Lapgan Wasn't Trying To Make 'Nehru Jackets 2'

A chat with the producer behind Heems' new album. + reviews of Fatboi Sharif & Roper Williams + CRIMEAPPLE & Preservation

Lapgan Wasn't Trying To Make 'Nehru Jackets 2'
Lapgan. Photo credit: Manal Jakhar

Before we dive into this week's newsletter, I want to plug an upcoming show put on by our friends at Heads Know that I suspect a lot of you will be into...

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2024 may be just shy of two months old, but the year is swiftly proving to be a vindication of indie New York rap of the 2010s. Pro Era's own Chuck Strangers will share A Forsaken Lover's Plea, his first full-length for Lex Records, on March 15th. His fellow Beast Coast members Erick The Architect and AKTHESAVIOR are taking advantage of the downtime from their respective main groups, Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers, to pursue solo projects. The former's I've Never Been Here Before just dropped on Friday, while the latter's album u r not alone with lo-fi producer sagun arrives in April.

Add Heems to this unintentional trend of a New New York renaissance. Just the other week, the former Das Racist emcee and erstwhile Swet Shop Boy unveiled his first solo album in nearly a decade. Boasting fly features from everyone from Kool Keith to Cool Calm Pete, LAFANDAR serves not only as a comeback record from the Queens native born Himanshu Suri, but also as a platform to announce his new multi-pronged lifestyle brand Veena. After the sour note that Greedhead, his last public facing business venture, ended on, the rollout finds him in undeniably high spirits, attempting to execute a new vision after years away from the spotlight.

Worth noting here is that, even as he populated the guest spots on LAFANDAR with old friends and other established figures in rap, Heems assigned the album's production duties to a relative newcomer. "I was put on to Lapgan by Sean Mishra, who now manages him and also leads A+R for the Veena label," he says of the Chicago-based producer. "It immediately struck a chord with me and what I was trying to do when I made Nehru Jackets."

If you ask Lapgan himself, however, he insists that he wasn't looking to make a sequel to that storied 2012 mixtape. "I wasn't thinking about too much about the previous work," he says of his approach to LAFANDAR. "In terms of the creation process, I was just trying to do the best that I could. And there's definitely some varied beats on the album. It's not all Indian samples."

Even still, some will hear parallels with what Heems did with producer Mike Finito more than a decade prior–not the least of which being Heems himself. "I see LAFANDAR as a follow up to Nehru Jackets," he declares without reservation, adding a quip for good measure. "Mike and I back then would joke about a sequel called Nehru Jackets 2: Electric Vindaloo."

Born to Indian parents who moved from London to New York before settling the family down in the Chicago suburbs, Lapgan's origin story hinges on that period in the 2010s when New York's hip-hop underground was thriving amid a new fresh iteration. "I don't think it was until high school that I started really even listening to proper hip hop," Lapgan admits. "I had some friends who introduced me to Tribe and I remember hearing 'Award Tour' and that was a [switch] flip moment for me when I first heard that beat."

Prior to that period, Lapgan's listening leaned more into what his parents played at home, not the least of which being Bollywood soundtracks. In his teens, he caught whatever the other kids were bumping, including notable mid-to-late 2000s stuff garnering national attention by locals Common and Kanye West, but those Midwest stars weren't exactly a defining part his musical identity. In fact, it wasn't until college that a New York beatmaker truly caught Lapgan's ear, albeit in an unlikely place.

During a trip to Nicaragua, where he helped build houses with other service-minded students, he ended up riding in a car with one of the program's organizers, who just so happened to have excellent taste. "She was playing 'Grape Nuts and Chalk Sauce,'" he says, referring to the Blockhead track off of his 2007 LP Uncle Tony's Coloring Book. "That was definitely a moment where it's like, oh, this is super dope. And so I dove into a ton of Blockhead after that."

After college, Lapgan soon became a fan of the beat scene, citing Flying Lotus, Tokimonsta, and the Low End Theory crew as meaningful amid his creative journey. Though geography kept him from attending the now-defunct party, he found community online with others who were into these sounds. And, with the help of a musically-inclined cousin who showed him the Ableton ropes, he was on his way to making beats of his own.

"I'd always loved sample-based music," Lapgan says of his now-preferred approach to creation. "The first time actually playing with it was a super fun experience that opened a whole new door." His early experiments owed a great deal to FlyLo and Dilla, only discovering the latter thanks to the former. "I was trying to emulate what people were doing at that point. I would just go to my local record stores and bargain bins to try and find cool looking records, or stuff with cool instruments on it, and then go home and mess around."

