Pitchfork (Website) - "The two MCs make for a formidable pair on record, complimenting each other sonically while seeking out the overlap between their perspectives."
Audio Mixer: Redinho.
Amid anguished cries that the political edge is missing from modern music -- and at a time when there's a dire need -- the arrival of Cashmere couldn't be more fitting. A quick glance at global headlines shows an increasingly marginalized approach to our ethnic/cultural differences, none more affected than Western Muslims, and by implication -- and racial profiling -- anyone who bears a slight resemblance. The dynamic duo of Heems (of Das Racist notoriety) and Riz MC (aka Riz Ahmed, whom you may have seen acting in Nightcrawler, Four Lions, and The Night Of) have truly stepped up to represent voices often drowned out in Western media and art; add to that Redinho's melting-pot approach to production and you've got both the style and substance needed to drive the point home.
All three of them work well together as a case for representation, with Heems being Indian-American and Riz English-Pakistani. The fact is that the issues are shared on both sides of the Atlantic, and even though their situations have differences, the amount of common ground only highlights how broad post-9/11 prejudice has become. Lead single "T5" is the perfect dot-connector, with both MCs able to relate to their warped airport experiences. The humorous tone -- which prevails throughout the album -- borders on the absurd in places, but then racial profiling inhabits a realm of absurdity all of its own. Redinho -- who deftly combines sitars, tablas, and 808s -- acts as the gel between Western and South Asian influences, representing the true cultural identity of these artists; they're one, they're both, they're integrated.
The message isn't lost over the 35-minute running time, either. Whether you're hearing Heems' languid slur-rap style or Riz MC's deftly delivered verses, they remain focused, leaving nothing to vague interpretation, all the way down to the hat-tipping title of their record label, Customs. It's offset by the humor, of course, which works for two reasons: 1) these are definitely "if you didn't laugh, you would cry" issues that they're covering; 2) the comedic element makes the music harder to dismiss as preachy propaganda. Ultimately, politics and society have always been integral to hip-hop; the satirical angle isn't as common, and it stands out as a result.
It's a dense and lyrically challenging record, as you would expect from two highly intelligent individuals who have lived through the bars they deliver, but it ends on their most salient point: "Can't escape yourself, please love yourself," Riz MC's final words on "Din-e-llahi." They serve as a reminder to anyone fighting the tide of prejudice: don't give in and definitely don't blame yourself. In this context, there aren't a lot of musical places you could turn to find that sentiment. Now, at least, Swet Shop Boys have created one more. ~ Liam Martin