Himanshu Suri is that special kind of musician capable of making a romanti-political rap record. Eat Pray Thug, his solo debut LP, is the culmination of years of being Himanshu. Not Heems — Himanshu. Deeply personal and intensely agitated, the album manages to stay pissed off and in love at the same time, all while maintaining the wordsmith reputation he earned during his years with Das Racist.
After releasing two solo mixtapes in 2012 (Nehru Jackets and Wild Water Kingdom), Heems traveled through South Asia, reconnecting with family and with himself, and touring all the while. On an existential trek, you can’t bog yourself down with distractions. You can say the same thing about making an album. Heems has described Eat Pray Thug as being about “9/11 and heartbreak,” which seem like awfully strange bedfellows in any medium, let alone rap. There are parts of the album where the two cohere better than you’d expect, but there are hiccups along the way, too: “Damn, Girl” is a space-age pop song in which Heems laments a girl who won’t leave him alone after a breakup. It’s off message and fits awkwardly between “So NY”, a song about Heems’ rich connection to his city, and “Jawn Cage”, a frenetic slapper with an unusual Phish-y guitar line fluttering throughout that would do its namesake proud. “Home” features instrumentation and vocals from Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, and his tropical sensibilities lend themselves well to Heems’ carefree but skillful flow on the heartwrenching breakup ballad.
“Flag Shopping” and “Patriot Act” address the xenophobia directed at anyone of Middle Eastern descent after 9/11, especially those living in close proximity to Ground Zero. “Then the towers fell in front of my eyes/ And I remember the principal said they wouldn’t” paints a frightening picture of being young in the face of such a terrible event, before Heems identifies one of the reasons his feelings are so conflicted: “The city’s board of ed. hired shrinks for the students, and maybe I should have seen one.” Yeah, Heems is the guy from that “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” group, but he’s also one of the most politically minded hip-hop artists active today.
The love songs on this record are nothing to shrug off, but Heems is at his best when he’s politically charged. His messages are so strong that it seems strange to dilute them with pop songs. He’s talked about retiring after this album, but let’s hope he sticks to the game for a while longer. It’s clear he’s got a hell of a lot to say.
Essential Tracks: “Flag Shopping”, “Home”, and “Patriot Act”