There’s a show on Netflix — you may have heard of it — called Master Of None, and it’s pretty funny. It’s funny in large part because it was conceived and written by, and stars, comedian Aziz Ansari, of Parks And Recreation fame. It’s notable because it is one of just three television shows currently airing featuring a person of South Asian descent in the lead role. That speaks both to how good Aziz is, and also unfortunately to how far TV has yet to go in the area of representation of one of the largest populations on Earth.
It’s striking, then, that in recognizing the dearth of Desi/Indian talent being given a chance to shine on television, the corresponding reflection on wider culture and subcultures in America. This is a rap blog; I think you know where I’m going with this. Where are all the Indian rappers? Is hip-hop doomed to repeat the same mistakes made by television networks? Not if the Swet Shop Boys have anything to say about it. Not by a long shot.
Comprised of rappers Riz MC (whom you may recognize from his roles in The Night Of and Rogue One) and Heems (of Das Racist fame) with producer Redinho, Swet Shop Boys released their full-length debut, Cashmere, via the duo’s imprint, Customs, last fall. Their proper follow-up release EP, Sufi La, will be available digitally everywhere today via Customs. You can pre-order the EP here. Cashmere was an indie gem, garnering impressive critical scores and glowing press on its 2016 release (Metacritic currently has it sitting on 80/100) for its themes of finding representation and celebration of the boys’ oft-overlooked cultures. Songs had zany titles like “Zayn Malik,” both sending up the current rapper trend of naming singles after pop culture figures — who have little to actually do with the topics at hand — and joining in the fun, subtly subverting the trend by inserting a name most rappers might never happen upon.
The rhymes throughout the album are clever jabs at pop culture, slyly playing off the mainstream’s unfamiliarity with Desi icons who are technically some of the most popular in the world, if you look at the numbers. After all, the subcontinent of India is one of the two most populous regions on the planet, so when they end the video to “Aja” featuring Ali Seth with a loving homage to the memory of Pakistani activist and public figure Qandeel Baloch, there were probably more people “in” on the reference than left out.