-by Frank Rodriguez
If you thought Himanshu Suri’s (of Das Racist, formerly Heems) Nehru Jackets mixtape was a bit overlong, you might consider he was only trying to put on his producer friend from high school, Mike Finito. The tape finds Heems’ sometimes-sedated raps buried in the mix by bright, filtered samples and jangling drums suggesting the gamut from My Bloody Valentine to Dipset Salad Days. We emailed about stuff.
Frank R.: Can you tell us about meeting Heems?
Mike Finito: Hima and I met back at Stuyvesant High School, which is a specialized high school. It’s in Manhattan, 3 blocks from where the World Trade Center used to be. It’s a gifted or magnet school, kids study for the entrance exam like it was the SATs. It’s basically a collection of the smartest kids in the city from all five boroughs. It’s also a compendium of the softest prepubescent people imaginable, forced to ride the train into the city that will later be at their feet like a welcome mat. But first, they’ve got to make it through the transit system before their skeletons have fully formed.
FR: Were all those nerds [at Stuyvesant] into rap, or were you guys weird for that?
MF: This was 1998 through 2002, so yeah. Wu-Tang Forever dropped like the year before. Juvenile sold almost five million albums that year. Everybody listened to Hot97. Some of the kids were obviously born to be mad scientists and only listened to classical. But there were very normal kids there too.
It did seem like me, Hima, and Dap cared a lot more about music than anyone else though. I would say there were maybe only a dozen or so kids that cared as much. And maybe like a handful that knew as much. Definitely though we seemed like the only people who could memorize entire albums of rap lyrics, but then also listened to a lot of rock apart from that. Hiphop listeners and creators at their best are really archivists of all music that know better than anyone how to draw on that storehouse of knowledge and pay homage to those who came before. Hiphop has always been the respectful son of music that’s been treated like shit in a billion different ways by a billion different people.
It’s important to know that we were like THE FIRST DUDES that had the ability to really love both hiphop and rock in that time period. It seemed like we were kin to the 80s when rock and hiphop people hung out at the same places, and took cues from one another. Like Melle Mel used to rock spiked bracelets, and Debbie Harry from Blondie was like the patron saint of a lot of rap dudes. It seems like that was before rock became a corporatized angst machine and before rap fell victim to media smear campaigns that gangsterized and cartoonified it.
FR: I feel that, especially on “Desi Shoegaze Taiko”.
MF: Yeah, “Desi Shoegaze Taiko” I wanted to make it sound sort of like that old Primitive Radio Gods song. But make it bang.
FR: On “Mike Finito Raps Too” you meaning rapping for a while before going back to college. Could you tell us about that?
MF: “Mike Finito Raps Too” was originally called “Queens Street Jhumpa.” Hima was on that one too, I wish he left his verse on there, it was one of my favorites. The story is, in 2008 I kind of shut off to hiphop. It felt like a total let down, nobody was saying anything insightful, rebellious, helpful, or clever. Add to that it started to feel like we were living in the future, and that hiphop, as the supposedly most innovative and rebellious artform, couldn’t even match normal life in terms of coming off as “advanced.” It was like the end of something I loved more than really anything, ever. But when we recorded that song last summer it felt like there was possibly some very fun, rejuvenating shit in the works in New York, as far as rap goes. It felt like the people who were starting to float to the surface just had similar reference points in terms of style, and were staring at the world in a similar state of disbelief, tired of how pathetic everything sounded. It also felt like the locus of people who were gonna take the mantle of being next up or whatever, was shifting to people I knew, or at least friends of friends. People I could easily imagine winding up drinking with until 5:00 AM, cracking jokes. Me and Dap used to go to this bar, during what both of us were pretty sure was the end of our lives. Then Dap and Hima met Despot there one night, and now they all perform for thousands of insane college kids at a clip. Which is a good plot twist.
I’m not enough of a maniac to have tried to “be a rapper” at any point in my life, that was always just a ridiculous and corny path to me. I don’t mean that as a disrespectful thing to the innovators at all. But seeing Hima, Vic, and Dap just straight take a shit on the entire world, while not giving a fuck, and having incredible fun while doing it helped me take hiphop off the pedestal in my own mind. But I literally stopped hanging out for like 2 years to finish school. I was trying to exorcise all the fun from my life. But seeing them basically create mildly viable lives grafted from the insanely fun atmosphere surrounding the shit we always talked, and the vice we partook in as 21 year olds, I had to be like “So I finished college… Wanna hang out again?” But especially Dap, anyone will tell you, it’s like being in a room with a lightning bolt that has a face. Anything out of that dude’s mouth can be on TV. So I always knew.
Also, I’m older, so I can’t be the dude wearing headphones in the middle of the street without an advanced degree, listening to rappers like 2-3 years younger than me.
