I donno if bhangra is cool anymore, shit, “Get Ur Freak On” was what, four years ago? And that Punjabi MC shit has been played out for a long time, right? I’m wondering where the bhangra is at right now on American pop charts, because nothing explicitly South Asian has really taken this country by storm lately that I’m aware of. And Timbaland’s decreasing profile certainly isn’t helping to keep the flame alive – although Lil Jon’s helping a bit, “Toma” has snatches of bhangra melody laid deep into the booty-bass mix. I’ve been waiting since spring break to post about this but haven’t really had a chance until now, too much other shit to talk about. But when I was home over spring break I headed over to Devon Ave. and picked up some music, found some hot dance tracks that could really burn up those house parties you throw in your mom’s basement on the weekend, the ones where you have to tell your friends to keep it down or the neighbors will snitch. (My moms lives in an apt., I never had parties til college. Consider yourself lucky.) Anyway point is if all you know about popular South-Asian music is “Tunak Tunak Tun” maybe you should check this shit out. I’m no expert, but I know what I like etc.
The Devon Ave. neighborhood in Chicago is predominantly Indian/Pakistani, full of restaurants and travel agencies, luggage shops, currency exchanges and convenience stores. It’s all the way up on the northwest side of the city, but I’d recommend checking it out anyway if you’re in Chicago because number one, the CDs are – across the board – ten dollars, no matter what store you shop, and the clerks who work at the stores are helpful and can hook you up with tons of recent music. I ended up with 60 dollars worth of CDs in my hands until I realized I had 25 bucks and a bus pass in my wallet. Number two, there is some amazing food and a bunch of different restaurants to investigate (I went to a place called Zam Zam and got the dinner special for around 5 bucks, warm pita and as much as I like Standard India aka the petite buffet on Belmont this is where you can get that spicy fix, especially cool if you’re not familiar with Indian food). To get there, you just have to take the red line up to Morse and take the #155 bus from the corner of Morse and Glenwood to Campbell, which is a few blocks west of Western Ave. Western Ave. is on the east side of the Devon neighborhood. There are a bunch of places that sell CDs but I like this joint:
Anyway while I was there I copped a mixtape and an album. The album is RDB’s newest one, its called RDB Three. I might talk about that later, but right now I’m just going to talk about this mixtape, DJ Harry’s BHANGRA BLAST 2.
DJ Harry is out of NYC, and he mixes straight-up bhangra beats with some straight up english-language rap tracks. A lot of the straight-up bhangra cuts are pretty spectacular, especially when the dhol beat starts going double-time about halfway through. In a weird way, it makes me think of a miami bass mix, bass-heavy jams with a similar build and release of intensity. This whole mix is put together that way, nice build and climax party shit from start to finish.
My favorite tracks though are the ones with more overt rap interpolations, that gray area in between genres where the sounds warp, the echoes of clashing styles and approaches. I feel the straight bhangra stuff too, but this is in the end a lot more interesting to me; it’s hard to tell which direction it will end up going from track to track. The familiar klaxon hook of Usher’s “Yeah!” is nabbed for two songs, probably my least-favorite of the hip-hop tracks; the melody is so distinctive by now that it annihilates any embellishments, and the dhol is barely noticeable underneath the Lil Jon laser synth hook. Most of the cuts seem to have a good balance of traditional bhangra sounds and American rap influences.
RDB – Ji Karda
Kicks off with a car horn and some hollering and then a familiar sample, and goddamn it blows up a dancefloor. I sent this shit to my friend to play at a party he threw, and every single motherfucker in the floor had their hands up at the beginning of this shit, total amped-up party rocker. No rapping in English, but its not even necessary. This doesn’t have much bhangra structure, just a straight up NYC breakbeat bounce with some guy singing on top, but it’s a party anthem, straight up.
Hunters – Dil
This has a bit more of a bhangra influence on the production side, but not much. It’s mostly about the vocals, and even then there’s some rapping in English. Nothing serious going on lyrically on the English half, simple party rhymes, which is perfect. One of my least favorite things about RDB’s last album Unstoppable was the prevalence of Crazy Town flows. This sounded a bit more natural, although still pretty derivative of the last couple years of American party rap.
Sukshinder Shinda – Panjabi Clap
This track wears its influences on its sleeve like a motherfucker, but it’s really effective. Yeah it’s “Lean Back” + “Make It Clap” but it’s so much more than that too, like that sweeping string sample and the subtle switchups going on in the beat, easily the most traceable to traditional bhangra sounds. Even then, the edges have been blurred so much that it doesn’t sound that out of pace with recent hip-hop shit either. I’m not very good at figuring out when to clap all the time on this one.
My favorite part of this mixtape though is the mixtape as a whole, and these songs are really effective in that context, the way it flows from traditional sounds to straight up rap rips and all these different sounds in between. It’s also great because this is clearly a CD with a functional social purpose, so the development of the music itself seems coincidental. These guys don’t give a shit about making albums they just want to find new ways to make people throw up their hands and do the Panjabi Clap. Not only is it made expressly to be a “NonStop Punjabi Party MixTape With Latest Songs” but it’s meant to be a promotional tool so here’s the deal. If you’re in the NYC area and you want DJ Harry to show up at your birthday party or bar mitvah, give him a call at 718 207 7175, or email him Harry718 at hotmail dot com.
Other ways to check this shit out: DJ Harry’s website IntensiveSounds.com has a gang of shit up, including mp3s of hindi and Punjabi remixes they’ve done. If you want to hear more desi music, check out Generasian Radio, which is on KPFT, the same station that brings you damage control. They are live Thursdays from 3-5 PM and you can listen to their last show at their site. Finally, Woebot wrote the only big piece on desi I know about from the blargosphere, so check that shit out for the UK perspective.
Ain’t nothing but a gangsta paaaarty…I think these are Shinda’s boys.