Album Review: Heems – Wild Water Kingdom

Dropping only a fortnight after his native New York was awash with debris from Hurricane Sandy, Heems’ second solo release of the year finds him sounding a little hungrier for success, and on strong form because of it.

For those unacquainted with Himanshu Suri, he first entered the public eye through rap group Das Racist, whose viral hit ‘Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell’ saw them pigeonholed as novelty rappers, a label which they soon shrugged off with their complex and refreshingly witty mixtapes ‘Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man’. Two years on and Heems and (Das Racist bandmate) KOOL AD are well established in the alternative hip-hop world, serving up their own brand of hyper-referential, socially aware, and frequently hilarious wordplay.

The title of his latest offering might come across as a little goofy, but it turns out to be quite fitting. Where January’s ‘Nehru Jackets’ was a rugged chunk of rattling beats and grimy synths (see standout track ‘You Have To Ride The Wave’), Wild Water Kingdom makes for a much smoother listen – even the heavier tracks have a kind of fluidity to them.  The hazy waves of ‘WWK Intro’ pull us under the surface before giving way to the skittering hi-hats of ‘Cowabunga Gnarly’, a highlight of the album where Heems muses on consumerism, “I ball ‘till I’m y’all” he rasps, “with my last few breaths I will crawl to the mall”. It’s lines like this that have made him one of the most prominent figures in New York’s thriving hip-hop landscape, churning out culturally perceptive one-twos with a disarming casualness and acerbic wit.

Less conventional instrumentals tend to suit Heems best, and producer of the moment Harry Fraud taps into this chemistry on the title track, building a summery groove from exotic sounding synths and a muted guitar motif with satisfying results. Elsewhere, ‘Deepak Choppa’ bustles along on a restless electronic beat, which suddenly falls away to be replaced by some off-kilter menace, courtesy of rising rapper LE1F.

As far as subject matter is concerned, Heems adopts a typically meandering approach, basically rapping about whatever he likes, be it his college days on ‘Killing Time’ or the corruption of the American Dream on highlight ‘Combat Jack Show Freestyle’. But wherever his wandering mind takes him he consistently delivers the goods in a style that is very much his own.

Wild Water Kingdom is much less guest heavy than its predecessor, which is a shame because Heems is often at his best when his laidback flow is juxtaposed against more alert turns from rappers like Danny Brown or El-P. Nevertheless we get some solid verses from the likes of Lakutis on the lurching ‘Death Is Not An Option’ and Childish Gambino on what is easily the tape’s most traditional cut, ‘Tell Me’.

At 17 tracks long the tape notches up a runtime of over an hour but somehow manages to feel a lot shorter, a virtue owed in part to the sheer diversity of production on offer. The sprawling array of sounds on this tape is matched in its variety only by Heems’ zigzagging train of thought. And while some of the weirder tracks might put the more casual listener off, on the whole Wild Water Kingdom is an adventurous and well-executed release, making an engaging addition to the Das Racist back catalogue.

Dan Keenan

…Dan has been listening to Mac DeMarco – Ode to Viceroy…


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