Swetshop Boys - Benny Lava | Track Review | By Volume

Understand that I am only as he made me: a faithful servant to all of the noise, all of the lights, all of the flashing in my head. Laura Stevenson - Wheel

Swetshop Boys

Benny Lava

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Author: on March 21, 2014

What’s in a culture clash? One half of Swetshop Boys is Himanshu Suri of alternative (dare I say outsider?), now defunct US hip-hop outfit Das Racist, and the other half is the UK’s Riz Ahmed, an Oxford graduate who turned to acting and rapping, blowing onto the internet with 2006’s “Post 9/11 Blues”. His contemporary methods of political commentary as well as creating art hit hard, and in “Benny Lava” we see the pair of South Asians trading bars in front of a star-spangled backdrop dressed in a mixture of Western and Eastern clothing (in terms of style – their name ‘Swetshop Boys’ alludes to the physical origins of fashion in Asian factories).

Suri’s style of rapping is undeniably American – his verse would match up well with fellow Queens native Action Bronson – whilst UK hip-hop is as much indebted to Jamaican soundsystem culture as it is to US rap origins. The duo go in over Canadian Ryan Hemsworth’s “Benny Lava” beat that’s been kicking about for almost two years now, and thankfully it still sounds near-fresh with added lyricism. The differences in delivery between Suri and Ahmed mesh well together, even complement each other, though they’re separated on the track too – a gulf of fidgety fusion softens the blow of Ahmed’s entrance. It’s unfortunate we don’t get to hear them interact more seeing as their on-camera chemistry is great, though perhaps their forthcoming EP will treat us to some more intricacy.

Verses are littered with cultural references, historical controversies and tensions between the East and West and within them too; Suri is Indian and Ahmed is Pakistani – historically, it’s not often the nations are seen standing side-by-side. “The white men the villain / them denied them penicillin,” Suri raps before boasting, “I’m a big-bellied rudeboy / I’m a fat smelly Hindu,” which is brilliant in my books; It’s not about pride, it’s about the reality of the situation, reclaiming culture and the image the world projects onto the self. Suri touches on the scrutinisation that occurs from working with a Pakistani Muslim, before Ahmed talks about Afghan-Pakistani border relations and children’s dreams of Western pop culture. The world can be a confusing place, when you’re raised with desi traditions in Western culture, or growing up in Asia when the world’s spotlight shines on the US, and there’s plenty to relate to in the lyrics of Suri and Ahmed, anecdotes that will resonate with a young desi generation. And it’s time this generation, this loose group tied together by skin colour “somewhere out in Trapistan”, it’s about damn time they had voices on the global stage.


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