The day Sufi La came out, I spent the morning watching Hasan Minhaj’s new Netflix special, ‘Homecoming King’. Over 72 mins, Minhaj, who is 31, desi, Muslim and a first generation immigrant, unpacks his experience of being all these things with dexterous, relatable storytelling. To a brown guy in India, who does brown things , eats brown food, and has brown parents who won’t let him do unbrown things, Homecoming King is the most relevant bit of stand up I’ve seen lately (setting aside comics from my own country).
The new Swet Shop Boys EP, which runs for marginally more than a quarter of 72mins, is actually funnier than the Minhaj special I watched before it, and is the most relevant bit of rap I’ve heard since… well, Swet Shop Boys’ 2016 LP ‘Cashmere’. Like Minhaj, Heems and Riz MC are tapping into their minority ethnic experiences, and contributing to a growing narrative about what it means to be brown in a post-internet world. They’re part of a shared cultural moment, along with an army of brown folk out in the trenches of this battle for identity. Here are some names for emphasis, and increasing my word count:
Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani, Kal Penn, M.I.A., Kunal Nayyar, Mindy Kaling, Poorna Jagannathan, Gurinder Chadha, Vikram Seth, Jhumpa Lahiri, Nikesh Shukla, Anupam Kher, Danny Pudi, Jus Reign, Lily Singh, Priyanka Chopra, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Amartya Sen, Satyajit Ray, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Parminder Nagra, Freida Pinto, Irrfan Khan, Dev Patel, Nimrat Kaur, Archie Punjabi, Aparna Nancherla, Tina Desai, Vir Das, Naveen Andrews, Hanna Simone, Talvin Singh, Karsh Kale, AR Rahman, Meera Syal, Zohra Sehgal, Kabir Bedi, Ayesha Dharker, Asif Mandvi, Vijay Iyer, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Himesh Patel, Karan Soni, Rahul Kohli, Karan Brar, Sakina Jaffrey, Neel Sethi, Suraj Sharma, Rohan Chand, Ben Kingsley, Maulik Pancholy, Nora Jones, Anushka Shankar, Zayn Malik, Hari Kondabolu, Ashok Kondabolu, Gaggan Anand, Nish Kumar, Kavya Vishwanathan (even though she kinda ruined things for herself)
So you see what I mean? It’s nice to have people of my own colour infiltrate the media I grew up consuming, which for the most part either ignored brown narratives (or told them poorly). It’s nice to have representation.
According to its press release, Sufi La leaves behind the political to focus on the party, which is partly true. These songs are bangers. Heems taps into his slacker boy ennui in ways that haven’t been put to rhyme since Das Racist’s ‘Sit Down, Man.’ In contrast, Riz struggles to match Suri’s laidback sense of humour, but raps in short bursts that are relentlessly energetic.
I remember listening to an interview many years ago in which Heems talked about how everything you do as an ethnic minority, and as a person of colour, is inherently political. Whether or not you label it that way. So even with Sufi La, with it’s decidedly dancefloor-esque production and facetious lyrics, is ultimately still a political statement by default. A desi ‘amour propre’, if you will.
PS: I was wondering how similar the names Minaj and Minhaj are, then I found out that Nicki Minaj is of partly Indian ancestry. It’s worth a Google.