Riz Ahmed on the swag of Swetshop Boys


Riz Ahmed on the swag of Swetshop Boys

British actor Riz Ahmed on his “swaggy” new rap project, which is all about South Asian pride

By Sonam Savlani  March 21st, 2014

British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed and Indian-American rapper Himanshu Suri have joined forces to form a new rap project called Swetshop Boys. It marks a first for Ahmed, in that he’s never collaborated with another rapper before. “It’s pushed me to work in different ways. Hima [Suri] shoots from the hip in a way that is amazing, he just cooks up a verse and nails it in no time. My process is much more about tweaking stuff,” he says, in an exclusive interview with ELLE.

It’s real.

“With SSB I think it was important to try and make something very authentically Asian – genuinely embedded in the culture, and also kind of swaggy.”  

It’s a political riff on the Pet Shop Boys.

“We had been in touch online for a while. When I was in New York for the TriBeCa premiere of The Reluctant Fundamentalist we met up, and I told Hima I had this idea for a band on the flight over… All I really had was the name, Swetshop Boys, and it felt right just from that really; flipping the glamour of the Pet Shop Boys into something political and from the perspective of a South Asian underdog.”

It’s a genre-bending rap project.

“We want to fuse our musical roots – rap, grime and bass music with bhangra, qawwali and Bollywood – and do it in a way that feels real, it isn’t a gimmick. It’s about taking pride in that dual heritage and exploring it.”

It’s bringing ‘Benny Lava’ back.

“‘Benny Lava’ is a famous YouTube video of a Prabhudheva song with English subtitles – laughing at our culture from an outsider’s perspective. We took that track and turned it into something we hope people can be proud of. Hima got the beat from [Canadian DJ and producer] Ryan Hemsworth and it was sick.”

It’s not all they have up their sleeve.

“We have a an EP in the works, slated for release in June this year. It’s taken a while because of the distance and we’re both busy doing a lot of other stuff. I have my acting work, my own album and I’m directing a short film; Hima has his album and label. The tracks as I see them, are really just a reflection of us, the contradictions and cultures that we are. It’s been refreshing to deal with identity directly but also a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously.”