Let us pause and appreciate the irony that is my entrée into this rapper’s oeuvre being rendered, in video, in black and white - meaning an one of our most poignant, cutting, and constantly outspoken artists vis-a-vis race himself had no color. The verse, off the Knights of the Round (of the Underground King) remix of the then-Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire’s “Huzzah,” finds Heems joined by his former (then current) Das Racist running mate Kool A.D., Despot, Danny Brown, El-P, and eXquire himself; Heems, appearing only as a pixelated ghost on a brumal television screen, takes the opportunity to satirically slam posse cuts - his very reason for being on the song, of course, as well as arguably one of rap’s finest, and certainly most delineating, elements - and his own popular conceptions.
“I’m at the Pizza Hut / I’m at the Taco Bell,” Heems raps in the non-sequitur centerpiece of the song which originally brought Das Racist infamy. It was something of a mantra for the new guard set; he immediately juxtaposes this by referencing Rap Brahmin favorite “C.R.E.A.M,” continuing on that “the combination made my eyes bleed.” And that really, right there, sums up what is most marvelous about Heems; his ability to subvert and supplicate simultaneously; his fierce belief in forms of artistic expression not usually espoused by rap as a wider whole, as well as his passion and respect for the same touchstones those he seeks to rattle have built their foundation upon; more than anything, his serrated wit and obvious intelligence.
Eat, Pray, Thug at times amplifies, downplays, subscribes to, and ignores all of those defining qualities. There are moments overlaid - never over burdened - with Nabokov-esque layers upon layers of humor, an availing to various rhetorical and musical tricks. Take for example the bridge late in “So NY”, wherein Heems raps about being “so New York, I live with my momma,” having to leave Williamsburg and its “white drama,” being called Osama, the shadows of drones and Obama, and puts all of this—from the mouth of a Queens native, a New Yorker through-and-through—over a slow screw indicative of Houston; aliens indeed!, one final tweaking of his home city and hip-hop and a thumbing of geopolitical and sociological strictures which have always been anathema to him.
And yet there are moments as well, highly politicised and overtly autobiographical, pertaining to life in America for anyone non white (jingoists frothing for vengeance do not much care to distinguish between, say, Sri Lankan and Pakistani—post 9-11). “Flag Shopping” echoes David Foster Wallace’s thorax-constricting fear of being the only citizen sans Stars and Strips post tragedy and imbues it with the vicious, dark fear of the carmine myopia of racism which billowed up and was incited in the tower’s fall; “I was there / I saw the towers and the planes,” Heems raps, for him and all of us. “And I’ll never be the same / Never, ever be the same.”
In an interview with Grantland’s Zach Dionne last August, Hima defined his vision for Eat, Pray, Thug: “The album is a manifesto about being a young chap, being a brown lad in post-9/11 America. Of how to put your best foot forward as a brown man, as a brown body in a state of affairs where the brown body is consistently policed by Babylon and the white mans and the white devial and a system that’s created to put the black and brown body in prison.” This is a sentiment which has only been strengthened, as high profile police killings, the vast discrepancies allotted people of varying race and riches in the United State’s judicial system, and the gross capitalist genocide of the prison industrial complex has come to light more frequently and loudly than ever before. By hinging his own polemics on perhaps the single most tragic/important moment in American history, Heems not only makes it personal from him - and it sounds, feels, like it is achingly, painfully, decompression-sickness-suffering-in-the-joints personal - but for every single citizen, tout le monde, who helplessly watched both that savage tragedy and its long, toxic aftermath.
It was always a great joke - the greatest joke? - that despite their well-defined satiric chops and their very name, huge swaths of the listening public never really fully latched on to the idea that Das Racist was predominantly about confronting, well, all that was fucking racist, i.e., almost everything. There is no chance of someone walking away from Eat, Pray, Thug similarly un-enlightened; the political suite, as mentioned above, is far too direct for that. What makes it unique, however, and uniquely Hima; to be specific, it's that it manages to be both obstinate and intelligent, outspoken but sly; one could not imagine anything but that rubber-and-sandpaper voice being as such.