Himanshu Suri is not a role model. It’s a common trope for people of color: they’re taken as paragons for an entire race or culture and constantly questioned about the ‘right’ ways to treat or conceptualize ‘them’. You have only to trawl Heems’s tumblr, Nehru Jackets, on the odd late night to see this scenario play out. The questions (and answers) range from asinine to heartfelt to condescending. Heems’s first solo mixtape shares both a name and a purpose with his tumblr, bringing together in-joke-y internet-era culture and extended treatments of South Asian racial experience.
Nehru Jackets gathers mostly new songs with a few odds and ends that Heems has released online. As mixtapes become more polished, the line separating them from proper albums has blurred. There’s no confusion here. Das Racist’s debut album, Relax, was a bright and brisk 50 minutes. Nehru Jackets offers a varied mix of song sketches, bangers, and the odd filler track that totals over twenty minutes longer than that. It has a disparate sound, like Das Racist’s first mixtape, Shut Up, Dude, which similarly collected songs recorded over the preceding year or so.
The previously released songs mark many of the mixtapes high points. “Womyn” is still an archly ironic love song to ladies who might deny love’s existence. “Swate” is a satisfying trunk rattler that finds Heems in his early-phase, highly humorous form. Given the MC’s verbal fulsomeness, even ostensibly low-key tracks have conversation-starting lines like, “If you wear a turban / You can’t be a cop / But you can shoot one”. There’s the expected wry amalgamation of rap themes and fast food, like “Got some cheese on that bitch / Coronaries clogged coz I / Got disease in that bitch”. And even superficially silly songs like “Jason Bourne” — which recapitulates the adventures of, well, Jason Bourne — read like slanted commentaries on American foreign policy when they share a side with a song titled “Juveniles Detained at Guantanamo Bay”.