Heems – “Eat Pray Thug”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Sometimes” “So NY”

Review also printed on Seroword.com

BRUH. Do you want to get shaken up? Wanna get rattled? Heems’ debut is the album to mess you up.

Queens rapper Heems finally has his debut album out, on his own Greedhead Records (search the name on my blog). He has described the album as “post-9/11 dystopian brown man rap.” Indeed, Himanshu Suri is a phenomenally unique force in hip-hop – a man living in New York who’s proud of his heritage, but also feels ostracized because of his race. And that politically charged motive is all over “Eat Pray Thug.” The songs excel on contradiction – New York is home; I’m driven from home.

The lead-off single, opening track and best song “Sometimes” establishes the discord perfectly, by setting Heems up as a rapper who isn’t taking on a persona. “Sometimes I’m pacifist / Sometimes it’s pass the fist / Sometimes I stay sober/ Sometimes it’s pass the fifth,” he raps about his human qualities. This disconnect is what demands the album work as a whole – on “So NY,” he raps about being so New York-based that, “I still don’t bump Tupac.” But, on most of the songs, especially closer “Patriot Act,” he’s more honest about the racism that he, his family, and others have been through as a Middle Eastern man living in New York City. On “Patriot Act,” he bemoans how life became difficult for many people he knew after 9/11, in a spoken word piece that references stop & frisks and donating to local politicians to stay safe. On “Flag Shopping,” he rhymes ‘flags’ with ‘rags,’ and later raps “They wanna Toby us / Like we Cunta Kinte.” Heems cuts deep with his personal experiences, accurate accusations and brutal truth.

But Heems doesn’t spend the whole album expanding on that. He tries pop songs and ballads, too. On “Pop Songs (Games),” he goes for a genuine, bona fide pop song and, while it’s results aren’t quite spectacular, he’s putting in the effort to diversify his music. And on “Home,” Heems and Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) expertly pull off a ballad (courtesy of the line “Be my remix to Ignition”). Heems hits all boundaries on a relatively short album, expanding a brief time to include everything he can.

“Former Das Racist frontman” “Das Racist head” “Creator of internet rap sensations Das Racist” Uuuuuuuuuugh. Still referring to Heems as being the frontman for Das Racist is like still referring to Conan as being a “Tonight Show” host. It happened, it was great and it was underappreciated, but it’s over. Das Racist hasn’t been a band for something like two and a half years, and it’s time to start recognizing Heems for what he is – an incredibly complex, diverse and talented rapper and entrepreneur. On “Eat Pray Thug,” Heems gives it his all, and nearly everything he throws at the wall sticks. “Eat Pray Thug” is an open, honest and powerful work, one that examines New York City as both a lifestyle and a germ pool. And it proves Heems to be the affronting rapper he’d set himself up to be; ready to grab the throne whenever it’s left unattended. There’s a lot going on, and Heems has a lot to say. We should all be listening.

If you like this, try: Any of the people Heems has signed to Greedhead; namely Le1f, or Lakutis.

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Lakutis – “3 Seashells”

(Photo Credit: bandcamp)

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “What the Fuck” “Too Ill For the Law”

Is “3 Seashells” a mixtape, or a debut album? It’s been billed as both. It’s the first full-length work dropped by Lakutis, and it has the cohesiveness of an album. But it has two >15 second skits, the longest track is only 3:06, and it was dropped on a Thursday mid-afternoon. So it’s both, or it’s neither, or it’s whatever it is. And that’s exactly what it should be.

This album/mixtape is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Lakutis. It’s short; not a single song overstays it’s welcome. And it’s diverse. Lakutis is known for being involved in Brooklyn’s Greedhead Records (started by Heems – Lakutis is on the Das Racist track “Booty in the Air”), but he’s in the hardcore scene too, and it comes through in the most subtle ways. Each song seems to have a rapidity to get to the end, like hardcore groups. And there’s a certain dark tone running throughout the album, especially towards the album’s second half.

This album’s (arguable) best song, “Too Ill For the Law,” was actually #6 on my subjective list of the best songs of 2013, one of the only four hip-hop songs (which also included kitty’s “R.R.E.A.M,” from her EP that he shows up on). For someone with so little material, Lakutis has the energy and confidence of a seasoned rapper. Throughout this album, Lakutis proves himself a better, more inventive and quicker rapper than nearly anyone out there today. “What the Fuck” directly channels old school rap, when it was just starting to get profane. “Black Swann” has more of a frightening vibe to it, pairing with the screaming at the end of “Skeleton”. And “Too Ill For the Law” has a verse done entirely in thirds. It’s a bold, bold verse, and it’s downright perfect.

“3 Seashells” has been awaited for quite some time, and Lakutis proves himself to be one of the most formidable underground rappers working today. The almost unassuming man formally known as Aleksey Weintraub might not seem like it, but whether it’s the simplest of rhymes or a complex triplets rhythm, Lakutis is simply one of the best out there right now. Get on it, people.

-By Andrew McNally

(Side note: I once had the pleasure of meeting Lakutis at a Heems show in a museum, but he looked like he was so turnt that he could barely see. Got on stage and did a perfect verse. What a hero).