Swet Shop Boys’ “T5” was already an incendiary jam, clapping back at discriminatory profiling by law enforcement the world over, but the new verses Riz and Heems added to their electric performance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert last night sent chills down my spine.
Although they recently dropped an outstanding EP, Sufi La, in May this year, “T5” is the first single off Swet Shop Boys’ first album, Cashmere, which released in October 2016 to critical acclaim. The title is slang for the New York venue “Terminal 5,” and the track addresses the “random” screenings suffered by the rappers anytime “I rock my stubble” when they travel, whether for shows or international visits to family and friends. However, the new verses both MCs added to the song take it a step further, directly speaking to the callousness with which people of color are “othered” as justification for their mistreatment at the hands of the government.
“How does my accent sound when I’m crying? / How does my accent sound when I’m dying?” asks Heems at the conclusion of his epilogue. It’s poignant and all too relevant in a time when police shoot people of color with impunity and escape indictment. White “lone wolves” open fire on innocents and the media refuses to name them terrorists, but question the links to terror organizations any time someone of vaguely Middle Eastern descent commits a crime or gets into an altercation.
Heems’ question is one that needed asking, but it’s also one that needs answering; what will it take for Americans (and Europeans) to see the humanity of people who appear different, speak differently, worship differently, eat different foods, and grew up in different cultures? At the very least, the Swet Shop Boys — and anyone else who shares their experiences — should be able to make it through “Terminal 5” without having to receive another not-so-random check.