Cashmere, the debut record from hip-hop group Swet Shop Boys, is a record that exists of no specific place.

A transatlantic collaboration which pulls inspiration from South Asian music styles, it's a rallying cry for multiculturalism at a time when the US and UK seems to be turning ever inwards. That shouldn't be a surprise for those familiar with the work of Swet Shop Boys' two MCs. Heems and Riz MC are known for the socio-political focus of their music, as well as their activism. Backed by producer Redinho, the result is an astonishing record that hits hard in terms of lyrical themes and beats. We caught up with the trio to find out more about how the project came about.

"I came across Riz's work back in 2006," Heems explains, "and so I hit him up on Twitter." It started a connection that Riz later made use of whilst researching for the pilot of HBO's The Night Of. "He wanted to know about Queens, so [got in touch] and we finally met," he continues. They got talking and found that, despite their transatlantic differences, there was a lot of similarities in the paths they'd taken, and their roots.

Sweet Shop Boys, as an idea didn't come into play until after that, and at first was simply a name Riz had latched on to. "I felt it said a lot already," Riz tells me. "I just kind of mentioned it to Heems, pretty much the second time we met." Seems took to it instantly and the two of them started working together.

"We didn't really talk much about it after that," Riz continues. "But the [band name] itself came to be a bit of a blueprint - a roadmap." They took a very loose approach to the project, freestyling and trying to vibe off of one another. The result was an EP, but neither Riz or Heems sound particularly enthusiastic about it, with Heems criticising it as being less focused than they'd have liked. It seemed like the project was over before it had even begun.

That all changed about a year-and-a-half ago when Redinho came on board. An old friend of Riz's - by way of Myspace - he was excited by the idea of Swet Shop Boys and so managed to get his hands on a leftover a cappella from the EP sessions. "I made it into what is now 'Tiger Hologram'," Redinho explains. The song's beat was heavily influenced by Qawwali, a form of sufi devotional music that Riz introduced Redinho to. "I started to learn about it by watching YouTube videos of Aziz Mian. He kind of reminded me of James Brown - sitting in what seemed to be a cape-like gown, freestyling these hypnotic grooves."

"I've come up as a musician playing in bands," Redinho continues, "so usually when I make music I imagine if I had these guys back in the room with me, how would I direct them to create something that would be relevant to this project?'" That exploration laid the groundwork for the rest of the beats on Cashmere, with Redinho describing his approach as like drawing from a palette of sounds that included South Asian music styles and New York's, 808 heavy hip-hop.

"But I didn't want it to seem like I was just jacking samples," he continues, "like [taking] a Bollywood sample and putting a drum break underneath it or something. I wanted to treat it like I was cutting out words from a newspaper, then cutting out letters of those words and then piecing them together to make new words." Ultimately, Redinho's aim was to create a cohesive collection of beats that would enable Heems and Riz to have what he describes as "a platform for their voices."

Heems couldn't speak more highly of his bandmate's work. "You know, I've been making music that kind of plays with both hip-hop and Indian music for a while and when I was doing it before, often something didn't feel right," Heems says. "With this project it really felt like I found the sound I'd been looking for for some time." Working with just one producer - for Heems at least - provided a level of consistency that really helped to drive the project.

"You can tell in the music that Redinho had done his research," he continues, "nothing sounds too easy. It sounds wholly original. But as a South Asian, a lot of these instruments evoke these feelings of nostalgia that I associate with India."

"Basically, Tom fucking smashed it," Riz adds.

Cashmere was recorded over the course of just five days in May. The trio came together at Riz's flat, with Heems flying in from New York and Redinho from Greece. With the three guys being busy on individual projects, this was the only time they could all get together in one place. "Redinho was really the driving force of putting us all together and making sure that it happened," Riz says. "But I think sometimes those limitations and parameters can give rise to more creativity than if you come at this with all the time in the world."

Redinho agrees, explaining, "I feel like it brought kind of a punk energy to the project. It was nice. We had a vocal booth in one bedroom, we had the speakers set up in the living room and Heems - when he wasn't rapping - was in the kitchen cooking up curries." Heems also helped add to this energy by insisting on not listening to the beats. "He just walked into the room, literally off a plane, and Riz obviously was responding to that too," Redinho adds. "[I don't think] he had heard the beats either."

"Heems [more often] freestyles and I'm more of a perfectionist," Riz says. "Basically because we only had five days we had to work in Heems' way."

"We both have this working class guilt, like we shouldn't be artists," Riz continues. "I argue with that by going 'No! Being an artist is real work, look I'm going to work hard and draft and redraft a ten-minute rap poem'. Whereas Heem's approach is, like 'Yeah, being an artist isn't really a real job, I'm going to get the rapping out of the way really quickly and focus on the marketing and the business side'."

Due to the limited recording time available, Riz and Heems didn't have much time to write or discuss their rhymes. For the most part, the songs on Cashmere were created from freestyles in the booth. It's somewhat surprising then that the songs themselves are so consistent in lyrical themes and content - especially when Riz and Heems didn't discuss what they were going to rap about.

"I think part of the reason why - for me - this was an interesting project was because in many ways we have similar experiences," Heems explains. "So I was working with someone where I didn't have to explain as much and we were more familiar with each others work."

"We were just kind of rapping from a personal place," Riz adds. "We didn't really have time to second guess it or try and manicure what the result would be too much."

"I think knowing each other's work we had an idea of the things that we discuss in our work on our own," Heems continues, "so it was kind of an unspoken thing. And then as you record more, in the same way that the music grew out of the name organically, the themes just really emerged. It was in a sense a living room record because you're hanging out with your friends talking about things that you talk about - whether it's politics or making jokes - you already know how you get along with your friends so the music just comes out of that."

Mountain View

Listen to Swet Shop Boys' debut album, Cashmere, below.