Swet Shop Boys 4/12/17

(a) setlist

    1. Zayn Malik
    2. Shottin’
    3. No Fly List
    4. Shoes Off
    5. Tiger Hologram
    6. Phone Tap
    7. Half Mohgul Half Mowgli
    8. Soup Boys
    9. Sufi La
    10. Need Moor
    11. Aaja
    12. Sour Times


  1. Zombie
  2. Thas My Girl
  3. Benny Lava / Batalvi Medley
  4. Din-e-iLahi
  5. T5

(b) highlights

  • Riz Ahmed knows what is UP
  • Himanshu Suri aka Heems is my new style and confidence hero, what a dude
  • the crowd was wild and into every single song – nothing better than being in a crowd like that; it also ruled that so much of the crowd were punjabi, desi, and mostly people of color
  • “No Fly List,” “Shoes Off,” “Aaja,” and “T5” were stand-outs, which really are all thematically talking about the same things, but damn, those killed
  • “Sour Times” was shoot-you-through-the-heart devastating, moving, and incredible; can this song go viral? please? somehow?
  • the sound and lights were on-point, even from the back of the venue – it all looked and sounded solid

(c) lowlights

  • this performance absolutely did not need three openers, but I’m reaching because everything about the show was fantastic

(d) overall thoughts

Before this show, I’d only heard a couple of Swet Shop Boys songs through general osmosis. My roommate has been a fan of the group pretty much since the beginning and I’ve enjoyed Riz Ahmed’s work as an actor in movies like Nightcrawler and Rogue One, but that was all the background I had. So I went into this show knowing very little, and left a bonafide fan.

For those who don’t know, Swet Shop Boys are a rap trio consisting of Riz, a radical dude named Heems – formerly part of Das Racist – and producer Redinho. Riz is a practicing Muslim raised in Wembley in England and Heems is Hindi and from Queens, NYC, which greatly influences not only the subjects of their raps, but highlights vitally unique perspectives from voices that are otherwise silenced in 2017.

Even going in blind, it didn’t take me long to realize the crux of Swet Shop Boys; it’s all about being cool, being brown, and confronting the racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic garbage that the world throws at brown people. Just taking a look at their tracklisting alone proves that no topic is out-of-bounds, and no hate is tolerated. More than once, Riz commented that Webster Hall was a safe space for the night where people could be themselves and enjoy the music.

Even though I’m not really well-versed (no pun intended) in a lot of rap music, I was taken with Swet Shop Boys not simply because of what they were saying, but how melodic their verses were. While the lyrics themselves might not be for “everyone,” the music and beats that back them are approachable even to a casual fan. Ultimately, it’s impossible to not be moved or taken aback by the heart, vulnerability, and truth these guys speak. On “Sour Times,” Riz raps specifically about the Islamophobia in Britain, and even the terrorists that sully the name of Islam when he says, “Don’t you think it’s kind of strange that / all this terror outrage / These last gasp castaways / These bastards that will blast away / Just turned up in the last decade / When Islam has been the way for millions / From back in the day.”

Bottom line: Swet Shop Boys are doing incredible things for South Asian representation by speaking their own truth; as a white girl who doesn’t know much about rap but is interested in listening, I can’t wait to hear more from these guys. May their voices and all the other silenced voices behind them reach larger platforms for both their message and undeniable talent.


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