After a year and a half that saw the release of roughly 60 tracks and a nonstop tour cycle, the tongue-in-cheek trio known as Das Racist decided it was time to split up studio time and work on their solo projects. Yesterday Heems released Nehru Jackets, a 25-track mixtape that combines a somber ’90s New York vibe with some fresh Punjabi talent. It’s a combination he was going for artistically, but it also speaks to the political and personal awakening he experienced living in his hometown Queens, a borough made up of 47% immigrants. Nehru Jackets is co-presented by SEVA, a group of community organizers who are fighting against district gerrymandering that is currently disenfranchising immigrant voters and isolating them from the benefits of native tax payers. Hive spoke with Heems about Nehru Jackets, his involvement with SEVA, and what to expect from Das Racist in 2012.
What’s the origins of Nehru Jackets?
Victor and me and Dap decided to release our solo mixtapes. I was going to put mine out [earlier] but then I started working with the organization called SEVA. They’re community organizers in a similar vein to ACORN, but we focus on neighborhoods in Queens that are heavily populated by South Asian and Indian people. And then I got in the studio with some of the kids in the neighborhood, which just felt right, because the rest of the project for me makes the record sound more like the way that I grew up than the sound of me going to college, which hides behind humor maybe, or uses it as a tool to talk about things that are difficult to talk about in a straightforward manner. But I wanted to do something that sounds more like the way I was before I went to Wesleyan, when I was a kid who literally hung out with 95% Indian kids. I feel like I needed space to do something that represented this other part of me that I don’t know if people are acquainted with.
It has a classic New York Vibe to it. It reminded me of Cannibal Ox at points.
The dude who produced it is my best friend Mike Finito. [His beats] weren’t necessarily right for the Das Racist project, but I was sitting on like 70 beats and this dude is my best friend. I figured the only way for people to hear [his talent] is if I hop on these joints and give my man some shine. We definitely listened to a lot of Company Flow and Def Jux stuff in high school. El-P hit me up last night and was like, “I like it, you and Mike together.” I forwarded Mike that text, he must have been mad excited.
What’s your involvement with SEVA?
I believe in the power of art, but I also want to knock on doors. My involvement with SEVA doesn’t stop with this mixtape. It’s ongoing. I’m on the Board of Directors, and when I come back in February, I’m going to do whatever I can, not just put on a show or put out a mixtape, but do some actual community organizing. Go to voter registration drives, etc.
Are there any things about immigrant life in Queens that people who were born here might have no idea about?
Immigrants, especially when it comes to localities, are all the same. Our parents just want us to go to good schools, get good jobs, have a 401k. I tell these kids, music is dope, but you need to fucking finish college B. I didn’t do this shit until I went to a college where I was around kids that could afford Pro Tools and an MPC and a microphone that cost a G. I didn’t have that growing up so it’s cool for me to work with these kids. They are just like, holy shit, how can you write a verse in five minutes? And I’m like, this is my job.
Any plans for a Das Racist project this year?
Yeah, at the end of the year we’re probably going to do another album. We’ve been touring pretty much non-stop throughout 2011, so we thought doing an album in 2011 was kind of nutty. We’re going on tour to Russia and Scandinavia in March, we’re going to Australia and New Zealand now, then hopefully take a couple months off, regenerate and work on some new music.
Any other videos in the works?
In February we might shoot another video from “Shut Up, Man” with El-P or “Girl.”
Any non-musical projects? You guys had that East Village Radio show awhile back.
We’re writing a comedy show to go back to a TV channel and pitch. So hopefully we get this show on, and we can spend a couple months working on that. We’ve written a lot of it, mostly Dap, almost entirely Dap. That’s kind of one of the projects we are going to work on this year, that will hopefully involve less touring.
When is that going to come out?
I don’t know it depends on whether they pick it up or not.
Maybe a Das Racist Public Access show in Queens sometime?
Nah, I don’t know how to do that. We’re talking to Viacom, doggy.