With Eat Pray Thug, Heems Moves Past That Funny Rap Group With the 'Dumb' Name

Photo by Jesse Dittmar for the Village Voice
Himanshu Suri, a/k/a Heems, at his parents' Hicksville, Long Island, home
It was in north Brooklyn that Himanshu Suri spent his post-collegiate years — a period that began in 2007 with the Wesleyan grad working on Wall Street and terminated, a half-decade later, with the dissolution of his surprise-hit hip-hop trio, Das Racist. The group had made him an unlikely big shot, but as it went, so too did Suri's closest friendships, his serious girlfriend, and, eventually, his bacchanalian ways.

Williamsburg, once the epicenter of his glories, became potholed with demons. And yet it is in the neighborhood where Suri wishes to meet, at a café with erudite bathroom graffiti and an $11,000 coffee pot.

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The Top Five Queens Rap Anthems (As Chosen By Hip-Hop Artists)

Nas, representing Queens' own.
Talk of patriotism might be all up in the BBQ-scented air at this time of year, but rap artists are equally as proud of their local roots, not least when it comes to the great masses who hail from Queens. With the Q-Boro having provided perhaps more great rappers than any other section of New York City, we got in touch with some of Queens' most estimable hip-hop stars—Prodigy from Mobb Deep, Psycho Les from the Beatnuts, Das Racist's pal Big Baby Gandhi and DJ Rob Swift—and asked them to pick their all-time favorite Queens hip-hop anthems.

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Q&A: Le1f Talks The Influence Of Ballroom And Working With Das Racist, Spank Rock, And Nguzunguzu

Over the past few months, Le1f—a rapper and producer who wrote his undergraduate thesis on "Subversion in Post-WWII Performance"—has been an increasingly unavoidable presence in and around the city, playing alongside everyone from Greedhead labelmate Big Baby Gandhi to London trap-rave producer Girl Unit. Meanwhile, his Dark York mixtape proved worth the wait, offering 21 tracks that capture much of what is exciting about the sound of post-Ghe20 Goth1k New York.

In advance of tonight's show (with GG's Venus X) at Littlefield, we talked about working with artists like Spank Rock and Nguzunguzu, the problem with being over-associated with ballroom, and the subjects of that thesis.

Starting off with the basics, are you from New York?

Yes, I'm a native—I'm from Manhattan... I was raised in Hell's Kitchen and now live in the Upper West Side.

When you got to Wesleyan, how did you link up with Heems and Victor of Das Racist?

I actually knew them from the summer before I went to college. There was a guy J-La, another friend of theirs who went to Wesleyan who was DJing for me in New York at the time, and Himanshu was his roommate so I ended up hanging out with them the summer before college.

And how did you come to produce "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell"?

I was hanging out, crashing on their couch, and Himanshu said he wanted to start this new project, so I just gave him a ton of beats and they recorded a bunch of scrapped things over some of them. And that was one of them.

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Live: Das Racist, Rahzel, Laurie Anderson And Many Others Play Philip Glass's Tibet House Benefit At Carnegie Hall

Philip Glass and Friends Tibet House U.S. Benefit w/Laurie Anderson, Tim Fain, Das Racist, Antony, Lou Reed, Stephin Merritt, and Rahzel
Carnegie Hall
Monday, February 13

Better than: Seeing how most ethnic Tibetans live.

Last night's all-star benefit at Carnegie Hall began with a performance by eight unnamed monks from the Drepung Monestary, who entered the hall in silence. The saffron-robed throat singers (each of whom wore a striking orange headpiece reminiscent of a Roman centurion's) took the stage like religious royalty being received by devoted followers. They used microphones that were hardly necessary; their throaty chants sounded like (and carried as strongly as) didgeridoos throughout the hall. It was a pretty surprising and impressive thing to look around the dress circle in Carnegie Hall and see dozens of people with their eyes closed and their hands folded in silent prayer.

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Q&A: Das Racist's Dapwell On Tibetan Independence And Playing Carnegie Hall

Every day this month, Sound of the City has been publishing pieces about Philip Glass turning 75 years old, in conjunction with the Voice's cover story on the composer. Naturally, of course, this has led to an interview with Dapwell (Ashok Kondabolu) of Das Racist, who's performing Monday night at the annual Tibet House benefit at Carnegie Hall. Glass has curated the lineup for the past 22 years, ever since he co-founded the non-profit. Also on the bill for Monday: Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Rahzel, James Blake, and Dechen Shak-Dagsay.

The questions we asked Dapwell sometimes prompted answers as sparse and spare as Glass's early composition (alas, he had jetlag). Still, we thoroughly enjoyed our chat about Tibetan independence, smoking up in Carnegie Hall, and what he imagines Philip Glass probably thinks of "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell."

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Download Generation: Yes In My Backyard's Best Local Music Of 2011, An 80-Minute Mix Of NYC's Greatest Hits This Year

Tami "Making Friendz" Hart.
For New York City, 2011 was the year local musicians proved that RSS feeds didn't kill old-school ideals like "scene" or "community." Every great band seemed to come tied to three or four like-minded bands you could love for the same reasons, often on the same bill. Maybe we read (and wrote) enough trend pieces to believe it ourselves. Maybe bands are just using Facebook connections to write the narrative before writers could. Maybe retromania has led us to think everything is back in a big way?

