The album’s most gutting lyrics deal with the struggles of being Indian in a nation whose South Asian and Middle Eastern communities are casually treated as indistinct masses of post-9/11 brown danger as while Bush’s Iraq War blazes on. “They’re staring at our turbans, they’re calling them rags, they’re calling them towels,” he snarls on “Flag Shopping,” a remembrance of Hindu and Sikh families fearfully displaying their patriotism when white neighbors began to turn on Muslim communities and anyone deemed to resemble them. Closer “Patriot Act” digs deeper as Heems details the changes in language, dress and behavior many Indian Americans enacted to evade undue suspicion of terrorism. “Suicide by Cop” decries police brutality in its chorus; and “Al Q8a” is a knotty, provocative metaphor comparing his own rap prowess to weaponry in the hands of the hands of Middle Eastern dissidents.
Eat, Pray, Thug wisely peppers its racial invective with moments of summery abandon. Light-hearted lyrical workouts like “Hubba Hubba” and “Jawn Cage” flex the greatest technical ease Heems has ever shown on the mic, while singsong EDM cuts “Damn, Girl” and “Pop Song (Games)” suggest Heems dug more of the dippy dance grooves of Das Racist’s polarizing swan song Relax than we thought he did. The more whimsical material harks back to the early days of Heems’ “rapper experiment,” both in sound and function. He’s most engaged when he’s spitballing kooky ideas sometimes, though the sprawl can give Eat, Pray, Thug a casual, disjointed feel that belies its rather brief running time.
If this is Heems’ swan song as a recording entity, he’s going out the same way he came in: mystifying, troubled, engaging, and entertaining. His perspective will be missed; records like Eat, Pray, Thug and 2012’s Nehru Jackets don’t breach the rap community consciousness often. Hip-hop needs artists like Heems tossing sidewinders into our shortsighted, America-centric discourse. He’ll come back. They always come back.