Himanshu "Heems" Suri is a busy man; balancing multiple outlets between alternative rap group Das Racist, his solo works, running Greedhead (his own record label) and recently joining the board of directors for SEVA, a Queens based community organization.
Suri will release a brand new mixtape tomorrow entitled Wild Water Kingdom, the follow-up to his first solo mixtape, Nehru Jackets, which dropped at the beginning of this year to much acclaim.
Heems recently took some time while clearing his head in India to talk with us a bit about his new mixtape, how he got his start in hip hop and what Das Racist has been up to as of late, so read through and get the scoop with Himanshu!
What have you been doing in India?
Hanging out with my family. I don't get to see my relatives here often. Last year I made it to Goa for a literature festival I was invited to speak at and met some great people in Mumbai but didn't make it to Delhi where my folks are. Enjoying some down time here. In a couple of days I get to rap some of my solo material for thousands of Indian people at a festival in the city of Pune.
How did you get into hip hop? What first inspired you to rap?
There were these Nas "It Was Written" stickers all over the basketball courts in my hood. Basketball and rap. New York park shit. I grew up talking about and listening to rap music. Then in high school my boys would all play Madden after we'd burn and my hand-eye coordination isn't all that so Dap, Dash Speaks and I would freestyle on a terrace.
What can you tell us about Wild Water Kingdom and where the name comes from?
Wild Water Kingdom is an awesome free rap album I made? Nehru Jackets was kind of my ode to the underground music I came up listening to. This is a little bit less abrasive and more like the radio rap I like now. I'm not trying to reference a lot of things or be funny but it comes out by virtue of how my brain works. Beats are mostly sampling Indian songs once again. I got better at rapping some time this year, also.
Wild Water Kingdom is a water park in Pennsylvania my family would caravan down to in like seven cars. My aunts would be wearing saris and we'd eat Indian food we brought with us to not spend money in a corner near the wave pool. Went three or four times. Also, I'm a pretty wavy dude. My zodiac sign is water-related; Cancer, Pisces Rising. We live in a world filled with water. You are water. I am water. We are water.
So you don't necessarily purposefully weave the esoteric pop culture references into your lyrics?
I don't even realize I'm doing this. I was raised by my TV since my parents each worked two jobs.
Will there be a "Jason Bourne 2"?
Your solo works seem to be a bit more serious than the tongue-in-cheek fun of Das Racist. Do you feel like you have a split personality between the two projects or do you approach them the same way when writing and recording?
Das Racist is a collaboration. It's me working with Victor and playing off of him in my writing. Although in reality I'm a pretty serious dude. That comes out more in my solo material.
You first kind of attracted attention with "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell." What does that tell you about the music industry?
I don't know. I think that song is still a good microcosm for some of the stuff we did later.
Do you feel any race stereotype barricades in the rap game that have changed the way you think about rapping?
I don't let it get me down but I do think people don't fuck with me because I'm Indian or because I went to a white college. I don't think that's changed the way I think about rapping at all.
Are you currently working on any other releases through Greedhead? Your own or otherwise.
Le1F's follow-up mixtape. SAFE 7'inch and EP re-release on CD. SAFE full-length. Lakutis 7-inch and mixtape. Big Baby Gandhi's debut album.
Can you explain SEVA to those that are unaware? What has the group been working on?
SEVA is a non-profit devoted to immigrant rights in Queens. We do a lot of work community organizing in Richmond Hill, voter registration, redistricting campaigns to prevent gerrymandering from allowing immigrant communities and their needs from being overlooked.
How many Nehru jackets do you own?
Two or three but they're not really Western.
What has Das Racist been up to lately?
We've been playing shows and working on our own various projects trying to acclimate to life in mostly one city after a 2011 that saw us playing over 150 shows while making our debut album I released on a record label I started after managing the group for years. It's tiring shit. We just played Philly, Boston, SF, LA, NYC. We're playing in Berlin in December, then working on our next album.
Who's more fun to hang out with, Kool A.D. or Dap?
I've known Dap since I was 14. That's my brother.
Does Das Racist have priority over your solo stuff?
Das Racist makes more money than my solo stuff.
What do you guys like to do when you get together with dudes like Danny Brown and Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire?
Balance healthy competition with our egos. Drink. Make jokes. Talk about women. Talk about rap.
What's your ultimate goal as an artist?
Increase visibility of South Asians in American media as a means to re-humanize the dehumanized colonial subject the West etched into its brain. LOOK GUYS, I'M JUST LIKE YOU EXCEPT MY NAME IS "WEIRD."
If you quit music tomorrow, what would you regret that you never did?
Nothing. I'm pretty content. Did I mention I'm about to rap to thousands of Indian people in India?
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