics
Heems – Womyn 2 Lyrics
Heems – Coca Cola Freestyle Lyrics
Heems – Computers Lyrics
Heems – You Have to Ride the Wave Lyrics
Heems – Kate Boosh Shit Lyrics
Heems – Jason Bourne Lyrics
Heems – Juveniles at Gitmo Lyrics
Heems – New York City Cops Lyrics
Heems – Thug Handles Lyrics