Swet Shop Boys consist of British-Pakistani rapper Riz Mc and American-Indian rapper Heems alongside producer Redinho. and their politically charged, conscious rap music speaks about topics ranging from institutionalised racism to the daily experiences of being a brown person living in the west in today’s society tackling very important issues, many of which are provocative and sensitive. The title of this album hints at it’s subject matter with “Cashmere” being an anglicised version of the of the “Kashmir” region of the Indian subcontinent and upon listening I was immediately struck by how blunt and razor sharp the lyrics were. On a personal level for me this album was instantly relatable and refreshing to hear, as a young British-Asian rap music nerd. I have decided to write about the aspects of the album that I felt personally I could relate to and to show how well this album accurately portrays what It is like to be brown and living in the west.
Throughout listening to this album there were times when I was in stitches and times sat there in awe at how brazen the songs were as well as how much I recognised the topics discussed in my own life and experiences. This was immediately evident on the opening track “T5”, which features the excellent chorus “Oh no, we’re in trouble/TSA always wanna burst my bubble/Always get a random check when I rock the stubble”. It’s a common joke amongst me and other brown friends that we’re more likely to be pulled in for “random” searches when boarding a flight and that if we let our facial hair grow out too much we’ll get awkward and scared looks from (white) people. This set the stage perfectly for the rest of the album and I was so happy they had not toned anything down.
The track “No Fly List” was particularly relatable to me as it discusses professions being stereo-typically associated with being brown and the difficulty that comes with these associations; “Should have been an engineer/ Should have been a pharmacist/ Trying to make some culture/So I’m good when the karma hits/If I was a pharmacist/ I’d probably steal some Klonapin”. Here Heems speaks of how he has shunned these stereotypes in favour of a career in music and how he feels judged for this. This is of significance for myself as I am currently studying to become a doctor, a profession heavily associated with being brown in cultural stereotypes. In my youth I was dead against ever doing this however because I felt like I didn’t want to be a stereotype and it took some time for me to realise that actually, this was what I wanted and not to let the perceptions of others affect my decisions.
My favourite track on the album has to be “Shoes off”. It features the excellent hook “My shoes off at the mandir/My shoes off at the airport (airport x4)/My shoes off at the masjid, yo/My shoes off at the airport (airport x4)/My shoes off at Gurudwara/My shoes off at the airport (airport x4)/My shoes off at the temple (the temple!)/My shoes off at the airport (airport x4)”, using the metaphor of praying and “random” searches to highlight that irrespective of religion or culture, brown people are all subject to the same suspicion and abuse. This is something I have 100% experienced in my personal life; whilst being an atheist and coming from a Hindu family I have been subjected to Islamophobic abuse on many occasions. This has ranged from the subtle ignorance of “are you allowed to eat that” in school when I had ham sandwiches to bomb jokes and just outright nasty abuse. Obviously this sort of behaviour is out of order irrespective of who it’s being directed at but goes to show how lazy and ignorant some people can be when trying to harass you. I was very impressed by how this subtle and rhythmic chorus was able to convey a very important message that would be instantly relatable to Asian listeners.
Final track “Din-e-Ilahi” speaks of the difficulties of finding your own self identity as a “Western-Asian” person. This was the perfect way to close the album in my opinion and once again is something I have struggled with personally. I have had time in the past where I’ve been made to feel embarrassed or even ashamed of my heritage and also have had the reverse where other Asian people had mocked me for supposedly acting too “white” and have even been labelled a “coconut” in the past. The last verse “I guess ??/I feel we’re all connected, I feel like we should never be unkind to one another/Feel like that starts with yourself, feel like it starts from deep inside/But it’s difficult when you’re raised to hate yourself/And look in the mirror, and dye yourself, and it deflates your health/*Sigh* you can’t escape yourself, please love yourself, please love yourself” was really meaningful to me as it sums up perfectly my experiences coming to terms with my heritage and myself as a person and ultimately just accepting myself as I am.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album and felt genuinely happy to listen to rap music that I could relate to on a personal level. The clever wordplay and razor sharp lyrical wit used throughout were exceptionally impressive and delivered the messages present both subtly but at the same time bluntly and with nothing held back. Listening to this made me realise how important these issues were and made me reflect heavily on my own experiences and things that I take for granted just because of my skin colour. I very much look forward to hearing more music by Swet Shop Boys!