Don't get too excited. Bloggos still continued to rally deep and hard around the cleverest, firstiest mash-ups of hypester runoff micro-genres (good luck in 2012, A$AP Rocky, Light Asylum, CREEP and Caveman). But while so many jockeyed for positions and pixels, larger stories emerged that felt refreshingly like the street-level phonecall-and-flyer scenes of yore. As, I wrote in SPIN the new hip-hop fraternity of Das Racist, Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, Action Bronson, Despot and a newly keyed up El-P represent the most energizing force in New York indie-rap since Def Jux's heyday. And as I wrote in the Voice, a beercan-ducking, sweat-gushing, feedback-obsessed swarm of new pigfuck bands have been laying waste to 285 Kent, including The Men, White Suns, Pygmy Shrews and Pop. 1280. Often pushing the boundaries of what modern metalheads can play and wear, there was a downright onslaught of forward-thinking, critically acclaimed extreme metal releases (Liturgy, Tombs, Krallice, Hull, Batillus), which helped turn New York into the most important metal scene in the country for maybe the first time ever. Hell, if record labels still had the money to fly people out here, they'd be swarming!

Below, the 2011 edition of our annual Yes In My Backyard mixtape—this year's encompasses 18 tracks, over nearly 80 minutes—which collects this year's greatest music from New York City.

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Lakutis Gets Lost In A Thicket Of References On I'm In The Forest

"Y'all know about the seven spiders of hip-hop?" Yep, we're in weirdo rap territory with Lakutis's debut mixtape I'm In The Forest. That query comes from the title track, a song full of somewhat naturalistic images and pop culture references bookended by the droning chant, "I'm in the forest/ I'm in the forest/ I'm in the forest/ I'm in the forest." If the refrain brings to mind Das Racist's breakthrough moment, "Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell," it's not too much of an accident: Lakutis is down with Heems and company. He appeared on Sit Down, Man; his seven-track EP is being released for free through the group's Greedhead imprint. But his skill at delivering a provocative, educated approach to rap is less refined than Das Racist's—Lakutis doesn't so much push buttons or spark debate as come across as the idea of a bunch of intended Internet hip-hop memes shoe-horned into rap form.

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Instead Of Listening To The Michael Jackson Sentencing, Why Not Watch Das Racist Perform "Michael Jackson" On Conan?

Categories: Das Racist, Video

Bless Das Racist for always coming along at the right time, right? The group performed on Conan last night, and while the reactions the group was retweeting in the broadcast's wake seemed a little bit confused/outraged/weary, their take on the completely goofy "Michael Jackson" was, I thought, pretty fun, and it made me wonder if there will some day be tryouts to be one of their "cymbal girls." I can smash things real good, you know? Clip below, and a warning: Watching Heems spin around and bleep himself at the same time made me kind of dizzy.

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Das Racist's Top Ten Tour Memories (So Far)

Categories: Das Racist, Lists

Viktor Vazquez has just arrived at a hotel in Seattle and is pining for some noodles. Specifically, he has the hankering for some "fancy ramen noodles." It's a caliber of Japanese wheat-noodle that he has not been able to find since leaving his home in New York City to undertake a vehement 30-plus date tour with his band, Das Racist. "I want to get a bowl of ramen noodles, like fancy ramen, not cheap ramen," he explains. "I can't find any fancy ramen on tour. You know those spots in the East Village? Those are where you get fancy ramen noodles."

Along with bandmates Himanshu Suri (who raps as Heems) and Ashok Kondabolu (who hypes up crowds as Dap), Vazquez, who takes on the rap name Kool A.D., has spent the best part of a month and a half touring across the States in support of the album Relax (Greedhead). Tonight the band will finally be back in New York, playing a celebratory sold-out show at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg. Ahead of the homecoming, Vazquez was good enough to briefly snap out of his ramen reverie to reveal Das Racist's top ten tour memories so far.

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Q&A: Das Racist On The "Michael Jackson" Video

In the two years since stumbling across viral MP3 stardom with "Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell," Brooklyn's Das Racist have evolved from insular meta-rap blogger obsession to some of our city's most electric assonance merchants. Their first official, hold-it-in-yr-paws physical release, Relax (out now via rapper Himanshu "Heems" Suri's own Greedhead Records), ups the ante from their two mixtapes, with 8-bit boom-bop courtesy of Chairlift's Patrick Wimberly and head-crackers from El-P and Diplo. Their lyrical material is like 1999-era Eminem for the Wikipedia age, riffing on everything from Sister Sister's Tamera Mowry to House Of The Spirits author Isabel Allende to arcane Lil B source material; at one point they also claim that "RapGenius.com is white devil sophistry/ UrbanDictionary is for demons with college degrees." "Michael Jackson" is glorious broken videogame funk with a video that's a pitch-perfect parody of the gloved one's "Black Or White"—basically a racially conscious 2011 dialogue about a racially conscious 1991 video. The uncut, swear-heavy version that MTV wouldn't show you, below.

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