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Das the way I like 'em!

India, Feb. 25 -- When a rapper from Queens, New York, samples a snatch of a conversation between two social activists, India's Arundhati Roy and the late American historian and author, Howard Zinn, it can make you sit up and listen. And when it's on the first solo mixtape from Himanshu Suri, one-third of the very literate hip-hop group, Das Racist, you just cannot ignore it. Das Racist's first two albums Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man were released for free downloads by the band in 2010 (now you can buy them online) and won wide critical acclaim. Not surprising because the trio's music is witty, clever and refreshingly different from the crass fare that you inevitably encounter in the genre today.

Last year, Das Racist, which has two Indian origin members (besides Suri aka Heems, there is also Ashok Kondabolu), released its first commercial album, Relax, but a couple of months ago, Heems put out his free solo album, Nehru Jackets. The album is long 74 minutes and has 25 tracks. To be sure, it lacks the slick production quality that Das Racist's other mixtapes albums have but then Nehru Jackets is laid-back and, I presume, deliberately lo-fi and it's available for a free download courtesy SEVA, a Queens based community non-profit organisation of which Suri is a director.

All of Das Racist's releases, mixtapes and albums, have Indian references and bits of Punjabi rap. In Nehru Jackets, right from the title and the cover image (it's a parody of a well-known Indian brand of biscuits) to the prodigious bunch of songs, Indian references are galore. On one track, You Have to Ride the Wave, Heems starts with a clip from the Zinn-Roy conversation (actually it's only Roy speaking): "..and we grew up outside the realm of all protections that society chose to offer its members . And so at a very young age one was aware of the fact that you were not going to be given those protections and had to constantly try to understand what was going on and how to survive in this space.

Uh...and how go onward. You're on your own, and then, politics is in your life.

You have to ride the wave." Yes, that's where he got the song title.

There are oodles of irony and wit too in some of the references. Before It's the Drug I Needed, which is basically a celebratory drug-taking song, there's the famous public service announcement by Ravi Shankar (from the Concert for Bangladesh circa 1971) exhorting the audience not to take drugs but to get high on life. Nehru Jackets has songs themed on Jason Bourne, on the brutality of NYC cops, on computers, on unhealthy eating habits, and on women. The last theme is explored on a track called Womyn, an ode to women delivered in a lazy, laidback yet funny style ending with profuse thanks to all women if, of course, they choose to bestow attention on him.

Just as the Das Racist albums (Download Central has written about them in the past) touch an Indian chord, either with their overt Punjabi influences or several references to India and Indians (as well as featuring Indian language rappers), Heems' new album is bound to resonate with Indian listeners. Some tracks, such as Chooray Lare (featuring a young Indian rapper, Lovedeep Singh) and Chakklo (featuring Ravi EAH Singh) have the potential of becoming popular staples at clubs in India, particularly in the neck of the wood where I reside.

The origins of hip-hop can be traced back to the 1970s among the African-American community, particularly in New York. And, although the golden age of hip-hop (the 1980s and 90s) is long gone, if there is ever a revival, I'm quite certain that artists such as Heems and groups such as Das Racist will be a part of it.

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Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Feb 25, 2012
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