SWET Shop Boys are a rap duo comprising of Heems, formerly of Das Racist, and Riz MC, aka actor Riz Ahmed. Cashmere is their debut album, following 2014’s Swet Shop EP.
Riz and Heems are separated by heritage, religion and the Atlantic Ocean — a divide extending to their rapping styles. Heems plays the joker, peppering his verses with bizarre, wacky lines, often to great effect. Riz plays the straight man. While Heems sounds relaxed, expending no effort, Riz’s verses are carefully crafted, and he spits in an energetic, unabashedly British way, exemplified by album highlight ‘T5’.
The album’s production is handled entirely by London-based Redinho, who creates a unique sound by combining eastern instrumental sounds with heavy 808s and synths. As such, Cashmere’s sonic palette is distinctly South Asian while remaining accessibly familiar to Western audiences. Lyrical references abound to baklava, Hare Krishnas and Kama Sutra, as well as to the more usual Tupac, André 3000, Beyoncé and Jay Z.
The album’s real strength is its ability to be both thought provoking and fun at the same time. Islamophobia and racial stereotyping are constant themes throughout. Yet the pair also know how to have a good time and infuse these topics with a refreshing sense of humour. Heems’ hook on ‘No Fly List’ — ‘I’m so fly, bitch/but I’m on a no fly list’ – is golden.
The album’s major flaw — aside from Heems’ solo cut ‘Swish Swish’, which never really ignites — is that it is too short, clocking in at just 34 minutes. There is a lot going on here, and it seems likely that Heems and Riz have enough material for a longer LP.
In A Nutshell: A unique, thoroughly enjoyable record; it deals with serious political issues while maintaining a sense of humour.