Swet Shop Boys’ Rap as Protest

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Media Outlet: the New Yorker

Alexis Okeowo wrote for the New Yorker about protest rap: 

On a hot Saturday afternoon, the actor and rapper Riz Ahmed (a.k.a. Riz MC) and the rapper Heems (real name Himanshu Suri) headed to the Jackson Diner, an Indian buffet-style restaurant, in Queens. The pair had just finished filming two music videos in Flushing for their upcoming début album, “Cashmere.” For one of the videos, they’d invited more than a hundred people from the neighborhood to serve as extras. “It was so dope—Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims,” Ahmed said. A few years ago, Ahmed, who is British-Pakistani, and Heems, who is Indian-American, decided to combine their musical talents and form a duo called Swet Shop Boys. They recorded “Cashmere” in five days, in Ahmed’s apartment in London.
The two originally met online, when Heems praised Ahmed on Twitter for his song “Post 9/11 Blues” (“Bush and Blair in a tree / K-I-L-L-I-N-G”). Heems describes the song as having a “laughing-to-keep-from-crying vibe.” In 2012, Ahmed, who lives in London, visited Jackson Heights to research his role in the HBO drama “The Night Of,” as a Pakistani-American college student accused of murder. Heems was living in Brooklyn; they arranged to get together.
“There aren’t a lot of South Asians in media,” Heems, who used to be part of the group Das Racist, said, at the restaurant. “I tend to gravitate toward other South Asians doing stuff, whether it’s art, music, or writing. So it was just kind of an Indian-man digital head nod. ‘I see you, dawg, how’s it going?’ ”

Author:

Alexis Okeowo was a Class of 2016 & 2017 New America Fellow. She is the author of A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa and a staff writer for the New Yorker.