MIA … Bringing Bollywood back. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images
Sample: Panjabi MC –
Nothing prepared me for the first time I heard Asian music being sampled by the biggest names in R&B and hip-hop. One minute, national radio geared towards Asian people was a bit of a joke, with production values that sounded like the music was being broadcast through a yoghurt pot and string from a Solihull basement. The next, I was being mobbed at school by people wanting me to either sing, translate or identify songs for people. This was one of the first major crossover hits, a song that would creep in to school discos and punctuate adverts as well as blast from radios. Somehow, a bloke in the Midlands slapping some dhol and a vocal over the Knight Rider theme sparked a period of Hindi and bhangra revolution in the urban music industry, and never one to miss a trick, Jay Z got himself involved for the official remix. The stripped-back original is largely indistinguishable from most folk-tinged bhangra, which makes the Panjabi MC remix all the more impressive. Slightly distasteful references to snake charming aside, Jay Z revved up the bandwagon, and before long everyone was on it. Over a decade on, any Indian wedding DJ worth their salt has this up their sleeve as a guaranteed dancefloor filler.
React helped shape the template used for sampling old Bollywood hits for the rest of the decade. It was produced by the legendary Just Blaze, a man more famous for making sampled beats for the likes of Jay Electronica on Exhibit C, and the incorporation of such a wildly different sound might have felt forced and just a novelty in lesser hands. Here, however, the Hindi vocal is treated with respect, given its own time to shine. The Hindi hook chosen raises some question. It translates as: “If someone wants to commit suicide, what can you do?” The liberal sprinkling of sitar might not have aged fantastically well, but at the time it was completely refreshing to hear.
No genre is complete without its own one-hit wonder, and Truth Hurts fills that space. The success of this song lies not only in the DJ Quik beat, but the juxtaposition of such a raunchy set of lyrics – the song is essentially one entirely unoriginal extended metaphor comparing drugs and sex – and the innocence of the Bollywood sample. At the time this was released, sex in the Indian film industry was still being alluded to by a suggestive skip behind a shaking bush for 10 seconds and a hasty costume change. It’s not Shakespeare, but more than one or two eyebrows will have been raised at lyrics such as: “My back is achin’ / From our love makin’.” Bollywood got its own back, though, lodging a $500m lawsuit against the label Aftermath after a cease-and-desist order went unheeded. Composer Bappi Lahiri eventually won a court injunction halting the sale of the song after likening it to “cultural imperialism”.
4. Jay ft Kanye West – The Bounce
Sample: Alka Yagnik and Ila Arun – Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai
Back when Timbaland was just a producer – before he became his own mini-superstar and forgot how to release a song without Justin Timberlake or Nelly Furtado on it – he was making beats for the likes of Jay Z. Featuring another then-producer now-rapper, Kanye West, for one of his earliest features – a while before he’d even dropped his first real mixtape – this was a standout track on an otherwise patchy double album, sampling one of the most easily recognisable and popular Hindi songs of all time: Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai is taken from 1993’s smash hit Khalnayak. The only way this track could’ve embraced the genre more is if the video had featured an en-masse dance routine and Jay trading steps with Amitabh Bachchan.