In Conversation with Riz MC

Ex-Das Racist Indian-American rapper Heems and London based Pakistani-origin actor/rapper Riz MC are the duo behind Swet Shop Boys. Most people recognize Riz MC as Changez from Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Heems will tour India this month.

Neither London actor/rapper Riz MC nor New York based rapper Heems are strangers to putting out racially charged rap. When the duo joined hands to form Swet Shop Boys, it was bound to turn a few heads. They took Benny Lava, something that was ridiculed from an outsider’s perspective, and made it cool. Clad in kurtas and pathanis, the duo battle stereotypes, skin colour issues and display pride in their desi-ness.

Q. How'd you come up with the lyrics for your part?

It was the first thing we recorded together - it's kind of setting up the whole concept of the Swet Shop Boys - Hima's flow is more US rap so I wanted to come with a more UK double time style - like we have in grime music.

Q. The lyrics seem to be proclaiming and exploring an identity. Can you elaborate on that?

Yea we both have a kind of dual identity - we both have roots on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, and we're both desi as well as very much being Londoners and New Yorkers. I feel like we wanted to offer up a different version of how these identities could collide in a creative way. We talk about identity, a certain kind of underdog status, joining up the dots of the South Asian diaspora. But the response has been from all sectors - white, black, as well as a strong response from brown youth.

Q. There also seems to be a lot of reference to skin colour. Can you elaborate on that?

I talk about being photo shopped to be less dark on a film poster. That’s never happened to me, to my knowledge, but I wouldn't be surprised. It happens all the time. The fairness cream industry is the tip of a very troubling iceberg in terms of how we see ourselves as non-white people.

Q. Was dressing in a studded leather jacket over a pathani a conscious decision?

Yea, it just felt natural to what the whole concept is.

Q. What'd you mean by "melanin farmer"?

Both me and Hima have been lucky cause our work has resonated outside of racial boundaries, and it goes beyond that - but sometimes as an artist or an actor of colour you find yourself commodifying your ethnicity, you almost don't have a choice - it's the only way your voice or presence is valued in the wider cultural conversation. So this line is about finding yourself in that position - farming out your colour like some kind of cash crop, being shackled to it as well as surviving because of it.

Q. What's next in store for the Swet Shop Boys?

More music. We might shoot a video in Pakistan soon.

Q. Naseem Hamed, Michael Jackson, Goodess Gracious Me. Have these things played a major role in your life while growing up?

YES. Huge.

Q. Is this also an attempt to introduce these things to the desi youth of today?

Back then, we had these things to look up to growing up in the diaspora. Today other people are playing that role; I wanna be a part of playing that role for young people today.