And how it got a place in hip-hop.
Picture this: You’re in a dark, sweaty, crowded bar with a lot of drunk white people and a DJ who only seems to have an abundance of Travis Scott songs. Next thing you know, you hear an “exotic” yet familiar instrument that sounds like it may have strings or possibly bells, who really cares when you’re this drunk? In case you actually are wondering, the instrument is called a tumbi, but I digress. Suddenly, the song starts to become more recognizable as you hear Jay-Z’s distinct voice yelling over this insane foreign-sounding beat. Hands are thrown up with absolutely no rhythm as fingers start to enclose in a movement similar to potentially screwing, or unscrewing (depending on the direction I guess), a light bulb, causing the dance floor to go wild.
Now trust me, this figurative scene does not at all mean that Indians don’t get hype as hell when we go out and hear Panjabi MC’s “Mundian to Bach Ke”, even if it is the third time we’ve heard it in one night. That song put us on the map! It’s just extremely frustrating that there are millions of INCREDIBLE Indian songs that are just waiting to be utilized that have unfortunately gone undiscovered.
The second time that I heard a hip-hop producer sample a Bollywood song was actually a Jaylib song I found buried among hundreds of Dilla tracks that my friend had shared with me. As I shuffled through different songs, usually skipping to the next song within the first thirty seconds to see what else I could find, I heard a slew of minor notes and harsh sounds with a high pitched woman singing in the background. After a bit of research, my speculations were confirmed as I found that one of my favorite producers sampled Lata Mangeshkar, a famous Indian singer whose name was all too familiar to me. I do think it is super cool to mention that this wasn’t the only instance that Madlib (who is part of Jaylib) sampled Bollywood music. It can also be found in his song “Giannis” (which features Anderson .Paak who also samples Bollywood in his song “Bubblin”), and “More Rice”. In fact, Madlib has a whole fucking album of beats sampling Bollywood music called “Beat Konducta Vol. 3 & 4: In India”! Like WHAT. That is so cool! With beats named things like “Masala” and “New Bombay”, Madlib did an AMAZING job creating something new from Indian music while maintaining just what made it so magical. I felt a sense of pride and wonder, even curiosity over what he could have been trying to convey by using these pieces of music, and if he understood its original intent or chose to create his own meaning. It also made me curious about what other songs and artists have Indian music and if that could be a growing phenomenon.
Another song that samples the incredible Lata Mangeshkar is Truth Hurt’s “Addictive”, featuring Rakim. The video shows a cringey amount of weird hand swirls and fake belly dancing, but hearing Rakim rap over a Bollywood sample about speaking tongues and other hilarious cliches was pretty fun. The Black Eyed Peas (back when they were actually enjoyable) did also sample a classic Bollywood song when they chose Asha Bhosle’s “Aye Naujawan Hai Sab Kuchch Yahan”, to make “Don’t Phunk With My Heart”, creating a fun psychedelic song that actually paid homage to the original music video. They managed to keep the tabla part fairly consistent which is super cool because it really did help keep up the tempo despite it being such a minor detail. Anik Khan used his South Asian culture to influence a big portion of his musical style and references, including sampling the amazing A.R. Rahman’s “Jiya Jale” in his song “Cleopatra”. He used imagery and diction often associated with South Asian/Middle Eastern royalty against Lata Mangeshkar’s whimsical voice to conjure this beautiful dream-like sequence. Personally, I truly believe that if a hip-hop artist wanted to sample a Bollywood song, just going through A.R. Rahman’s catalog would inspire them with so many different options. His music is next level, and I’m so lucky to have grown up exposed to it. Other artists such as Busta Rhymes, Method Man, Erick Sermon, Redman, and Mobb Deep all additionally sampled old Bollywood songs, and often times alluded to themes like getting high, hip-shaking, and female divinity, which I assume Americans typically associate with the Kama Sutra and yoga and whatnot.
Nevertheless, I always loved to watch two vastly different cultures overlap on a common ground, which in this case is hard-hitting beats, exotic sexual women, drugs, and lavish lifestyles, or even just connect out of pure experimentation. Music does a beautiful job at bridging communities, and it is always fun to see the outcome.
As always, below is a playlist of songs mentioned throughout the article as well as others that may not have been touched on but still fit the idea. And no, I am not including Timbaland’s “Indian Flute”.
Comment below with what you think artists can take away from using Bollywood instrumentals, what Bollywood songs would be fitting for a hip-hop beat, or any other songs you think I should check out. Make sure to follow along for new posts every Friday. I know it’s always a long wait but other pages are available in the small drop-down menu at the top right for other topics I have an unnecessarily strong opinion about to keep you busy.