It seems a little crazy to me. It feels like - much more than from 2005-2010, at least - I'm in the same "mode" as I was back then. If Shut Up, Dude had come out today, I'd still flip out about it just like I did back then, for the same reasons, with the same intensity. But because it came out so long ago, something like this could happen today. The effects Das Racist has had on recent hip hop really can't be overstated and yet feel somehow incorrect to attribute to a project that seemed, at least to outsiders, so silly. And yeah, the super clever comedy might have been the winning facet, but there was so much more going on.
I can't think of a rap group that played with the conventions of hip hop so much before DR - not mocked them or parodied them, but engaged with them through sincere appreciation and humility, without forgetting their atypical place in relation to them. If that sounds needlessly academic, I just mean that they were able to make lots of jokes that only devoted hip hop fans would get, delivered in a way that those fans would like... they made jokes about being outsiders as though they were insiders. And that attitude carried across all subjects - life in New York, life in America, life as a minority, being privileged, being unprivileged... a perfect balance of social righteousness and jocular understanding. I think this attitude, and this focus on the funness of rap, is their best legacy, and one weaves into the lineages of many of my favorite rappers today.
Since breaking up, KOOL A.D.'s been a constant fount of crazy mixtapes, dropped an excellent album last year (my 2nd favorite of 2014), wrote a book and had a kid. Things haven't been so smooth for Heems. The last five years have seen him at some pretty low points, but the outlet of his music has been all the more empowered through it. Compared with Victor's work, he's always been more direct, down to Earth, real. Nehru Jackets had bangers that fused NY, Hindi, and old soul music aesthetics with lines that were funny but never entirely jokes. Wild Water Kingdom broke into an entirely new aesthetic world, lush and tropical, with a painful, hidden core message that spoke to addiction and escape. Like Victor, Heems seems to give some weight to the "album" as a concept distinct and somewhat elevated from the mixtape, and the struggle has never been more real, so I think we're in for something very special here.
Heems - Eat Pray Thug
This was a single, I banged it hard for awhile because come on how can you not. All the "sometimes" lines, this sense of inconsistency, of ups and downs. I love how the beat shifts to reflect the "ups" and "downs". The echoey "sometimes" hook - this feels almost like a Death Grips track, haha... same sort of sonic assault. Drug use so real, never glorified or downplayed. Hahaha "Get low, now I'm fucking sad again", so blunt. "So I think I'll go where I saw the fish fly", the way he describes tropical escapism is so vivid and powerful. Classic DR move of taking their track concept to self-parody within the song itself. He's spitting so hard, I mean, seriously... the "Clarity" repetition is one he's done before, I remember. Hahahahaha he calls it out himself. So many double meanings in these lines, but he isn't jerking himself off over cleverness. Great start!! **
2. So NY
is this a pun like.. Sony?? Harry Fraud beat hellll yeah. Oh man this sample is good, sounds very familiar. "I'm so New York, I still don't bump Tupac", daaaamn. AA reference, feels real. "The crib Punjabi-Greco", haha that sounds like it'd look awesome. "Fuck the Tarintino, it's the Hindi Spike Lee", haha I suppose. This is sweet, it has the "waveyness" of WWK but the "New Yorkiness" of Nehru Jackets. Thank you based Harry Fraud. "I'm still with your family at the Opera", classic DR line callback lol. My friend who listened to the stream pointed that one out to me specifically, I love it. The beat shift is so sweet, "Had to leave my home, they kept calling me Osama", geez, this is brutal, this last verse recontextualizes everything, and he drops it twice just to make sure we get it. "I don't need to speak" sounds so different now... wow... **
3. Damn, Girl
Woah I love this production. Shifting, growing, hazy... On a sorta Makonnen vibe now haha I love it. Ohhhhhhh shit at 0:35, that synth line, I love it, I love stuff like that so much. That's all I need for something like this. The vocal shifts on the verse are pretty cool, in some sweet space between gimmicky and jarring in a good way. This is so brutal lyrically. Ohhhhh snap at 2:00, when they do a "spacey" slow version of the synth line before, that's so sweet. Just... a song about trying to get rid of a girl. Damn. S+
4. Jawn Cage
Another huge production shift... pretty cool riffs and such... Very high energy feel. Sweet yeah he's going in the way I was hoping him to. Woah, this flow is so good, at 0:45 when they switch up the beat to allow him to like, persist with it without it feeling "ranty", so good. Woah, the way they bring thge back to how it was at the start, I'm amazed that works. And oh man now he's going HARD, dropping Street Fighter lines, so you know. Breathless frantic word association flow, haha oh man I remember when they worked with John Cage, that's nuts, that that happened... This outro is something special too, what an amazing combination, no idea how it "works". *
5. Flag Shopping
"Yo... we're going flag shopping..." haha oh man, only Heems can do this sort of flow, the absolute dead on the feet flow. This is so good, the incident feels so real but so general, so abstracted, you know it's happening in every city in America. 9/11 and Heartbreaks indeed. "His belt big like Orion's", Jesus. "The neighbours threw rocks at the house", "They want a nickname", all over this beautiful serene beat. Just looking at the most basic powerful immediate effects of the attack. His personal experiences on 9/11... and now we're going American flag shopping. DFW has a good story about flag shopping in the aftermath of 9/11. The relation to changing the names of African slaves is pretty chilling. Good shit. *
