Upper Echelon of Releases
Himalayan Project :: Wince at the Sun :: Red Bench Records
as reviewed by Matt Jost
With only one album under their belt (2001's "The Middle Passage"), San Francisco rap duo Himalayan Project have already seen their lyrics being cited in dissertations and discussed in college classes focusing on South-Asian identity in America. Their sophomore release, "Wince at the Sun", offers more cultural soul-searching to ponder over, but it's also a healthy plate of homegrown hip-hop. Rhyme-wise it mixes the political sensibilities of groups like dead prez and The Coup with the playful vibe and verbal skill of the Hieroglyphics, while the beats evoke flattering comparisons to aural architects such as Fat Jack or Hi-Tek.
Produced by the Soulful MPs (Koozy Kooz and Zeeby Zeeb), "Wince at the Sun" is made up of MPC-processed beats that rival the dynamics of any live band. Willingly disclosing the brands of instruments you feed your sampler with but not going into greater detail than 'stacks of vinyl' when it comes to further ingredients used is another way of saying: We make our own shit. It's this bare hands approach that helps establish this album's unique musical profile. The organic mixture concocted by this producer duo can stack up against any contemporary hip-hop that doesn't succumb to pop aesthetics but instead still adheres to ancient hip-hop ethics. The result may be a bit on the earthy side, almost to the point where the structure is beginning to dry up and risking to come apart, but within the layers of this rich soil of sound, Soulful MPs have planted juicy chunks of soul and funk and weaved enough roots across its fabric to hold everything together.
Arguably, the first two tracks are slightly repetitious, but "Wince at the Sun" really comes into its own starting with "Live Drum", a slowly shifting, dense track divided into three parts for three different verses. Then the drum breaks make way for your typical simple MPC beats but they still successfully play support in the brilliant "Postcards from Paradise", an ensemble of bitter-sweet keyboard plinks, thoughfully humming organ-like basslines and Chee Malabar taking us back to his homeland India:
"Shantytown'll sprout and stick out like gout
Politicians talkin 'bout foward progress now
so these beautiful folks had they huts burned to the ground
But genius lies in all things simplified
They take cow shit, mixed it with grass, a few twigs
Exposed to the sun it hardened once plastered to a few bricks
Add some sweat and you have a makeshift department
Follow the stark stench of human's fuming disease
where my peoples get by simply on ritual beliefs
It's steeped deep in what the British did before they fleed
Left more than just English liquor, cricket, whiskey and tea
Psychological damage, famines, but we manage
cause even a rose grows through cracks in concrete
and a lotus floats hope in the stream of the Ganges"
"Postcards from Paradise" is the only song to deal with the Himalayan Project's geographical roots (which lay in India and China, who both border on the Himalayas). Malabar's wistful chorus ("postcards from paradise rarely sent to me / postcards from paradise weren't meant for me") makes it clear that their true origins are but a mere memory to these young men. More likely, you'll find the Himalayan Project discuss America's role in the world and their roles as Asian-Americans. As such, they take a clue from the African-American civil rights movement of the '60s, trying to apply the mindframe of a Malcolm X (who gets name-checked several times) to their own situation. In "Rebel Music" they suggest you use the constitution "as toilet tissue cause ain't shit changed since 1964." No sir, these two are not afraid to stir things up a little bit:
"Since we don't sit where decisions get made
I wouldn't piss on a burning Bush to extinguish the flames
Axis of evil, jihad and crusades
So who's saints? Sadam got napalm and things
while we build nukes talking disarmament
To you my religion is seen as voodoo
Fuck you, I'll consider Christ when your pope is Desmond Tutu"
Anti-establishment rants are the one recurring theme on "Wince at the Sun", but the Himalayan Project shouldn't be reduced to a couple of leftist lunatics. Maybe they make one too many negative remarks about Christianity, and maybe there's a slight overabundance of side remarks about the evil powers that be, but the way they appropriate rap to reflect on their cultural heritage and to voice their political opinion is certainly too significant to dismiss them simply out of disagreement. Observations such as "someone once said America's a melting pot / the people at the bottom get burned while the scum always seem to float to the top," or "I was nurtured in a cultural slum where mediocrity's an artform for some / so most smoke stoges, drink rum, waitin' for the day when their ulcer comes" shed light on a social and cultural reality that rap music has never shied away from dealing with. And anybody listening to the title track will be stunned how topical their comments on the issue of Iraq are.
The Chinese half of HP, Rainman, may not be as sharp-tongued as his partner in rhyme, but his self-description as "Invisible Man, the South-Asian Ralph Emerson" is just as telling as Chee Malabar's demagogics. Who, in turn, taking a clue from Boots Riley, tests his penmanship with the "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night"-type narrative "The Wrath of Lomas". Also, check his verbal workout in "The Passion":
"Pac's for the thugs and Hova's for the clubs I'm the one you forgot while you was lickin they nuts Fuck, don't get it twisted, I list 'em as favorites too but radio's killin my patience like Jack Kevorkian [...] I make racially all-inclusive music
Make that dude Clue scream: 'Exclusive new shit!'
