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Heems & Lapgan’s Distinct Rapport on ‘LAFANDAR’ Adds New Shades to No-Nonsense Hip-Hop

This article was originally published on HipHopDX

In a time when Hip Hop has traveled to every corner of the world, Heems is still the leading importer of South Asian customs to the genre’s indigenous breeding ground.

Born and raised in Queens, New York City, the Indian-American MC’s heritage has been central to his output from the very beginning. The cult status this niche has afforded him stretches far beyond the underground status most independent acts are condemned to because there’s really no one else quite like him.

After all, leaning into practically any identity from the other side of the globe — Desi, Punjabi, Hindu or Pakistani — while existing in the West does make it tough not to stand out. Heems, however, has always used “otherness” to his benefit with an educated, tongue-in-cheek panache that he channels through bars marinated in a spread of Eastern flavors.

For his latest album, LAFANDAR (Hindi/Urdu: someone who is mischievous, unpredictable and foolhardy), the 38-year-old teamed up with producer Lapgan to concoct what is arguably his most unclouded package to date. A few feet removed from the punky fuzziness of his previous solo records — the last of which was released almost a decade ago — it seems like Heems has found his match in a fellow Indian-American beatmaker who perfectly understands the objective.

Released via Veena Sounds and Mass Appeal India, the 12-track LP clocks in at just a little over half an hour and wastes little to no space. With a sample platter consisting of cuts from half the world away, the voice of the operation has plenty of room to find a tasteful balance between sociopolitical cognizance and arbitrary, droll utterances reminiscent of Action Bronson.

Despite the recurring tropes rooted in Heems’ culture of origin, the album doesn’t have a binding theme other than the musings of a rapper with a whole lot going on in his head. Still, there’s a familiarity to his lyrics and the beats they glide over that listeners of South Asian lineage most likely don’t feel from the majority of Hip Hop within and beyond the United States.

Unserious and silly yet clever and witty, it’s evident from the words and sounds of LAFANDAR that the two minds behind it are fueled by a unique, neither-here-nor-there experience. Lines such as “I’m a child of immigrants/ Yo I speak the mother tongue but I’m illiterate” on the opening track, and “I keep mixing my Vs and Ws up” on “Kala Tika” are quite specific to said condition, which is why their relatability — something rap fans often seek out — has limited scope.

Likewise, the recurring “Himanshu” tags (the rapper’s real name said with the cadence of an Indian parent) scattered over Lapgan’s Desi-flavored instrumentals like the sparkly “Yellow Chakra” and brooding “Baba Ganoush” do have the makings of a subcategory.

Still, Heems’ creative spirit is steered by the core ethos of the craft. That is precisely why distinct, post-colonial sentiments like “Fuck the Queen/ White woman with my Nani [Hindi/Urdu: grandmother] jewelry” on “Yo Momma” translate rather fluently considering Hip Hop was was born out of anti-authoritarianism.

Of course, there’s a side to Heems that’s easier to digest for those who don’t get the references to divine figures like Vishnu or the Delhi Metro. Best illustrated by the outro’s feisty decry of “Fuck-a Sony, Universal and-a Warner,” his commitment to no-nonsense Hip Hop is well-known and recognized in the culture, or else he won’t have had Kool Keith, Sir Michael Rocks, Open Mike Eagle, Your Old Droog and Blu (just to name a few) playing supporting roles on the record.

Heems’ past with Das Racist and ongoing alliance with Riz MC and Redinho as a member of Swet Shop Boys has earned him a solid legacy already, albeit as a role player. LAFANDAR, on the other hand, brings out all that is peculiar yet endearing about him and his artistry — the delivery of a slacker, precision of a surgeon and awareness of a pilgrim.

RELEASE DATE: February 16, 2024

RECORD LABEL: Veena Sounds/Mass Appeal India


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