6. Pop Song (Games)
Maybe this will be more fun now... "I know you know" loops feels very DRish, but with an entirely different emotional aesthetic. Wow this production is so tight... the lyrics are pretty straightforward and cheesy, but the title alone gave us that idea. And it feels real! If Heems is frustrated by having to play games and wants to sing about it, why not? Yeah, this is the sort of song DR would have deconstructed (on Fashion Party, they "dress down" a party where this sort of song would be played, etc) but that doesn't mean he can't return to the mode sincerely. "Why can't we go to the beach, lover?", Heems we are very different people but I think we both have the same beachideal in our brains ;___; Fun song, very catchy. S
Oooh, interesting beat... Nice naked "cave" drums, this sort of thing always reminds me of Tom Waits for some reason. Really smooth evolution of the sound, and the vocals coming in are right on point. Heems voice sounds so good here... "I held you as we slept", "I been a mess since I met you", these feel immediate and close. The production on his voice is so good, I can't get over that. This is a "sad beach" sort of aesthetic, I feel. What a dangerous powerful aesthetic. "You addicted to the H-man, I'm addicted to the H, man". He drops pelchichor, or however you spell that, the smell of rain, and then tweeted about how happy he was to be able to do that when this single dropped. "Be my remix to Ignition" is one of the most meaningful "romantic" lines I think I've ever heard, lol. *
8. Hubba Hubba
Haahahaha I love how Heems says "Yaaaaaw", album title drop. This is a total emotional restart to the album lol. But we still get this sense of desperation - "for that next cheque I'm screaming", this beat is so cool. "Eat pray thug, it's like hattrick", he seems to like hockey references. His flow on this, with the sudden "scream"-y lines, so good. The same sort of shifting flow as the first track, but now just implied... the ASAP Rockyish vocal effect on the verse 2:20 near the end is really neat. "When I step up in the party like Himanshu Suri", but... that is him? Idgi?? S+
9. Al Q8a
"WHaaaaaaaaaat" another classic Heems adlib, I think it's Dap saying it. "But I don't glorify that, I love that in the trap". "Trapistan", damn, this sort of like... "I'll embrace the haters' ideas and use them to fuel the track" is pretty sweet. The issues shift from the local to the global so quickly... he's actually outlining the sort of hidden scaling connections that get overlooked. So interesting. Oh man, the U-S-A chant. Another Heems sorta classic. The beat on this is so trappy but disoriented, really feels like some next level shit. S
10. Suicide by Cop
Okay this is gonna be a sad one I think. Two pretty sensitive topics for Hima... The beat is pretty beautiful, both heavy and light. This is like... his actual family history. Damn. And the way the beat gets heavier as the subject matter does too. "Never been the same, never ever been the same." "Suicide by cop, it's a slow suicide, then suicide by cop". Jesus. "I'm like the brown man equivalent of the video for Woo-Hah, I got you all in check"... like... in a mental institution. That's like, the Juicy J sample, right? Or something that sounds like it. Wow. I don't think I've heard a song like that before. *
11. Patriot Act
This feels like it'll be even more "charged", sheeeesh. Kinda feels like another "take" on the same subjects as the previous track, diving further and further into it. Power/powder, politics/parlour tricks... "Got what we asked for, someone to listen" JESUS, that's brutal. "And then the towers fell, in front of my eyes"... "They called us all Osama"... Jesus. Jesus. I can't even speak on this. It's like... I don't think I can imagine this being more brutal. They need to assign this in my school's "Post 9/11 Literature" class. This is the real version of everything else joked about on this album. Wow. ***
Okay this is a difficult album to talk about, kinda
Like I can say "this track bangs" or "that line is funny", but there's certain lines where like... these silly "live reviews" really don't suffice, they don't come close to actually speaking meaningfully about the content of the album. And even beyond that - I'm a white kid in smalltown Canada, I have never been the victim of any sort of discrimination, I have never experienced an impoverished neighbourhood, these are things that I can't ever claim to understand, can never "claim" in any sense at all.
But I can say when something is powerful, when something feels real, when something can bring an issue, an event, a change, that occurred in a different place, to different people, and take it to a level that is fundamentally and undeniably human. And this album has it. Stuff like "Flag Shopping", "Suicide by Cop" (wow only just now did I catch the dual meaning of "cop", jesus, and I call myself a Spiritualized fan) bring an issue not only to light, but to immediate humanity. The end of "Patriot Act" is an absolute masterpiece of this. Seriously: the personal, the communal, the global... it's one of those things where it's so affecting that you feel like you're almost scared of it, but the affect is so great that you can't look away, you can't stop learning from it. It's more than I can say.
And what I can say - the stuff about the funny lines and the awesome beats and the great flows - it all seems a little irrelevant next to that. Having both on the same album seems a little cruel, maybe, but necessary... it really makes it feel like a complete, cohesive, album experience - something with an arc, with a overall project behind it. But I hope that, if Heems is still having fun rapping, someday he'll make another fun mixtape, with all his favorite guests and every silly idea. He's more than earned it.