With only one album under their belt (2001's "The Middle Passage"), San Francisco rap duo Himalayan Project have already seen their lyrics being cited in dissertations and discussed in college classes focusing on South-Asian identity in America. Their sophomore release, "Wince at the Sun", offers more cultural soul-searching to ponder over, but it's also a healthy plate of homegrown hip-hop. Rhyme-wise it mixes the political sensibilities of groups like dead prez and The Coup with the playful vibe and verbal skill of the Hieroglyphics, while the beats evoke flattering comparisons to aural architects such as Fat Jack or Hi-Tek.
Produced by the Soulful MPs (Koozy Kooz and Zeeby Zeeb), "Wince at the Sun" is made up of MPC-processed beats that rival the dynamics of any live band. Willingly disclosing the brands of instruments you feed your sampler with but not going into greater detail than 'stacks of vinyl' when it comes to further ingredients used is another way of saying: We make our own shit. It's this bare hands approach that helps establish this album's unique musical profile. The organic mixture concocted by this producer duo can stack up against any contemporary hip-hop that doesn't succumb to pop aesthetics but instead still adheres to ancient hip-hop ethics. The result may be a bit on the earthy side, almost to the point where the structure is beginning to dry up and risking to come apart, but within the layers of this rich soil of sound, Soulful MPs have planted juicy chunks of soul and funk and weaved enough roots across its fabric to hold everything together.
Arguably, the first two tracks are slightly repetitious, but "Wince at the Sun" really comes into its own starting with "Live Drum", a slowly shifting, dense track divided into three parts for three different verses. Then the drum breaks make way for your typical simple MPC beats but they still successfully play support in the brilliant "Postcards from Paradise", an ensemble of bitter-sweet keyboard plinks, thoughfully humming organ-like basslines and Chee Malabar taking us back to his homeland India:
"Shantytown'll sprout and stick out like gout
Politicians talkin 'bout foward progress now
so these beautiful folks had they huts burned to the ground
But genius lies in all things simplified
They take cow shit, mixed it with grass, a few twigs
Exposed to the sun it hardened once plastered to a few bricks
Add some sweat and you have a makeshift apartment
Follow the stark stench of human's fuming disease
where my peoples get by simply on ritual beliefs
It's steeped deep in what the British did before they fleed
Left more than just English liquor, cricket, whiskey and tea
Psychological damage, famines, but we manage
cause even a rose grows through cracks in concrete
and a lotus floats hope in the stream of the Ganges"
"Postcards from Paradise" is the only song to deal with the Himalayan Project's geographical roots (which lay in India and China, who both border on the Himalayas). Malabar's wistful chorus ("postcards from paradise rarely sent to me / postcards from paradise weren't meant for me") makes it clear that their true origins are but a mere memory to these young men. More likely, you'll find the Himalayan Project discuss America's role in the world and their roles as Asian-Americans. As such, they take a clue from the African-American civil rights movement of the '60s, trying to apply the mindframe of a Malcolm X (who gets name-checked several times) to their own situation. In "Rebel Music" they suggest you use the constitution "as toilet tissue cause ain't shit changed since 1964." No sir, these two are not afraid to stir things up a little bit:
"Since we don't sit where decisions get made
I wouldn't piss on a burning Bush to extinguish the flames
Axis of evil, jihad and crusades
So who's saints? Sadam got napalm and things
while we build nukes talking disarmament
To you my religion is seen as voodoo
Fuck you, I'll consider Christ when your pope is Desmond Tutu"
Anti-establishment rants are the one recurring theme on "Wince at the Sun", but the Himalayan Project shouldn't be reduced to a couple of leftist lunatics. Maybe they make one too many negative remarks about Christianity, and maybe there's a slight overabundance of side remarks about the evil powers that be, but the way they appropriate rap to reflect on their cultural heritage and to voice their political opinion is certainly too significant to dismiss them simply out of disagreement. Observations such as "someone once said America's a melting pot / the people at the bottom get burned while the scum always seem to float to the top," or "I was nurtured in a cultural slum where mediocrity's an artform for some / so most smoke stoges, drink rum, waitin' for the day when their ulcer comes" shed light on a social and cultural reality that rap music has never shied away from dealing with. And anybody listening to the title track will be stunned how topical their comments on the issue of Iraq are.
The Chinese half of HP, Rainman, may not be as sharp-tongued as his partner in rhyme, but his self-description as "Invisible Man, the South-Asian Ralph Emerson" is just as telling as Chee Malabar's demagogics. Who, in turn, taking a clue from Boots Riley, tests his penmanship with the "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night"-type narrative "The Wrath of Lomas". Also, check his verbal workout in "The Passion":
"Pac's for the thugs and Hova's for the clubs
I'm the one you forgot while you was lickin they nuts
Fuck, don't get it twisted, I list 'em as favorites too
but radio's killin my patience like Jack Kevorkian
[...] I make racially all-inclusive music
Make that dude Clue scream: 'Exclusive new shit!'
Using booze as acoustics
to talk shit, then come clean like a gargle with Metamucil
Massing-gel your bitch-ass attitude so you can do shit
Truth is, I been had _Juice_ since
nine-deuce, before Bishop made moves to
push Q off a roof swift
This is for my sweatshop folks stitchin' swooshes
My D-Flo funk steelo, and Scott's and Haysoos's
With a window to the world sharin' what they views is
I'm a brown man in a white man's world
tryin' to find myself through black music"
Last but not least, Rainman and Chee also take time to straight get nasty, dropping lines like "most of these music dudes get no respect / y'all can eat a fat dick, then floss with the pubes that's left," or "you don't want a rhubarb with these two vets / when I wrote my first rhyme you was two blue bars on a bitch's EPT test." But in the end, it's the overall musical mastery displayed in vocal tracks ("Capital C") as well as in instrumentals ("Rebel's Last Dance") that elevates this release into the upper echelon.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: December 23, 2003