The world of Bollywood is so full of bright colours, melodrama and choreographed dances that it puts most Broadway productions to shame. While many of us are drawn to the luxurious aesthetics South Asian cinema boasts, it's surprising how large of an impact the music from these films has had on hip-hop.
Last year, iconic producer Timbaland posted a video on Twitter with a caption that read, "I'm VERY influenced by Bollywood! [sic]" The almost 2-minute clip begins with him geeking out about Indian food and admitting he loves buying all the Bollywood records he can get his hands on. Then the producers throws down a beat that interpolates booming 808s with the mellifluous melody of the bansuri; a flute used in traditional Hindustani music that is made of a single hollow shaft of bamboo.
The bansuri, along with the slickness of the sitar are the most instantly recognisable elements of Bollywood music. A go-to for sampling enthusiasts, these instruments add an indescribable je ne sais quoi to any song.
As hip-hop has evolved, producers have looked beyond the realms of their own boroughs and cities to create unique sounds and take their music to the next level.
It all began with Dr Dre sampling Lata Mangeshkar's Thoda Resham Lagta Hai on Addictive by Truth Hurts and Rakim. Though things quickly turned sour when famed Indian composer, Bappi Lahiri filed a $500 million lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against Dre, Interscope Records and its parent company, Universal Music Group in 2002. The trial also pointed to American producers at large, accusing them of practising a form of "cultural imperialism" by not crediting South Asian artists. Lahiri was ultimately awarded an injunction that gave him credit.
Around the same time, Jay-Z turned up on the remix of Bhangra outfit, Panjabi MC's Mundian To Bach Ke popularly known as Beware Of The Boys. A slick, triumphant, and effervescent dance track, this song was many people's first introduction to the music originating from the Punjab region of India. The song is a high octane thrill ride that has had a lasting influence on pop culture, consistently referenced by Beyoncé, Jay-Z and in a slew of TV shows, movies and commercials.
Despite the ups and downs, 18 years later hip-hop still hasn't lost its appetite for Bollywood music. We look back on South Asia's influence on hip-hop and the songs it has inspired, from The Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West to The Game and Daddy Yankee.
Jay-Z feat. Kanye West - The Bounce (2002)
It seems as though New York rapper, Jay-Z developed a penchant not unlike Timbaland in the early 2000s for Bollywood music. The Bounce comes from the rapper's seventh studio album, The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse and samples Alka Yagnik's most recognisable song, Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai. The song's title which doubles as its hook, roughly translates to 'what's behind that blouse?' For a country that is as conservative as India, the song caused a stir but fits right into the brashness of Jay-Z's rhymes.
The Black Eyed Peas - Don't Phunk with My Heart (2005)
It's always exciting to revisit Fergie-era Black Eyed Peas music. One of the best songs the group released while helmed by the vocal powerhouse has to be, Don't Phunk With My Heart which borrows the melody from Ae Naujawan Sab Kuchh Yahan and samples Yeh Mera Dil Pyaar Ka Diwana. Both are performed by renowned Indian vocalist Asha Bhosle and the reinterpretation co-opts the original song's sultry sitars turning an otherwise ordinary pop song into an unforgettable classic.
The Game - Put You On The Game (2005)
At first glance, The Game's Put You On seems like the antithesis of the frothy and fantastical world of Bollywood; which is what makes this sample so exciting. His ode to the West Coast only borrows a snippet from Rajesh Khanna and Farida Jalal's Baghon Mein Bahar Hai but from the one-minute mark onwards, it's hard to imagine the song without it.
Baby Ranks and Luny Tunes feat. Daddy Yankee and Deevani - Mirame (2007)
The opening tangle of bright Latin-pop guitar strings on Mirame sets a scene that is miles away from India. But soon enough, the rich and iridescent voice of Bhosle from Are Zindagi Hai Khel spills in creating an unlikely mix of hip hop, Latin pop and Bollywood.
M.I.A. - Jimmy (2007)
M.I.A. wears her Sri Lankan heritage like a badge of honour and she's represented South Asian music throughout her discography. Though Jimmy is likely her most significant success in this arena. The British rapper lets loose, embracing the disco elements of the original song Jimmy Jimmy Aaja by Parvati Khan. Emboldened by a keen understanding of the yearning entrenched in the lyrics, M.I.A. doesn't just sample Khan's exuberant song but brings it to life. In an interview with FACT, she explained that she used to dance to the original song as a young girl. "Jimmy was my track that I used to do my routine to. I had a little tape recorder, and a cloak and a cardboard cut out guitar, and that was my joint."
Pusha T feat. Future - Pain (2012)
As a beatmaker, Kanye West is virtually unmatched in his ability to transform samples to the point where they're almost unrecognisable. It's here, working alongside his mentor No I.D., West flaunts his futuristic harness on the sampler turning My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves by Kishore Kumar into a dark, heavy, and melodic hip-hop treasure. Pusha T and Future are an unlikely but thrilling pairing on a beat created by hip-hop's most agile producer.
Kanye West - I Am A God (2013)
Speaking of Mr West, he must have picked up a trick or two from Jay-Z as he once again looked to Bollywood for his iconoclastic record, Yeezus. The standout track, I Am A God caused some controversy as the rapper's god complex bubbled over — but the music is undeniably some of his best. R.D. Burman's synth-heavy Are Zindagi Ka Khel lends many elements to the bonafide hip-hop classic and it seems as though Burman is a popular choice to sample. Everyone from Mos Def, Busta Rhymes, Madvillain and Caribou have turned to Burman's music.
Travis Scott - Uptown Ft. ASAP Ferg (2013)
In 2013, Canadian producer WondaGurl was just 16-years-old when she produced the beat for Uptown. In this video, the wunderkind explains that the beat, created initially for Pusha T who rejected it, all began with a sample she found within her drum kit folder. "I found this one Bollywood sample that was amazing to me," she said. "I cut it up and put a whole lot of filters on it and turned it into [Uptown]." The sample was a 1973 Asha Bhosle song called Kamar Meri Lattu. After adding a kick, 808 bass, snares and hi-hats, WondaGurl sent it over to Travis Scott who took the whole beat, and the rest is history.