Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mainstream Hip-hop's Bollywood Flirtations

I posted a week ago about one of the first American R&B/hip-hop hits to borrow from the vast catalogue of Indian filmic music - Truth Hurts' "Addictive".

But that it's hardly the only example. Indeed, since the start of this decade, Indian music has appeared with increasing frequency in tracks by mainstream hip-hop artists. As producers increasingly look for sample fodder outside the genre of 70s funk which has been the staple of hip-hop since its beginning, something about Indian music has proved alluring. Is it the music's filmic quality? Or an attempt to add some kind of pseudo-exotic impulse?

In any case, this trend has produced a range of material, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Jay-Z, ever the canny marketer and trend-spotter, released this remix of Panjabi MCs "Mundian To Bach Ke", already a worldwide hit due to its appearance on the soundtrack of "Bend it Like Beckham". The Jay-Z rework ensured both a crossover of Panjabi MC into the hip-hop scene, but also an increased following of Jay-Z among a desi audience worldwide.

Timbaland, the highly in-demand producer and occasional rapper, is well-known for pushing the sonic boundaries of hip-hop and R&B. Initially this was through unusually-timed beats and sound effects, but this came to include the incorporation of Asian music, particularly Indian and Middle-Eastern sounds.

Missy Elliot's enormous hit "Get Ur Freak On" is another Timbaland production from way back in 2001.

Erick Sermon's "React" is a solid track, but it raises the issue of cultural appropriation without appreciation. In the lyrics, Sermon seems to refer to the sampled female vocalist as an "Arabic chick", when the song is in fact in Hindi. As well, his interpolation of the Hindi sung lyrics with his rap apparently is nonsensical if you understand both languages. There's a good article here about the pros and cons of sampling Indian music in hip-hop, which details the contextual silliness of the Erick Sermon track.

And lastly, for the ridiculous. Snoop Dogg has produced a fair amount of crap in his career, and his contribution here to "Singh is King" certainly qualifies. It's funny though.

See also:

Hip-hop's Ethiopian flirtations

Let's play Spot the Sample - Lata Mangeshkar, "Tere Mere Beech Mein"

Sitar grooves - US3, "You can't hold me down"

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