One time at SXSW, Heems materialized out of a crowd of bucket hats and Alien Body gear and kissed Franki Chan and I at the same time. I hadn’t met him before, but when a beautiful Indian man’s face winds up in/on yours, you thank whatever based god you seance to and go with it.
He pulled away, paused, and asked if we “liked boys.” His eyes were deadpan and sort of glazed over which was saucy, but before I could respond, he disappeared into the night. I was sad to wash his drunk spit off my face later that night, although I think it made a beautiful contribution to the Austin public water system. Naturally, I’ve been trying to interview him for this sex column ever since.
That, and because Heems is an outspoken person. His music is inherently political, he’s opinionated and intelligent, and most importantly of all, he’s the anti-prude. Yet, despite his openness with his opinion, he’s surprisingly reserved when it comes to his own sex life.
“I’m actually pretty conservative when it comes to sex” he told me when I called him. That surprised me. There seems to be a dichotomy to Heems; one side of him is forthright, the other is mysterious.
So, of all people, I was interested in what he had to say about sex … and good lordy lord did he have some insight. We talked about the intersection of sex and music, male objectification, and what it’s like to fuck hoes in different area codes/ continents. That, and a lot more.
Read on and try to contain your erection.
You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to get artists to talk to me about sex. Why are people in this industry so scared to talk about sex and sexuality, yet so open to singing and rapping about it? I think it’s more related to the questions that media asks. It might be more that the media is afraid to talk about it. As artists, we’re always asked about our projects and inspirations or whatever … people are rarely like, “Who are you hooking up with?” We’re in an age where people tend to share a lot about themselves and sexuality usually isn’t a part of that.
Do you wish the media would ask you more questions about sex? Personally, I tend to communicate more with people who are open about sexuality, or are at least progressive about it. If someone wants to talk, I’m down. I wouldn’t say I wish I got more questions about it though.
What about more generally? Is sex something the media should be artists asking about? Definitely, if it’s something that can lead to a greater understanding. I’d like to see more artists talk about homophobia.
It seems like today, the most attention sexuality gets in the media is when someone says a type of music is misogynistic or sexist. Why is it easier to talk about sex negatively? I know that in my music, I try to avoid that. I’m not trying to objectify women … but at the same time, it really took me about five albums to open up about relationships, intimacy or sexuality. My previous albums were much more political.
What do you mean it took five albums? I was just into politics. My own personal experiences weren’t as inspiring at the time. I didn’t want to objectify or reduce women to purely sexual objects, so I stuck to non-sexual topics. But my new album is about my own experiences with love and heartbreak and that kind of thing, so it became easier to talk about it in that sense.
How do you write about sex without objectifying? It’s a delicate balance. You try to write a song with a story with characters, and you have to make sure those characters have the right ideas about sex. Sex is such a subjective thing, it’s hard to talk about sex intelligently. People will always have an opinion about what you say, even if it’s not what you intended them to hear.
In your video for “Sometimes,” you dealt with what a lot of people are calling sexual racism. Is that accurate? That video is about insecurity in interracial dating and fetishization of dark skin. In it, there’s a black man (Eric Andre) dating a white woman, and he tries to lighten his skin with this special cream so she’ll be more interested in him. But at the end, she actually ends up preferring a much darker-skinned man (Hannibal Buress). If you’ve been in an interracial relationship, it’s something you can relate to.
Where did you get idea for that? I was in India two years ago, and I saw an ad for a guru who was advertising two products. One was the skin lightening cream and the other was addiction therapy, and the ad had all this Indian god imagery around it, to make it seem like the “right way” or something. It was just surreal to see skin lightening mixed in with Indian gods, and to see those gods put into the context of America where white is the standard.
In India, is westernized sexuality as influential as American music right now? India is becoming more progressive. Thirteen years ago there was no kissing in films, now there is. But at the same time, there’s rampant misogyny there. There’s a rape culture. There’s a debate going on right now about what type of rape is okay. Then there’s the whole class system thing … the working class has much more conservative views on sexuality, but if you’re talking about the upper class, sexuality is no different than in Western cultures. People have money there, people are educated. Kids go to school in the U.S. and the U.K. and come back with really liberal views.
But as much as India’s been influenced by American culture, America is now appropriating and also sexualizing Indian culture. Have you seen Major Lazer’s “Lean On” video? Yeah, when I see shit like that I get angry … but only because who even has enough money to shoot in India? That’s fucking dope.
Men get sexually objectified too though, but in an entirely different way. It’s not so much about sexuality as it is about power. One interesting thing to think about is that South Asian men have been sexualized in Western pop culture, but not East Asian men. Why is that? There’s this image of the Indian man as this shirtless jungle man who “takes” white women, but you rarely see that with East Asian men, which is odd to me. I don’t understand the tendency to sexualize some beings more than others.
But that boils down to fetishism. Or just conservative attitudes that teach that being comfortable with your sexuality is something to look down upon. But the way people portray minority communities as overly sexualized is just another way that white supremacy works. That’s a way to exert power. It’s interesting to me, because our conversation is about sexuality, but we’ve gone over so many different ways that it applies to so many different things.
Exactly. Are there any artists that approach sex in a way you admire? J.Cole is doing some interesting stuff right now. “Wet Dreams” is an interesting song. He’s putting his first sexual experience in a rap song and making that private stuff public. It was kind of a vulnerable thing he did writing about how he acted like he knew more about sex than he actually did … you either have to have a lot of confidence or a lot of insecurity to talk about sex like that. That’s a much more interesting way to talk about it than being like “I get my dick sucked.”
What’s your best sexual experience? I can’t even pick one because they’ve been interesting for different reasons. For me, sex has been about being in different cities for different amounts of time connecting with people. It’s interesting meeting girls in Nepal, Japan China, India and then in the U.S. There’s situations in which I learn about sexuality in other cultures. As far as when I’ve been gratified the most sexually, it was when I was into the girl the most. But besides that longer term kind of thing, I guess touring has been the best.
So, you’re really into vacation sex? I mean there’s so much novelty. The stakes aren’t high, you have nothing to lose, so there are less inhibitions. Yeah, which is is the opposite of traveling with your girlfriend! Either you have great sex or you fight. You really have to make sure you travel with the right girl because it doesn’t always work well.
How is foreign sex different from sex in America? In other countries, there are a lot more grown women being worried about their housekeeper or parents finding out or thinking less of them because I’m there the next morning. There have been times where grown ass women have kicked me out because their maid was coming and they thought they’d talk shit in the town. But it kind of makes me feel wrong, which is also nice. There’s kind of that teen love playfulness when you’re worried you’ll get caught. You really don’t see that in New York.
I hear you recently came out as asexual? Sex is just not the most important thing to me. The sad thing is that when you say shit like that though, you kind of get shamed by your friends. I was hanging out with some people the other day, and we were all talking about what it’s like to be a rapper. Someone was like, “How many Instagram models have you banged?” to me. That’s all he cared about. He wasn’t wondering what it’s like rapping or being Indian or anything he just wanted to know the number of Instagram models I’ve been with. There’s this idea about shaming men who are positive about women.
So … you’re not asexual. Haha, it’s an exaggeration. I just mean that my interests extend past the physical. Really I’m just interested in getting high!
Aren’t we all though? Check out Heems’ new album Eat. Pray. Thug. which is now out and about all over the internet, and cross your fingers that he comes through LA to play a show sometime soon. If he does, I’ll be there, waiting with really fresh breath.