Pizza talk with SUPREME HEEMS.

Famous local rapper SUPREME HEEMS pointing at a framed picture of me in the pizzeria.
Himanshu Suri AKA Supreme Heems is one third of local awesome rap trio Das Racist and works with local awesome nonprofit SEVA NY. He is a nice guy and very smart and a fan of Slice Harvester so obviously he has good taste. We met at Carmine's Original on Norman Ave in Greenpoint to talk bullshit for a little while.

You wanna talk pizza?
I like that when you’re sick and you’re sweating and you don’t even have an appetite you can still eat pizza. Ginger ale and pizza. No matter how sick I am, if I need to eat just for sustenance, there’s pizza. Sometimes eating become just chewing and swallowing like breathing and sleeping. But pizza is somehow still enjoyable even when you’re just masticating to live.

You do the cheese slices, right? I used to get a chicken slice from this one place, and I’d walk in and the guy would make fun of me like, “waddayoo want, you wanna SUPREME, big man? You want a SUPREME?” which was like their big meat lovers slice. So then my friends started calling me Supreme for a while, but it never caught on. Now I wish it did.

Yeah, that’d be awesome. Supreme Heems.

And not cause of the clothing brand or because I’m cool, but cause I like eating heavy slices of pizza.

What’s your favorite pizza related memory?

Our Place 2. It’s a little arcade in Queens. In elementary school everyone would have their parties there. White, Indian, Black, Chinese. Queens. So we’d always go to Our Place 2. Drink soda, eat pizza, play video games. And I don’t know, I bet they closed down now, but if I could, man, I’d love to do a show there, and just have a pizza party for my friends there.

You know, as the drugs and shit became more common I really started missing the days of yore with pizza parties. I mean, obviously, pizza’s the greatest thing. If you could have a party with just pizza, no alcohol, even as a 26 year old I’d thoroughly enjoy a pizza party.

I don’t drink anymore and I have to find all kinds of new ways to be excited about being alive…

Pizza still does it?

Pizza still does it. Every time.

See that’s what I’m saying, man. That’s how you know it’s great.

You’ve toured all over the world. Have you eaten any weird pizza elsewhere?

Nah, not on tour. But I ate the pizza when I was a kid when I would go to India every now and then. It became more popular. But I mean, growing up in New York pizza and Chinese food were the two things I would eat if I wasn’t gonna eat Indian food. So when I went to Indian it was cool because as things changed I got pizza and Chinese food there.

I’ve been around the world, I’ve had pizza pretty much everywhere. Sometimes I’m like, “why am I even doing this? Why am I eating this?” Wherever I go I just miss the pizza and I miss the bagels.

This is a good segue, you talking about India. Let’s discuss Dosa Hunt! In a way I feel like it’s very similar to what I was trying to do with Slice Harvester.

In a way. But it was also just about bringing Brown people together to do something almost mundane. For me, a pizza-obsessed Indian musician, if I was like, fifteen and I saw that group of like, seven Brown dudes in a van going to eat pizza, dosas, whatever I would’ve been like, “this is cool!” It almost would’ve been funnier maybe if we’d have done a pizza hunt.

Where was the best dosa, though?

In my opinion, Dosa Hutt in Flushing next to the Temple Canteen. I think the Temple Canteen is just as good, but I get irked out there cause it’s in the temple and it’s weird. It’s a South Indian temple so I feel especially weird being there. If it was my temple I’d just be like, “get all these white people outta here.”

Pizza used to be a Weird Ethnic Food and now it is Death Culture Sustenance. Do you think when Indian Americans are ultimately absorbed into the amorphous Honky Culture Vacuum, dosas will be synonymous with the spectral remnants of your once vibrant culture?

Well see, that’s why I wanna get ahead of the curve for that. One of my things I’m saving up rap money for is like, a casual Indian dining restaurant. Something quick, like pizza. Dosas is one of the things. Indian pizza’s becoming a thing. In San Francisco there’s that place that does the pizza with all the Indian spices.

Zante's! That place is phenomenal! I don’t know why there’s none of that here.

In New York it’s different because we had Singas Famous Pizza, so all the Indians go to Singas because it was in Flushing, and all the Indians came to Jackson Heights or Flushing. Singas started in Elmhurst, it’s Queens pizza. But for some reason Indians always just stuck to that type of pizza here. 

One of those guys started Bellerose Famous Pizza in my neighborhood, in Bellerose. And at Bellerose they would have like, Chicken Tikka Paneer on a slice and stuff, but it never really caught on.

But at Zante’s in San Francisco they go all kinds of stuff…

Yeah, I mean, it’s good. It’s not bad. But when I want pizza I want tomato sauce. Or even just pesto or a white slice. I had pizza last night. I had one with ricotta, mozzarella, pesto, prosciutto crudo and some onions and garlic on top.

One of the challenges about Slice Harvester was how to stay interested, because I’m just talking about pizza all day long. And one of the things that I thought was kind of an interesting narrative about pizza in America was the story of immigrant communities and how they either establish a unique identity while still becoming part of the larger culture or just get totally assimilated.