FR: How’s the working relationship with Himanshu? Does he send you samples? I actually love the parts on the songs where Heems says “Mike says I should rap about ____.” I think on twitter you said you work IT? Did you tell Heems to rap about computers?
MF: Working with Hima is fun because it’s working with someone who completely knows where I’m coming from. It’s a very intuitive connection, if anything he’ll know when I’m holding back from being overly critical. But he’s a very oceanic dude, a wavy fellow. I feel like he’s at the top of his game when he’s being reflective. He contains multitudes.
The “Mike said rap about…” parts were really him just feeling justifiably exhausted, after touring an album he masterminded with Vic and Dap. And I guess wanting to give the listeners a glimpse into sitting around our boy Daniel Lynas’s studio. A lot of what makes Hima lovable is his willingness to not be overly serious, so right there he almost made it sound like he needed my guidance. He doesn’t. I learn way more from him than he does from me at this point.
Yeah I’m doing IT stuff right now, but I didn’t tell him to rap about computers on “Computers.” I think we both wanted him to write something really heartfelt about informatic society alienation from your “old life” and “ex-girl,” along the lines of the original. Which is why he didn’t. At all. Shit was getting too grandiose for a mixtape. And we needed a laugh.
FR: Am I wrong to read that reticence to put himself at the forefront into the mixing? His voice always seemed deep in the mix on the tape, more so than his Das Racist work.
MF: I would say that was mostly because I didn’t coordinate properly with Daniel, the engineer who recorded Hima’s vocals. I didn’t really leave any headroom in there for him to work any sort of magic. I like to mix every sound myself, so I’m sure for someone who is actually expertly trained in audio, my mixing contributions are “interesting” but nightmarishly frustrating. I also wanted to go for a dirtier sound than the DR records. That’s why Hima’s vocals may have sounded a little different. A lot of it was time constraints. Lynas’ place is awesome though and could not be more comfortable and conducive to making great material. He’s been a saint for years.
FR: I think it worked mostly, esp. on “You Have To Ride The Wave”. On that one the samples are filtering left to right and the rappers are swallowed up in a cool way. Could you talk about making that track?
MF: ”Ride The Wave” was originally something I was trying to do for Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire. I’d been racking my brain for like 2 weeks, trying to make the rawest thing imaginable for him. I wound up running it past Hima too who had to have it for his solo. And Hima pulled Danny Brown in when he was in town. I personally feel like rap was more intriguing when it sounded distorted, and like the rapper’s voice was cutting against the kick and snare. It creates another percussive dynamic, and highlights how pattern-based the whole thing is. It’s supposed to sound like a coded language you would want to crack. Nowadays rappers are too easily understood, there’s no mystique.
Hima was very intent on having that Arundhati Roy lecture excerpt in there in the beginning. And I wanted to make some urgent sounding shit to compliment her voice, which is very ethereal and sounds almost shaky. Everyone knows how dear identity politics are to Hima’s heart. But socially minded music almost always sounds woebegotten and lamentful and pussy. If you really want to make some kind of anti-establishment statement, at least make it SOUND like you can’t be fucked with. The Italian Futurists had it right, they saw speed and violence as beautiful, and used to meet at bars to beat the shit out of each other. But they were fascist, right-wing scum. Part of the reason DR is so loved is their willingness to de-romanticize rebellion. We literally live in the matrix at this point, so how can you try and make an oppositional statement with piano tinkles and soft drums? It’s like doing a whiny disservice to wherever you come from. If you want to make some rebel shit, sound like you made it in between disabling a satellite uplink that monitors a checkpoint in a city occupied by an imperialist power. Don’t make victim music.
FR: So Heems has said this is a showcase for you, where do you want to go next with everything?
MF: I’m doing a thing for Despot right now, and just did a joint for Childish Gambino that I think he’s gonna try and get Prodigy from Mobb Deep on.
I also owe Mr. eXquire like 5-10 beats. For the record him and Danny Brown are the only dudes I haven’t known or listened to for more than 10 years that I would really put something together for. I’ve been meaning to put together some wild Baltimore ghettotech shit for Lakutis.
I’m gonna put together a Nehru Jackets instrumental with Hima, maybe follow that up quickly with a beat tape.
The grand experiment, though, is to make an album in the vein of Psyence Fiction by UNKLE (DJ Shadow’s old side project). The first track off that with Kool G Rap made my head explode. But then it had folk singers on it too, like Alice Temple on some classic breakbeats chopped into some almost drum n bass shit, literally the sexiest thing I have ever heard.
I would love to get like, Lord Superb on a record with the lead singer from My Bloody Valentine. Or put Lake from QB on a track with Jane Weaver. Meyhem Lauren with Yukimi from Little Dragon. I also need to reach out to Roc Marciano, he’s been in my top 2-3 since 2004 with The U.N. Maybe Dapwell can sing on that one.Share