Sometimes, in music, timing is everything. That perfect song is released at the perfect moment, and you have a genuine dance anthem on your hands. This summer, that anthem was Panjabi MC’s “Mundian To Bach Ke,” or “Beware of the Boys” over here. This bangin’ bhangra smash with the Knight Rider bass line has blown up clubs all over the US — the perfect follow-up track to Truth Hurt’s “Addictive.” This five-year-old song (so much for timing, eh?) has trekked the entire globe, being a huge hit in the UK, Germany, Austria, Denmark and Italy, to become the freshest thing to hit the US streets since Lil’ Kim and her Sprite can.
Panjabi MC (nee Rajinder Rai) has done the nearly impossible: make Indian music cool in the US. He has done this with a brilliant mix of bhangra and hip-hop and a smattering of dancehall (among other genres). This album feels genuine (not a simple case of appropriation) and is utterly brilliant. Rai has a serious edge to his music that hip-hop fans can seriously appreciate. Bhangra can get kind of grating to Western ears, but Beware is absolutely electric from start to finish.
Having been wanting a Panjabi MC album for about a year and a half now, I have to thank Jay-Z for “discovering” and importing Rai over here. Though Jiggaman’s remix of “Beware” is annoying, we’ll forgive him for jumping on the bandwagon since he brought it in the first place. He’s just another visitor in the hipster global village in which Panjabi resides. Not only do we hear bhangra-hop, but reggae is also a feature in his sound with songs like the slow groove of “Jindi Mahi” and the impressive ballad, “Sweeter.” On “Soundz of the Des,” Rai revisits the Knight Rider theme. He throws in some laconic rhymes on “True MCs” and “Challa.” “Jogi” is another banger that could work in our clubs. The same goes for “Yaaran Kollon Sikh Kuriye,” which uses En Vogue’s “Hold On” bass line.
One can’t help but marvel at Rai’s vision. He has taken the percussive bhangra sound and mixed it perfectly with hip-hop beats. While so many others in the Asian Underground and Asian Massive have floated in the ether of d&b and Indian classical, Panjabi MC has taken it to the streets. And the streets around the world have finally heard him. After five years, his clarion call has been heeded, and the asses are shaking the globe.
Now, when is Jay-Z going to “discover” Surinder Rattan?