One of the defining characteristics of new guard hip-hop, aside from the inherent difficulties in locating or attempting to codify said characteristics, is its reliance on humor, whether in the form of the shocking violence and raw language utilized by Earl Sweatshirt, the un-abashed embrace of topics typically outside the norm of rap, a la Kitty Pryde, or by becoming a full on Dadaist performance artists (or some shit) like Riff Raff. Similarly, there is much humor to be found in Das Racist’s canon, not all of it easy to unpack, some of it so easily accessed that the quick digestion process seems to be a joke in and of itself, and all of this is not nearly as ludicrous as journalists and writers such as myself desperately trying to affix labels, ideals, and understanding to a movement born on laptops and displayed most prominently in great, public stream of consciousness exhibitions that move at the rate of thought, imagination and internet connections.
Of the vast array of artists who could comfortably be considered new guard–and this definition, as hinted at above, is similar to popular definitions for “jazz” and “pornography,” i.e., I know it when I see it–few are so bitingly funny and capable of swinging from strange, weird-is-the-new-skill flow to proper mic slaying that even the staunchest collared rap elitist would consider prime as Heems. One third of Das Racist, Heems combines a bouncing delivery, keen eye, self-awareness, and unadulterated talent into one package sharper than a Hittori Hanzo (perhaps a misericordia is the best bladed example, seeing as how he completely executes Childish Gambino’s main schtick, the idea that he is something of an outsider in hip-hop, while the Wesleyan educated, South Asian Heems is not only currently accepted in hip-hop, he is widely considered one of its premiere new talents).
Both Heems’ rap skills and humor are evident on “Himanshu Freestyles,” off of the recently released Wild Water Kingdom. Over a liquid heart beat and haunting vocal sample, Heems drops bars stuffed with both rhymes and free associations and moments of introspection, including early line “Drinking from a dark place/So I keep the wine white,” which he joked with Mostly Junk Food’s Bauce Sauce on Twitter “Got a lil Drake there.” The piece is a nice microcosm of all of the thing that make Heems, and, by extension, Das Racist, great, perhaps only lacking in the so-overt-its-not mocking that is best exemplified by his guest verse on “The Last Huzzah,” which seems to be a take down of guest verses.
To those reluctant to accept the new guard as hip-hop in the same way that Pac and Biggie and Big L are hip-hop, Das Racist is often my first counterpoint, a group capable of profound weirdness and straight up rap, which is an admittedly difficult to comprehend combination, who spend a large portion of their time highlighting issues of race in America in a way different from, say, dead prez, but no less sincere and indeed more intuitive, by far. Wild Water Kingdom continues to prove my point, and “Himanshu Freestyles” is as fine a buttress as any.
Heems “Himanshu Freestyles” receives a PARL
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