Heems & Lapgan, “LAFANDAR”

Amplified by booming bass and clever samples from the Chicago-based producer, the former Das Racist emcee’s first record in nine years is an unabashed celebration of rap.

Heems & Lapgan, LAFANDAR

Amplified by booming bass and clever samples from the Chicago-based producer, the former Das Racist emcee’s first record in nine years is an unabashed celebration of rap.

Words: Will Schube

February 29, 2024

Heems & Lapgan

Something I love about Heems is that he always seems slightly surprised that he came up with a rhyme as good as he did. There’s an episode of It’s Always Sunny where Dee and Charlie get really into what they call “Def Poetry.” Charlie does this thing where he gets more excited with each rhyme, impressed that these words are coming out of his mouth. The ex-Das Racist rapper sounds like that when he pulls off a hysterical bar or a particularly cold line. Obviously the words coming out of his mouth are qualitatively on a different planet than anything uttered on the long-running FX show, but Heems is obsessed with rap, the whimsy of words, and the joy that pulling off a particularly brilliant couplet can produce. 

It’s infectious, and his new project LAFANDAR is an unabashed celebration of this moment, repeated across ten tracks and amplified by booming bass and clever samples courtesy of Chicago-based producer Lapgan. It’s been nine years since a solo Heems album (he also released an LP and two EPs as Swet Shop Boys with Riz Ahmed between 2014 and 2017), and it speaks to his standing in the underground rap circuit that he’s gotten basically anyone he wants on the new project: Your Old Droog, Kool Keith, Mikey Rocks, Saul Williams, Fatboi Sharif, Quelle Chris, Open Mike Eagle. This is like an art-rap afterparty, at once a throwback to a bygone era and a pretty incisive look at where indie hip-hop is headed. Each song is stitched together with quotable bars, individual lines that’ll be ringing in your head for weeks after spinning LAFANDAR

Part of this record’s appeal is born from Heems’ desire to once and for all show just how talented he is on the mic. Because of the niche kitsch of Das Racist’s breakthrough in the late aughts, Heems has always been dogged by this idea that he can only rap in certain styles, only be funny in extreme ways; on LAFANDAR, he puts these notions to rest with unequivocal verve. (Side note: would “Pizza Hut/Taco Bell” have made DR the biggest TikTok success of all-time had it dropped in the 2020s? Or would the sheer amount of bullshit coursing through the web have made it harder to find?) The Queens emcee, now 38, is arguably not in what many would call the prime era of a rap career, and yet he sounds better than ever on the new LP—both smooth and aggressive, giggly but willing to bite your head off if you lob an insult or can’t come correct.

Maybe an album like this is targeted directly at me (it’s hard to imagine any other explanation when there’s a song titled after former Knicks power forward Obi Toppin and it features Kool Keith), but for people who like this sort of fun, easy, yet extremely clever rap music, it doesn’t get much better than this. Even Blu—an all-time emcee perennially relegated to a list of underrated rappers—makes an appearance on the rappity-rap thriller “Porches.” Heems goes bar for bar with both Blu and the aforementioned Quelle Chris, and the beat from Lapgan is one of his best on the project. “I’m at the ER, they thought I was an MD,” Heems raps. Do they allow music in the operating theater?