Heems, "Wild Water Kingdom"
Heems, "Wild Water Kingdom" (courtesy)
Himanshu Suri, better known as Heems, has always been a polarizing rapper, and Wild Water Kingdom isn't likely to change that.

Good. It's exactly the things that spark arguments over his legitimacy that make him stand out. The dude is smart, and he'll tell you that outright -- or, more often, he'll drop references to someone like Junot Diaz and serve up commentary on race and capitalism. Trashing mindless consumerism while admitting to indulging himself certainly sets people off (“I ball til I'm ya'll / With my last few breaths I'mma crawl to the mall”), but it can be defended for its honesty. Haters will reject all the references as hipster nonsense, but when he's doing it well, who cares?

When he teams up with Childish Gambino, who catches the same flack, for “Tell Me,” it's like they're asking for it. You've got Donald Glover tirelessly delivering lines like “Rush Limballin while I'm listening to tUne-yarDs" and Heems more stream-of-consciousness “Frida Kahlo  / Papas fritas / We eatin' good so they think we freemasons / I'm about my paper like W. B. Mason.” The energy is infectious and the wordplay is impressive, no matter what you think of what's being referenced.

There are weak moments, when it feels like comfort is leading to laziness, but the mixtape's strongest tracks showcase a good, confident rapper who can assemble a killer team of producers. “Cowabunga Gnarly,” produced by Harry Fraud, and “Soup Boys,” produced by Lushlife, are both highpoints with solid beats and Heems doing his thing. “Deepak Choppa” is the proof, for those still questioning, that Heems is serious. It's also the most likely to appease hip-hop purists, with straightforward lyrics packed with New York pride -- “New York native / Yeah I came up bumpin' Poppa” or “Heems get love from Queens up to Harlem.” More notably, there's the aggressive refrain of “I ain't black, I ain't white / I can't rap, I can't write / I ain't strapped, I could fight.”

Wild Water Kingdom, while certainly not flawless, has Heems stepping up his game without dropping what made him different and divisive. The same arguments are bound to be made against him, but in the wake of this mixtape, they carry a lot less weight.