When: Fri., Aug. 7, 8:30 p.m. 2015
CAT'S CRADLE BACK ROOM, CARRBORO
FRIDAY, AUGUST 7
New York's rap relevance remains under scrutiny. Though still the place where hip-hop lives, it's no longer the place hip-hop rests. Cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto now produce artists who steal the spotlight and the laptop glow; meanwhile, with all due respect to Lloyd Banks, the Big Apple shows signs of rot.
It's not that the five boroughs aren't trying. But the roundly mocked underperformance of Troy Ave's Major Without A Deal countered the spitter's campaign to bring the "feeling" back. A$AP Rocky's At.Long.Last.A$AP came and went, lacking any singles on par with "Fucking Problems." Despite a good first week showing for Mr. Wonderful, Action Bronson has suffered humbling after humbling incident. If New York could clone Nicki Minaj, it almost certainly would.
New York's immigrant tradition has long informed local rap audiences, with children of the '80s, '90s and '00s stuck between the sound of their youth and their parents' traditions. For obvious ghettoizing reasons, Latino voices have been the most credible minority in hip-hop. But this year, Heems—an outspoken South Asian rapper from Queens—has shouted his way forward.
Heems' Eat Pray Thug is the year's most underrated rap album. Recorded in Brooklyn and Mumbai, it reflects his heritage and the greatness of his home city. Heems' record tackles the various horrors of being brown in post-9/11 New York and adds enough levity to keep listeners entertained. His verses give voice to a community that has barely had a seat at the table. And while some people can't shake Heems' Das Racist past, some people are also complete idiots.
Still, it seems unlikely he'll become the megaphone of his city. Engaged in a rather public if one-sided battle with Megaforce Records, Heems claims the label dropped his album. And Eat Pray Thug remains quizzically unavailable on Spotify, almost as if someone in the back office forgot to upload it. Heems can't carry New York rap on his back, but he's doing better than most of his peers. 8:30 p.m., $15–$17, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro, 919-967-9053, www.catscradle.com. —Gary Suarez