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Talking to Heems About His New Album and His "Taliban Goth" Aesthetic

From his early days as a member of the highbrow/lowbrow rap trio Das Racist to his solo work as Heems, Himanshu Suri has been a study in duality. His debut solo album, Eat Pray Thug, is his most open-hearted expression of that back-and-forth yet: a young man with his Puma Disc sneakers planted in Queens but his head somewhere in Mumbai, where much of the album was recorded. Suri, an Indian-American, has started to externalize those East-West clashes via fashion. "I like Eastern stuff but I try to stay true to my urban New York fashion sense," he says, describing his affinity for mixing darker streetwear items with "mundane Indian fashion." (He's toyed with labeling his aesthetic "Taliban Goth.") Kurta pajamas commingle with sportswear staples, and Hermès scarves become twisted into turbans. Here, he elaborates on his fashion taste, his new album and the East-West duality affecting his music, his style and his everyday life.

Your new album, Eat Pray Thug, deals a lot with duality --  the emotional, political and spiritual tug-of-war between both your Eastern and Western heritages.

Well it's not just duality in the sense of like how immigrants experience it, but all humans experience duality. It's just about me speaking to how much of an everyday part of my life it is. But even if you're not an immigrant, dualities are, y'know, constant. It's just about noticing the different types of energy.

And I think that's also evident in your fashion sense. How important to you is it that you represent those two specific parts of your heritage in the way that you dress?

Well it's more of a recent thing. I guess I grew up dressing either "hip-hop" or "hipster," but now I like to incorporate elements of Middle Eastern and Indian fashion with high fashion from the West and street fashion from the urban environments. So like even right now, I'm wearing a cowl neck t-shirt with a kurta pajama that I designed, but it's balanced with some black jeans and Puma Disc sneakers.

You recorded the new record in Mumbai. What style tips did you pick up while you were there?

Um like nothing there -- the kids in Bombay all wanna dress fuckin' Western. When you go to weddings, you get to wear all the fresh, ornate Indian shit with like gold and fancy patterns and sherwani jackets. But on the day-to-day, if you're in India, you wear like jeans and a button-down just like anyone in America -- I mean, in terms of a lot of the middle and upper class in India. I personally just like to incorporate kurta pajamas, shawls, scarves, Pashtun hats, turbans -- but I take Hermès scarves and roll them into turbans.

Do you see any current trends emerging in the States where Middle Eastern or South Asian styles are becoming more evident?

Oh everyone is copying Indian and Middle Eastern shit now. I don't follow fashion like that, but Engineered Garments' spring 2015 line just copied India, Africa, Afghanistan and the Middle East in the way that I like to. Which means maybe it's cool or maybe I should've done it first.

Do you seen any other musicians copping to this kind of thing?

I saw a photo of Meek Mill where he wore a turban once, and that was pretty cool.

Do you feel some kind of responsibility to kind of champion or put on for Eastern dress?

It's not that different from dashikis being popular with conscious black rappers -- and for white people it's like, "Can I wear a dashiki?" You'd probably be like, "No." It's weird that I'm trying to put on this fashion, but I don't want for it to be appropriated at the same time. But I'm sensitive to the idea of appropriation, not only as a victim of it but as someone who is Indian and rapping. That's a black art form. But I think with the fashion shit, people don't even think of me like that because Das Racist got associated with thrift shop fashion and my style is a little bit more complicated than that.

You've recently been sharing some of your own visual art with the public and --

And like clothing, I have the African-print suit from the art opening [Suri's Eat Pray Thug gallery show at Aicon Gallery], I had the blue floral print suit from the Village Voice cover custom-made, and I've been getting involved more in designing and having my own shit made.

Have you considered getting into the fashion business more seriously?

I made a line with a guy named Jason Calderon from Portland like three or four years ago, and his background is in sportswear, and mine is in Indian and Middle Eastern clothing. And four years later, that's exactly what's popping off, like long shapes, skorts, sweatpants. Now that I'm seeing how popular it is, I'm considering it again. I might make cowl neck t-shirts in a couple colorways. But you know me, I get like 18 ideas and I get like 14 things done.

What's the latest addition to your closet that you're most proud of?

I mean I haven't really been buying clothes for like a year. When I had money I really liked  double-block, double-breast chambray shirts. I like the Puma Disc sneakers they sent me. I work at a tech start-up, and I like their weird work-Patagonia-swag. I don't know, I like combining all types of shit. And then I always buy Indian shit when I can.

Do you have any personal style icons, both conventional and unconventional?

I mean, every Indian man above the age of sixty-five --  or every Pakistani or Afghani man above the age of sixty-five -- is a style icon to me. Also, who was that one British Duke who was mad good at dressing? The Duke of Windsor maybe? Nah, it's not him. He sounds too fancy. But there was a British guy once, I liked the way he dressed. I love what Kanye West does in every facet of his work, like talking shit, making music, fashion.

What did you think of his Adidas collection?

I didn't really think about it carefully. I like the idea of it, the effort, but I haven't really examined it. Like my thing is more mundane, everyday Middle Eastern and Indian clothing than like, high fashion and runway shit. Like I said, it's kind of like Engineered Garments. Like my aesthetic that I want to work on is more like... "Taliban Goth" is how I'd describe it.

Can you describe Taliban Goth a little more?

I mean it's almost like fuckin' redundant, the idea of Taliban Goth. But basically it's like dressing like Indian and Middle Eastern people, but also I like a lot of black and a lot of urban clothing. Maybe it's not Taliban Goth. Essentially, I like streetwear, I like mundane Indian fashion, and then Western high fashion when it's not stealing things from Africa or fuckin' India. I try to combine those things.

Photography by Diggy Lloyd / Styling by Jessica Zamora-Turner / Hair & makeup by Elena Perdikomati for M.A.C Cosmetic

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