British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed and Indian-American rapper Himanshu Suri have joined forces to form a new rap project called Swetshop Boys. It marks a first for Ahmed, in that he’s never collaborated with another rapper before. “It's pushed me to work in different ways. Hima [Suri] shoots from the hip in a way that is amazing, he just cooks up a verse and nails it in no time. My process is much more about tweaking stuff,” he says, in an exclusive interview with ELLE.
“With SSB I think it was important to try and make something very authentically Asian – genuinely embedded in the culture, and also kind of swaggy.”
It’s a political riff on the Pet Shop Boys.
“We had been in touch online for a while. When I was in New York for the TriBeCa premiere of The Reluctant Fundamentalist we met up, and I told Hima I had this idea for a band on the flight over... All I really had was the name, Swetshop Boys, and it felt right just from that really; flipping the glamour of the Pet Shop Boys into something political and from the perspective of a South Asian underdog.”
It’s a genre-bending rap project.
“We want to fuse our musical roots – rap, grime and bass music with bhangra, qawwali and Bollywood – and do it in a way that feels real, it isn’t a gimmick. It’s about taking pride in that dual heritage and exploring it.”
It’s bringing ‘Benny Lava’ back.
“‘Benny Lava’ is a famous YouTube video of a Prabhudheva song with English subtitles – laughing at our culture from an outsider’s perspective. We took that track and turned it into something we hope people can be proud of. Hima got the beat from [Canadian DJ and producer] Ryan Hemsworth and it was sick.”
It's not all they have up their sleeve.
"We have a an EP in the works, slated for release in June this year. It's taken a while because of the distance and we're both busy doing a lot of other stuff. I have my acting work, my own album and I'm directing a short film; Hima has his album and label. The tracks as I see them, are really just a reflection of us, the contradictions and cultures that we are. It's been refreshing to deal with identity directly but also a way that doesn't take itself too seriously."