Himanshu Suri, or “Heems”, is a New York based rapper and former member of absurdist/experimental hip-hop trio Das Racist. Das Racist broke up in 2012 under some still-unclear circumstances, but the members have done some solo work since then. Heems’ first solo mixtape, Nehru Jackets, got mostly positive reviews and people have been pretty hype for his solo album debut, Eat Pray Thug.
So, I listened to Eat Pray Thug. And honestly, I’m struggling to decide what I really think about the album. There are some songs on here that are legitimately bad, there are some songs on here that are actually quite good, and yet I’m not satisfied with just telling you “here, listen to these five songs and skip these three songs and the others are whatever”, because there’s more to this album than that. The only problem is, I’m not sure what that “more” is. It’s obvious that a lot of work and care went into this album, and looking at Heems’ history and backstory, you can quickly tell that he’s far from an idiot. He’s politically and socially conscious, he’s a very careful and controlled artist, and he has the capacity to be relentlessly clever. Knowing these things is why I refuse to just dismiss Eat Pray Thug as a mediocre album – so, let’s see what we can do.
Eat Pray Thug opens with “Sometimes”, which was the lead single. Here we have Heems talking about sometimes being this and sometimes being that, sometimes doing this and sometimes doing that, and overall just displaying a kind of fractured and multi-sided personality. The lyrics on this are clever and technical, but not particularly deep; I particularly enjoy the production, which is punchy and easily danceable with a little trap influence. Really, this is an excellent song to have at the start of an album – it grabs you and makes you want to pay attention for what comes next.
So what comes next? “So NY” is the second song, which again features slick as fuck production and, upsettingly, not particularly deep lyrics (However – the line “I’m so New York I still don’t bump 2Pac” made me chuckle). From the beat to the lyrics to the flow, this song is dripping with braggadocio and swagger, but that’s about it. The only weird thing is the last two lines: “Had to leave my home, they kept calling me Osama / Had to leave my home, cause of drones and Obama”. This is totally out of place in the context of the song. On my first listen, it actually excited me – “Okay, here we go. Now the real political shit happens. I’m ready. Hit me.” Then the third song played.
The third song, “Damn Girl”, is bad. Very bad. It has this ridiculous reverb and autotune on the vocals, the beat sounds like a bad Drake imitation, and the lyrics are so stereotypical and boring it’s almost painful. The hook is cringeworthy. After this song, I was close to giving up on the album as a whole, but I decided to hold on.
Eat Pray Thug is remarkably inconsistent. It has almost no cohesion, no narrative, hardly any flow between songs, and the album will go from banger to corny sing-rap nonsense at the drop of a hat. Why did Heems put these bad songs on here? “Damn Girl” and “Pop Song (Games)” are both slow, sing-rappy, ballad nonsense that just confuse me. The only thing that I can think of for why these songs are on the album is as a joke – that Heems is winking at us and we’re expected to be in on the joke. The only problem is that even if they are a joke (which I’m not sold on), they’re still bad songs, and they’re still on the album.
This isn’t to say that all of the slow songs are bad. One of the strongest songs on the album, “Home”, is a love song, a slower song, and deeply personal. “Home” is very good – the beat (from Blood Orange) has a world-influenced vibe to it with a twinkling muted guitar in the background. On “Jawn Cage”, Heems is at his lyrical best, and the song is saturated with jaw-dropping wordplay. Like, look at this:
Pop thots and some pop rocks in the hopscotch
Thought he was a hotshot, now he just a cop shot
You the pop pop, when it’s time for knock knock
Then it’s drop drop, this your time like a stopwatch
Papa didn’t raise me proper, we pop a bottle of vodka
I pick her up then I drop her, Heemy be fly like chopper
I mean, holy shit. Talk about internal fucking rhymes. The beat on this track is minimal but super groovy and gels perfectly with Heems, who goes hard as a motherfucker.
Not to say that Heems has a uniformly good flow. The song “Flag Shopping”, for example, is lyrically interesting, but Heems just sounds bored the whole time. This is the first really political song on the album, talking about living in the US as a Muslim/Arab person post-9/11, and the lyrics are pretty real for the most part. I mean, this isn’t a story that gets told very often in hip-hop, and I need to give Heems props for that, but his delivery is monotone and slow and uninteresting. I can hear some Earl Sweatshirt in the flow here, but instead of Earl’s deep drone we have Heems, who is nasally and almost irritatingly slow. “Flag Shopping”, for what the lyrics say, is an important song. But “Flag Shopping”, for how it sounds, really isn’t anything special.
Eat Pry Thug ends not with a bang, but a whimper. The entire second half of the closer, “Patriot Act”, is spoken word over a skeletal beat. There’s no flow, no rhyme, just a story about Heems living in Queens after 9/11, about watching people be deported, about being happy that his family wasn’t broken up, and (much like “Flag Shopping”) tells us things that we don’t normally get in the hip-hop genre. The song ends quietly and gracefully, with a short chuckle from Heems. With an ending like this, the album feels unfinished, like there should be more, but there isn’t. On some of these songs, we see Heems hinting at a trauma that he experienced or continues to experience, being of Middle Eastern descent in contemporary, post-9/11 America. But with a majority of the songs not referencing this, instead this really real shit in Heems’ head we only get in quick bursts – almost like it’s still so traumatic to him that revealing it at all requires he quickly cover it up with a party song or a bad sing-rappy ballad.
Why am I pushing so hard on Eat Pray Thug? Why do I insist that there’s more to it than meets the eye (ear)? Is it because, without the possibility that there’s a deeper meaning here, the album becomes just mediocre? A badly-organized and incohesive collection of singles that don’t link together at all, featuring some moments of excellent production and clever wordplay but isn’t nearly consistent enough to consider a real masterpiece? Because at face value, that’s what Eat Pray Thug is. There are some moments of greatness, but I think there are more moments of mediocrity or just plain badness.
Sorry Heems, but Eat Pray Thug isn’t as good as I’d expected or hoped. It tries to go in too many directions, and instead just implodes on itself without making any real impact.
LISTEN: Sometimes, Jawn Cage, Home
AVOID: Damn Girl, Pop Song (Games)
Worth a listen or two, but I don't think this album will go down as one of the greats6
Instrumentals score 8
Lyrics score 7
Composition score 4