Using booze as acoustics
to talk shit, then come clean like a gargle with Metamucil
Massing-gel your bitch-ass attitude so you can do shit
Truth is, I been had _Juice_ since
nine-deuce, before Bishop made moves to
push Q off a roof swift
This is for my sweatshop folks stitchin' swooshes
My D-Flo funk steelo, and Scott's and Haysoos's
With a window to the world sharin' what they views is
I'm a brown man in a white man's world
tryin' to find myself through black music"
Last but not least, Rainman and Chee also take time to straight get nasty, dropping lines like "most of these music dudes get no respect / y'all can eat a fat dick, then floss with the pubes that's left," or "you don't want a rhubarb with these two vets / when I wrote my first rhyme you was two blue bars on a bitch's EPT test." But in the end, it's the overall musical mastery displayed in vocal tracks ("Capital C") as well as in instrumentals ("Rebel's Last Dance") that elevates this release into the upper echelon.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: December 23, 2003
Herden A. Daza
Lucid and Clean, their touch gives this disc a more authentic hip hop vibe, abse
Stop or You'll Go Blind
By Herden A. Daza
Wince at the Sun
[Red Bench Records, Dec. 2003]
Long before rhyming 'Escalade' with 'getting paid' scored an emcee a record contract, there was this thing called skill that people in hip hop used to earn their keep. An emcee had to present more than just a profitable image; he or she had to tell a story that used actual words instead of brand names. There were songs about getting a job, house-parties, politicians, asking girls out, and who was the baddest cat in the 'hood on a microphone, and all one needed to make a name for oneself was some time with a pen and a pad and a DJ-friend with a good beat.
Following in this rich tradition, the Himalayan Project have plied their craft with witty, playful lyrics and distilled, thoughtful production. Though the emcees now call Philadelphia their home, they earned their stripes in the Bay area, first getting together in high school in 1994. Collaborating on a demo in 1998, the pair solidified their sound and put their dream into motion. 2001 found the Himalayan Project's first full-length debut, "The Middle Passage," released to a mountain of praise from underground heads. Since then, many have been lying in wait for the next installment, "Wince at the Sun," with good reason; these cats are bad, and that is 'bad' as in very good.
Intelligent and socially aware, this disc finds the Himalayan Project speaking softly and brandishing the proverbial big stick. The portrait of rising from a "cultural slum where mediocrity is an art form for some" is lyrically sculpted in the first track, the B-side "Reaction." On the single, "Rebel Music," their mission to raise awareness through music is realized, speaking on the increase of the socioeconomic educational gap, terrorism and the misinterpretation of Islam, and overcoming apathy to affect social change. Reflecting on the destitute living conditions of third world countries, "Postcards from Paradise" constructs a somber depiction of life on the continent of Asia, from "babies layin' in the same puddle, riddled with mosquitoes the size of bald eagles" to a "cityside swept with murder, religious fervor."
Keeping it all tightly bound are beats produced by The Soulful MPs, a duo who go by Koozy Kooz and Zeeby Zeeb, respectively. Whatever subject Chee or Rainman decide to wax poetically on, The Soulful MPs do an outstanding job of making music that frames the lyrics just right and appeals to the proper emotions. Lucid and clean, their touch gives this disc a more authentic hip hop vibe absent from many recordings by more prominent artists. Together on this album, it seems that these four men could do no wrong.
Mired too long in albums that spew rampant consumerism from emcees that lean on profanity and malapropisms of English, hip-hoppers will find this album to be a pleasant surprise full up with freshness. Though a bit dense at times, this disc offers profound social-commentary to those whose ears are open for it and solid rhythms guaranteed to get heads nodding. A ray of light for activist-musicians, I hope that these guys never stop, lest we all go blind.
For information on tour dates, new releases and more, visit HimalayanProject.com.
Fearless and unrelenting...both intellectual and provoking
Wince at the Sun is the latest full throttle release by the hip-hop duo MCs Chee Malabar and Rainman of the Himalayan Project.
Wince at the Sun is an eloquent discourse on the oft oppressed and dismissed concerns of those who have borne the legacy of Western European imperialism.
Chee and Rainman take hip-hop back to its social core adding a modern edge that is both intellectual and provoking:
So who's saints? Sadam got napalm and things while we build nukes talking disarmament…To you my religion is seen as voodoo Fuck you, I'll consider Christ when your pope is Desmond Tutu-Rebel Music
Fearless and unrelenting Chee and Rainman forcefully challenge "accepted" history with lyrics and styles that speak volumes about a historical dialogue that is long over due:
Follow the stark stench of human's fuming disease where my people get by simply on ritual beliefs It's steeped deep in what the British did before they fled Left more than just English liquor, cricket, whiskey and tea Psychological damage, famines, but we manage cause even a rose grows through cracks in concrete and a lotus floats hope in the stream of the Ganges
-Postcards from Paradise
Although Wince at the Sun is primarily political, Chee and Malabar show off their mainstream interface with material that would put many established MCs to shame:
Pac's for the thugs and Hova's for the clubs I'm the one you forgot while you were lickin they nuts Fuck, don't get it twisted, I list em' as favorites too but radio's killin' my patience like Jack Kervokian-The Passion
In the end Wince at the Sun suffered from one major flaw: poor beats. While clearly innovative lyrically, the producers who orchestrated the tracks on Wince at the Sun did very little justice to Chee and Rainman's sharp, witty, and intellectual messages. The music on most tracks sounded the same and where songs end and began was difficult to discern. Suggestion, a REMIX album! Wince at the Sun deserves this honor!
Nevertheless, Wince at the Sun, is a much welcomed and overdue album lyrically, socially, and politically. Chee and Rainman are two men, who if given their well-deserved platform, would reinvigorate a nation about its history and ignite the belated racial/ethnic healing of America