Panjaabi MC Beware
- Words: Brion Paul
- Label: Sequence
On his recent update of Panjabi MCs global hit "Beware of The Boys," Jay-Z raps that he wants the world to "leave Iraq alone" and drops verses that rhyme with "snake charmer" in a fervor of ethnographic conflation. Elsewhere in the hip-pop world, Timbaland writes another track prominently featuring some seriously steppin' tabla work. And Erik Sermon's just now figured out how badly he butchered his sampled Hindi lyrics on "React." Somewhere in the middle of India, surrounded by a record label-bankrupting 800-piece classical Indian orchestra, blanketed in obscurity, Talvin Singh sadly weeps and no one hears. The influence of Indian music on American artists has been at work for some time, from the circling, vedic structures of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich to the Beatles yogic love-in to the flowy pants of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Recently, a more literal usage has swept the American hip-hop community and their pack of hungry MPCs. Perhaps the trend-transcending piece de resistance is the success story of UK-based Panjabi MC's enormous global smash "Beware of the Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke)," a well-reported tale of cross-cultural collaboration/exploitation. Kicking around the UK's fertile bhangra scene for five years, and finding fans amongst NYC's club goers who found themselves listening to DJ's Rehka or James Murphy, "Beware" broke the all-important commercial threshold recently when jiggaman Jay-Z jumped aboard, throwing some lyrics on top whilst Top 40 radio and MTV blew their collective corporate load. The work of 27-year-old Coventry, UK resident Rajinder Rai-whose fusion of classical Indian music, hip-hop and dance has soundtracked the bhangra/Asian Underground movement for almost a decade-"Beware of the Boys" is arguably the first the bhangra-sampling track actually created by a bhangra artist. The success raises some interesting questions about influence and representation; "Beware" can be viewed either as a gesture of unity between the African American community and the UK's South Asian community or a wholesale exploitation of an already popular existing track that has that "exotic" quality. Now that the underground has gone overground, here's where it gets real interesting. With the increased visibility of Indian music and culture, what sort of collaborations and music this leads to may be some indication of the future. Beyond all this, though, Beware is actually an engaging and mature album, well beyond the big hit opener flashing its neon English lyrics, subsequently sublimated over the course of the album with rousing hip-hop numbers, downtempo female vocal tracks and straight-up bhangra songs featuring myriad classical Indian guest musicians. By the time the album's closing instrumental original of "Beware of the Boys" arrives, its atavistic immediacy still intact, something of an education has occurred and hip-hop's tricky myopic sampling trend has been expanded to a full-fledged picture. Oh, and on the off-chance that any aspiring producers/Top 40 radio programmers are reading: "Jogi" is the next track ripe for jumping on.
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