Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Heems - Eat Pray Thug Review

As of 2015 few artists currently have a concrete footing in abstract Hip-Hop, and with the break-up of pioneers Das Racist in 2012 that number has slimmed even greater. With a few mixtapes to his name and not a single album to represent himself on store shelves, Heems, one half of the aforementioned cult group, has finally unleashed his debut. With it comes a fiendish focus on surreal lyricism, and even-more otherworldly beats, two halves that make the whole of the Queens-based emcee. Its not typical someone with so much to say, one who witnessed 9/11 two blocks away with Pakistani and Indian heritage, resorts to avant-garde, battle raps. But with Eat Pray Thug, while his zany character is ever present, the political strife surrounding his life is even more, resulting in a stunning vision of someone discriminately looked down upon following a catastrophic event. Beyond all conceivable odds, the rapper who displays non-rhyming, off-beat flows maintains a level of tradition, understanding Hip-Hop's basic foundation that allows heads to nod and bodies to tremor. Eat Pray Thug rounds up listeners by throwing the kitchen sink at them, content with its barrage of topics, resenting a trivial single-mindedness that would tarnish Heems' alternative style.

Despite 14 years having passed since arguably the western world's most life-altering event, few select minorities still have the day-to-day scars of the wreckage present. Heems is no different, having witnessed the events through his own two eyes, knowing in that moment everyone in his country just turned against him for looking like those who bombed them. Having a voice not often heard in music, one gets a first-hand look at life through the eyes of a 'Middle-Easterner,' or at least one xenophobes aim at generalizing and ridiculing. Throughout Eat Pray Thug, Heems recites the various attacks he and his people have received, frustrating and pitiful as it is desolate and hopeless. Turbans on the streets of New York City have turned into towels, rags, and diapers, while anyone caught with a slight brown-tinge skin is name-dropped as Osama. No two songs accomplish this fear better than 'Flag Shopping' and 'Patriot Act,' the former reflects on Heems' attempts at fitting in with a pitchfork mob, while the latter reconciles with a hopeless nation hellbent on sullying anyone who's not like them. This finale sees Heems on the verge of tears with his voice cracking as each line builds in clarifying the systematic oppression his people face, hoping that his dad "doesn't raise too much attention, and gets labelled a troublemaker."

A definitive setback of Eat Pray Thug comes with its lack of focus, as romantic melodramas such as 'Pop Song (Games)' and 'Damn, Girl' share the same space as these eye-opening political declarations. It's expected though, with the title alone representing three facets of the rappers life, but still, one excessively outperforms the others. Where a confident skill set arises out of Heems' boisterous raps, such as 'Sometimes,' a clear lack occurs when he's faced with tackling a drowned topic like relationships and the opposite sex. The songs drawl onwards offering nothing new, one in particular, 'Home,' tip-toes the line drawn by Kid Cudi of badly-sung crooners. These occur midway through the album too, derailing any excitement the first half offered. Woven throughout however are Heems' flashy verses of engrossed ramblings, best seen on 'Jawn Cage,' where some archetypal bars transform into a blur with rapid flow. The album offers enough variety to draw listeners in in whichever way they choose, something's bound to latch on to everyone, it just so happens that his own life story is by far the most engrossing of it all and it's a shame we don't hear more, regardless of the album's inherent political landscape.

Something artists like Run The Jewels have recently learned is that political rap songs, typically correct in their stances but oft-putting in their blandness, thrive with a healthy backbone. And thankfully, more than anything else, Heems is here to entertain and knows the right beats to do so. The album's production mainly relies on jagged, juxtaposing noises to conflict ideas causing a cacophony of sounds that's every bit claustrophobic as it is catchy. 'Sometimes' opens the album off right, with classic boom-bap being bent and twisted at every corner, with alarming sirens and wails echoing throughout its chambers. 'Al Q8a' creates a wiry complex of vibrating synths bouncing off each other with reckless abandon, held together like glue with a riveting bass line. Many beats here come complete with a structured low-end bass to emphasize the alarming tone in Heems' music, while his overall sound parallels M.I.A., using real world noises to create a vibrant picture of a struggling minority. The best example of this adhesive pairing is 'Suicide By Cop,' with sirens and whistling synths throbbing in every nook of the soundwave mentally equalling the slow, drawling suicide enacted by the oppressive cops on a day-to-day basis, a genius turn on the popular phrase.

The perennial fear present in Eat Pray Thug is a welcome change in Hip-Hop comparable to the early 2000's terror present in Definitive Jux's underground releases. But whereas those focused on those abroad attacking them, Heems focuses on those at home instigating him. It's a memorizing viewpoint in that you don't often hear it, and being told with such clarity and brutality makes those political moments that much more fulfilling. It's a shame that these tracks are spattered throughout, intersected with trivial content not worthy of merit next to these skyscrapers. Even Heems himself alters his style in these songs, simply mirroring rudimentary flows, whereas his other eccentric pieces blast with diversity and animated expression. The political moments here are packed with such a fervent punch though that one can't help but to feel hopeless with Heems and his people, being labelled traitors when they're simply trying to stay in line. Few memories in music of late have been hit with such a tremendous impact as Eat Pray Thug's highs, it's just a shame the lows drench out remaining pieces. 

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