Find out what went down Last Wednesday when Swet Shop Boys headlined Webster Hall with openers Anik Khan and Donmonique.
The lines extended down the street outside Webster Hall as fans gathered for the sold out Swet Shop Boys show. This was by far the most diverse crowd I’d ever seen at Webster. There was a fair amount of South Asians: Indians, Bengalis, Pakistanis, Hindus, Muslims, Hijabis, but there were also plenty of Caucasians, East Asians, and African Americans.
What I liked most about looking down at the crowd wasn’t just the variety of people present, but that the Swet Shop boys created an atmosphere or “pop-up safe space” as Heems put it later in the night where everyone felt free to be themselves.
Opener Anik Khan had an amazing set. The Bengali-born, queens raised rapper found an early supporter in Heems who he says helped paved the way for artists like him. During his performance Anik showed the crowd how to do a traditional South Asian dance, often referred to as “changing the lightbulb” as he showcased his blend of Bollywood trap moves. He performed hits like “Obsession” with poignant lyrics like “Back to me getting back to this shit / From my backpack to my Black Activist shit / To my dad never had half of this shit / Have to get rich.” The crowd went wild for Anik and his South Asian / Middle Eastern samples. His upcoming debut project “Kites” is set to drop April 28th.
Following Anik was Brooklyn rapper Donmonique. Donmonique’s opened for acts like G Herbo and is most well known for her special blend of “thirst rap.” She opened with her hit “Drown” and finessed her way through technical difficulties. After Don performed the intro to “On Me” the track stopped playing, but Don carried on as if nothing went wrong. The only thing that did stop Donmonique was the crowd cheering so loudly that she had to ask to finish her verse. Donmonique showed all of us that night that she could have performed her set with no musical assist and still killed it.
Now anticipation was growing. With an hour to kill before The Swet Shop Boys performance the crowd was getting restless chanting “Swet Shop Boys” repeatedly. Heems got to the venue pretty early and would come out of the green room sporadically to check the openers. He seemed to be the perfect balance of lit and anxious. Whether or not Heems aka Himanshu Suri.
Aka @Nehrujackets was actually nervous is debatable, but regardless he looked undeniably cool. Heems wore a men’s kurta (South Asian shirt) with a traditional Nehru jacket paired with jeans and jordans.
Riz Ahmed, better known Riz MC, showed up later on in the evening wearing a fit reminiscent of 80s B Boys. He pulled up in a matching, all-black track suit and dad hat with white sneakers. When Riz arrived it was a like tornado swept across the area as people flocked to him on his way to the green room. Eventually the area upstairs was packed. As I watched from the balcony ledge, multiple people were leaning over me to catch a glimpse of the performance. One girl even stood on a table to see the show. One thing was clear from people’s eagerness – the crowd wasn’t just excited, they were fiending for Swet Shop Boys.
I can’t say I know a duo that compliments each other on stage, quite like Heems and Riz. Every time Riz MC got on the mic he spit with such passion and vigor. He really put his whole body into each verse and rhyme and jumped across stage with his old school hip hop moves. Heems on the other hand was more sluggish, cool and laidback and yet simultaneously more playful. He used the mic stand as a makeshift guitar, sway his arms around and occasionally pull out classic Bollywood moves. It was like watching the embodiment of Yin and Yang, push and pull.
The two opened with their recent hit “Zayn Malik” off the “Cashmere” album. When they burst onto the stage the energy was crazy. Riz paced back and forth on stage maintaining his hyped rhythm while Heems sauntered, showed love to the crowd and felt overwhelming love for New York. Up next the duo performed their socially/politically conscious song “Shottin.” Much of The Swet Shop Boys subject matter addresses the discrimination and marginalization of South Asians and Muslims providing a voice for many of those who feel voiceless. The lighting on stage was all blue during this bass heavy track when Riz gave an impassioned middle finger to the air rapping “Got him on tape saying he should make a bomb for them/ It got me thinking they wanted him too/ Phone tap, entrapped by the boys in blue.”
In light of recent events, Riz hilariously shouted out United Airlines before introducing the next track “No Fly List.” Riz truly is an entertainer, not only is he rapping and joking, but even his acting skills seep into his musical performances. When “Shoes off” comes on, his shoes come off. He waves it at the crowd before dropping it on stage and performing the rest of the song with only one shoe on. The two joked with the crowd the entire night, while simultaneously bringing up serious topics affecting them and thousands of other South Asians and Muslims. Heems kept shouting out Queens and jokingly asked if his cousin was present and asked the crowd to raise their hand if they were cousins.
Riz and Heems announced that Swet Shop Boys are dropping their EP “Sufi La” April 22nd, alternatively known as Record Store Day and even shared a few tracks with the audience. Of the tracks they previewed, “Need Moor” was my favorite probably because it sampled traditional Indian Tabla drums. All joking aside, Heems asked the crowd if they spoke Urdu, Hindi, or Punjabi before Riz got on the Mic to perform the next track. Riz got quite serious before performing an a capella version of his single “Sour Times” from his solo album Microscope. The hook “I’m losing my religion to tomorrows headlines” got resounding cheers before he even got to the first verse.
The two faked out the crowd before returning to close out the show with their hit “T5.” Riz and Heems were both amazing and as they left the stage Heems showed his gratitude to the crowd by bringing his hands together in a traditional Hindu greeting before taking blessings from the stage. Their personas on stage were entertaining, but this space really meant something to both of them. Swet Shop Boys are currently on tour. Check out their tour dates below: