‘Sometimes I’m ’bout chicks,” Queens emcee Heems says on “Sometimes,” the lead track from his debut solo album “Eat Pray Thug.” “Sometimes it’s politics.”
It’s a strong statement of duality from a rapper who broke out as a member of Das Racist with a song called “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.”
Das Racist combined nimble lyricism with a sense of humor and lightheartedness that manifest as both punch lines and surreal anti-comedy.
And “Sometimes” is particularly important, as “Eat Pray Thug,” while funny at times, is also notable for Heems’ reflections on post-9/11 New York and America, police brutality and even drone warfare.
amNewYork caught up with Heems, whose tour comes to Brooklyn on Friday for a show pulling double duty as a concert and campaign event for Queens City Council candidate Ali Najmi.
“Eat Pray Thug” is more serious than much of your work with Das Racist. Did you feel pressure to make it funnier or add jokes during the writing and recording process?
In some ways, I decided to lead with “Sometimes,” and make the video that I made [featuring Eric Andre and Hannibal Buress] because it was a good link from my work with Das Racist to the newer work. So I was kind of cognizant of it. But I wasn’t really stressed while making it. I have a sense of humor and so it will always make its way into the work no matter what. It might not be an entire song, but it’ll pop up here and there.
Is there a feeling of catharsis that comes from performing this sort of personal material for a live audience?
I don’t know if catharsis would be the right way to describe it. I think that’s from writing, recording and releasing it. That’s therapeutic. But performing it night in and out, songs like “Flag Shopping” are pretty tough. But that’s part of the show, and that’s what makes it different, a more emotional experience.
You’re from Flushing. What does it mean to you to be a rapper from New York in 2015?
In a lot of ways in New York rap, we’re so stuck to our ’90s roots that it’s hard to move forward. So much of rap is becoming melodic, like Future or Young Thug, and the hub has moved to Atlanta. So you’ve got guys like me who have been raised on Biggie and Kool G Rap and Mobb Deep, but what’s popular are people who are opening up and emoting. It’s very different and something I’m trying to think about — how do you make more melodic rap in line with what’s going on in America and still be true to New York?
If you go: Heems performs on Tuesday at 10 p.m. at Baby’s All Right, 146 Broadway, Williamsburg, 718-599-5800, $12.