Things got weird when former Das Racist rapper Heems played to a small but devoted crowd at Fortune Sound Club on Tuesday. Himanshu Suri, aka, Heems is currently touring in support of his first album, Eat Pray Thug, since his old rap group’s demise. He is known for music that combines the political and the personal as well as for including references to pop culture and self-deprecating jokes.
The night started off promisingly with support from local acts Lil India and Horsepowar as well as Baltimore’s Spank Rock. Horsepowar brought enthusiasm and killer dance moves to the stage. The crowd was a little lackluster, but this did not dampen her spirit. She pumped everyone up with her fast-paced rap, along with shout-outs to her mom and home city of Richmond. Her set was raucous and full of sexual energy and bravado. Spank Rock amped things up even more with his frenetic dance-rap. It was disappointing when he peaced out after four songs, but at least he left the crowd wanting more.
Heems was greeted with a rapturous welcome when he arrived onstage. What the crowd lacked in numbers it made up for in outpourings of love. Heems looked artfully disheveled with his bleached hair, sparkly jacket, and bleary eyed gaze. With no DJ present, he played his tracks on a laptop which he frequently faced with his back to the crowd. He started and abruptly stopped songs as soon as people began cheering. He shouted along with a few lines but let the backing track do most of the work. When he first announced a costume change I thought he was just teasing us, but no. Off he stumbled while everyone stared at the empty stage for several minutes.
The highlight of his set came when he started playing “Soup Boys”. This was a reminder of how great Heems can be. He gave a sincere speech about the political song’s inspiration and the dark time it came out of. He started rapping in earnest, and the crowd ate it up. One could feel the room pulling for him to keep this momentum going. Unfortunately, he soon deserted the stage for another costume change. By the fourth costume change I had reached my limit, this having been Fortune Sound Club, not the Grammys. Some of the crowd seemed uncomfortable and started to trickle out. Others lapped up his sloppy, give-no-fucks performance.
I don’t know if this was an off night for Heems or if this was what one should expect from his self-proclaimed punk shows. It was definitely raw and unpredictable, but it would also have been nice to hear him perform a couple of his songs in full.