Lapgan's so-called eureka moment came when he sampled an Indian record for the first time. "I felt something kind of special and different," he says. "From there, I started more intentionally thinking about what I was trying to dig and what to look for in terms of sample sources." He plundered his parents' vinyl collection, dug through crates in the nebulous international sections of Chicago record stores, and slowly but surely built up an initial base of material to pull from. Whether the Indian classical music of Ravi Shankar or the film scores of Ilaiyaraaja, he worked against the odds to find as much as he could get his hands on. YouTube certainly helped, but that came later, only after he'd amassed more knowledge of what to seek out in the first place.

Meanwhile, Lapgan continued to consume and absorb what American beat makers were doing, especially Madlib. Records like Beat Konducta In India and 2009's Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) album The Ecstatic were easy favorites. "'Auditorium' is one of my all time favorite tracks," he says of the latter album's Madlib-helmed highlight. "In terms of Indian sampling, that's the grail. That's almost the perfect beat." He expresses deep admiration for the way the Oxnard, CA producer treats his sources, staying largely true to the original sounds even as he folds then into a hip-hop context. "It was not as much like crazy chopping, but just finding these beautiful segments and loops and letting that shine. That style is very influential to me."

After years of navigating a limited supply stateside, a trip to India in 2019 proved to be precisely what Lapgan needed. "When I first went to India with the intention of looking for records, I hadn't actually released any music," he says, referring to it as a learning phase. "In terms of sound, I knew what kind of stuff I was looking for and listening for, but I wasn't super familiar with all the old records." In Old Delhi, he went in search of a place called Shah Music Centre, admittedly getting lost along the way amid all of the other stalls and shops. Once he found it, he spent three hours chatting with the proprietor who played him record after record. "The whole thing was a treasure trove of all these Bollywood records. I bought a bunch of stuff."

Since then, Lapgan has released three instrumental albums, the most recent being 2023's History, incidentally Veena's inaugural music release. The first two relied on the sorts of records he found in Old Delhi, while the third found him exploring decidedly different sources. "History was kind of moving away from film scores alone and getting into music from different parts of India, some more classical stuff, some more religious stuff," he says.

"I'm actually going to India in a few hours, so I'm thinking about what I'm going to be digging for this time. There's so much more to explore."

LAFANDAR, by Heems, Lapgan
12 track album

CRIMEAPPLE & Preservation, El Leòn (buy it / stream it)

Preservation’s production previously graced projects with Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def), Ka, and, more recently, billy woods. Clearly in the midst of a creative renaissance, he teams here with all-caps Colombian CRIMEAPPLE. As coke rappers go, he’s a heavyweight contender, emphasis on the weight. Soundtracked by sumptuous and cinematic beats, he proves clever and specific with his references on “Hunting Methods” and “Paw Prints In The Sand,” yet still makes room for a knockout punchline. (Take this one from “Camino Solitario”: I think of a gram / It ain’t where you could leave a comment). Elsewhere, he trades boss level bars with the legend Sadat X on “Don’t Mention It,” then shares comic book lore and insider pride on “Melena Dorada” with frequent collaborator RLX. But it’s his cumbia-accented ode to Moms–“Quanto Te Quiero"–that really raises the ceiling for his already high altitude lyricism. 

Fatboi Sharif & Roper Williams, Something About Shirley (buy it / stream it)

Like Suicide if Alan Vega and Marty Rev grew up on hip-hop instead of bubblegum pop, Fatboi Sharif and Roper Williams embrace the esoteric and unsettlingly odd. Dropped on Valentine’s Day as anything but a love letter, their latest collab Something About Shirley synthesizes their pre-existing mqcabre aesthetic into a ten minute death trip. Seedy and psychedelic, the single track features the New Jersey orator spouting his now-signature stream of disconcerting poetry. Behind his varicose verse lies an audio collage thick with subtext and subtlety, its samples and sonics burrowing into the ear with sinister intent. Designed to be consumed in one short sitting, while far too intricate to be fully understood without repeat listens, it’s the Adult Swim-generation equivalent of Prince Paul’s Psychoanalysis. In its final two minutes, the harrowing becomes heart-stopping, Sharif sharing more than one would expect about his presumed state of mind. 

Three new tracks for you to snack on...

bbymutha, "go!"

Fuego Base, "10 At A Time"


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