And I’m not really familiar with the work you do with SEVA, necessarily, but I’m curious about that, because that’s been something that’s made me interested in you as an artist. I feel like you have this nihilist hipster vibe to a lot of what you do, and it’s juxtaposed with this totally genuine interest in your community that I think is absent from a lot of your peers.

So tell me about SEVA. What does SEVA do?

SEVA was started by two neighbors who lived on different sides of a block that was cut into two voting districts. One of the things that I started working with them on was just raising awareness about redistricting and gerrymandering in Richmond Hill. Our community was turned into seven different districts, when like, a large percentage of that community falls under the banner of “immigrant” which should make it a Community of Interest, a legal term which means it should be its own district.

And splitting the district essentially disempowers the whole community as a unified voting block?

Well, what happens is, let’s say you need enough people for your white district, so you’ll be like, “let’s cut a little of Richmond Hill. They’re immigrants, they don’t care who they vote for.” You need a little for your Black district, for your Jewish district, your Italian district… these districts are set up so that like, a certain amount of the district is a specific race that will vote for a certain type of candidate, and the rest just cuts out of Richmond Hill.

The fact is, they’re all immigrants, like my parents, who might vote in a national election and contribute largely to the taxes that the county, the city, the state make, but really have no voice in local politics. And it’s about time that these politicians just be like, “alright, these Indian people actually care and now we have to do shit for them or they won’t vote for us.”

And they need to be empowered as a community to have a say in local politics.

Yeah! If you’re an old white lady you can get on the phone and be like, “these kids are making a lot of noise outside and that traffic light means a lotta honking” and then your district person will be like, “listen Mrs. Williams, we’re gonna do what we can.” Old people vote.

But then some Indian person with an accent calls and says that the fire department is bothering their temple because they say that we’re over capacity, they’re not gonna know who to call to get a permit or nothing like that. And that’s what one of my good friends I grew up with, Ali Najmi, is doing. He works with SEVA. He called me and told me he was doing that shit and I was just like, “What the hell am I doing? Rapping about race in this vague way that still makes it comfortable enough for white people to laugh at.” I just felt like that was a contradiction. You know, I’m from New York, I’m not somebody that’s apathetic about shit.

I think it’s important, but it’s also incredibly rare to see someone that talks shit about something and then is also, in their free time, doing something about the problems they’re kvetching about on tape….

Yeah, thanks.

Okay, I have one more really ridiculous question. According to this book, Hot Rappers by B.S. Watson, in the chapter about MC Hammer, entitled “You Can’t Touch Him,” he says, “one of Hammer’s great contributions to rap was his use of dance. Until Hammer came onto the scene, dance was not a part of rap. When rap first started rappers would just pace back and forth across the stage as they talked to the audience.”

I wanna know, where do you think your microphone air-guitaring and Dap’s dancing fit into this lineage?

Well, I do glide across the stage like Usher. I do a little bit of a Usher type of... remember (sings) “you make me wanna leave the one I’m with…” or maybe it was “She Likes It My Way,” one of those joints he was doing some crazy foot shit where he was just sliding across a junkyard or something…

Do you deliberately create a theatrical element to your stage show?

Well, it’s on stage so there’s no deliberate attempt, it’s theatrical by nature. People are standing there looking at you and you’re gonna be like, “either stop looking at me or enjoy looking at me.” So you’re gonna do something. I mean I think a lot of rappers do kind of stand around and look fatigued and stoned and it’s like karaoke, but if you go to a rap show and it’s that type of rap show, that’s what you’re going to see.

We get up there and I air guitar and slide like Usher. And the air guitar, it has it’s place. I just think a lot of these rock guys think they’re cool cause they can shred and they sleep on us rappers but us rappers be shredding too, we just do it in our own way. You know punks think it’s cool to not even be good at their instrument or whatever. I don’t even have an instrument, b, how punk is that?

(laughter) Yeah. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about. I grew up kind of simultaneously heavily involved in the downtown punk scene and then kind of tangentially involved as a spectator in the like, Rawkus Records rap shit that was going on in the 90s/early-00s. And one thing that always struck me was how collaborative rap was in this way that punk never could be. Like it doesn’t matter if Dirk Dirt from Sick Society comes and plays guitar for one song on the Cop Stompers 7” because Sick Society and Cop Stompers probably sound exactly the same anyway and besides, bands are these units. Whereas rap is more a collection of loosely affiliated but still totally autonomous individuals.

Yeah, it’s mad collaborative. Not every rapper will work with only one producer on an album, so you’re already just a freelancing rapper who needs musicians that make beats. So I get seven songs and I need seven beats from seven of my friends and that’s collaboration right there. And then I get more of my friends to rap on the songs with me. But you know, at least two dudes in each rock band make beats on their laptop and just don’t know any rappers to rap on them.

I used to rap when I was a kid. I think everyone in New York used to rap when they were a kid.

Yeah, it’s just what you do. You’re already drinking forties and smoking blunts, it’s just the third thing to do. You need a third thing.