Institute for Studies In American Music
Inside This Issue:
When I first heard it, I was driving in the car with my mom in the passenger seat, the radio tuned to Jammin’ 94.5 and blaring out upbeat hip hop tunes. Suddenly, I hear the words “Kaliyon ka chaman tab bantha hai...” and I can only stare at my mother in shock. This was the first, but certainly not the last I heard of the chart-topping song “Addictive” by Truth Hurts.
—Manasi Singhal, a young man of Indian descent
With its striking combination of R&B, hip hop,
and Indian film music, the track “Addictive,” produced by DJ Quik with vocals by Truth Hurts, has distinguished itself
as the boldest example yet to emerge of the “Bollywood”
trend in mainstream hip hop and R&B.
Bollywood is the popular name given to the
Mumbai film industry, which has for decades been the source of popular music
While the introduction of South Asian sounds into Western popular music can be traced back at least to the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” the current flurry of Indian samples and sounds in hip hop can be traced back to Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On,” which features producer Timbaland’s innovative use of the tabla and other South Asian instrumental and vocal snippets. Subsequent examples include Bollywood samples in Lil’ Kim’s “Get in Touch With Us;” sitar sounds in Tweet’s “Call Me” and Beyoncé’s “Baby Boy;” and Bhangra re-mixes of SNAP’s “The Power,” and Craig David’s “Rise & Fall.”2 And, in case there was any doubt that South Asian sounds have reached the mainstream, Britney Spears includes a “Desi Kulcha” remix of “Me Against the Music” on her latest album with the help of British Asian producer Rishi Rich. Two songs that exemplify the Bolly’hood re-mix are Truth Hurts’ “Addictive” and Erick Sermon’s “React,” both of which sample Bollywood soundtracks.
These sonic borrowings in hip hop must be further
contextualized as a part of the larger phenomenon of Western popular
culture’s fascination with the Indian aesthetic (manifest, for example,
in films and fashion) often described as “Indo-chic,” the
quintessential example here being Madonna’s use of mehndi
(henna) and the bindhi (forehead
Maira and other cultural theorists have begun to
refer to such cross-cultural appropriations of commodities as the “new Orientalism.”3 The entry of
hip hop and R&B artists into this arena deepens with significance due to
the timing of these releases in a post September 11 world.
Indeed, the sustenance of the Bollywood
trend in mainstream music can be partly explained by a curiosity about a
region of the world stirred up by the invasions of
Truth Hurts’s 2002 hit song “Addictive” features an uncredited Bollywood song, sampled throughout the track, titled “Thoda Resham Lagta Hai” (“It Looks Silky”) sung in Hindi by the well-known Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar. The distinctly “othered” sonic texture of the Indian sample inspired the setting and choreography for the “Addictive” video, which features a lavish haremesque nightclub populated by dancers—mostly African American—in a variety of Middle East/South Asian-inspired dress. Other Indian elements—such as henna hand designs and head movements characteristically used in Indian dance—are freely mixed with Middle Eastern elements—most apparent in the profusion of belly dancing. An indulgent fantasy space is thus created through the collapsing of two or more distinct cultures—an action that denies an accurate reference to the geopolitical origins of the Mangeshkar sample, yet at the same time pays homage to the eclectic fantasy sequences so common to the Bollywood cinema.
In addition to the socio-political climate, another explanation for the recent proliferation of Indian sounds in hip hop may simply be that DJs are digging deeper into the crates—looking for original sounds to expand the palette of their art. DJ Quik first heard the Lata Mangeshkar song while watching the Hindi film Jyoti on Z-TV, and subsequently looped large sections into a framework over which the R&B lyrics were laid. “Addictive” became a top ten hit, and its video went into heavy rotation on the major video channels. Fans of the track included Indian Americans who were surprised and thrilled to hear “their” Bollywood music in the mainstream media. However, many of those listeners familiar with the Indian system of raag and taal, the melodic mode and rhythmic cycle employed in the original Bollywood song, hear the interplay of Mangeshkar and Truth Hurts as insurmountably dissonant. Said one listener, “When I listen to this, I cringe the whole way through...I love the idea, but I’m not necessarily thrilled with how they did it and how it sounds.”4 Such listeners are responding partly to the tension between the new R&B vocals and the lengthy raag-based singing of the original Bollywood track preserved in the sample. There is also a subtle but troubling rhythmic tension created between the component parts of “Addictive” as they slip slowly out of sync only to return together at the top of the loop.
It was not long, however, until “Addictive” was transformed from a symbol of cultural fusion into the latest poster child warning the dangers of copyright infringement in digital sampling. Bappi Lahiri, the composer of “Thoda Resham Lagta Hai,” filed a lawsuit in October 2002 against executive producer Dr. Dre, Aftermath Records, and its parent company, Interscope/Universal Music Group, claiming that the song was used without permission. Lahiri successfully won an injunction, halting the sales of the album and single, and is further seeking damages up to one million dollars, charging the defendants with “cultural imperialism.”5 Dr. Dre has stated that an attempt was made to locate the copyright holders, but it remains that their decision to go ahead with the track demonstrates an ignorance regarding the size and importance of the Indian film industry and the significance of Lata Mangeshkar, perhaps the most recorded voice in the world. What’s more, a second suit was brought by Saregama India Limited, the record company claiming rights to the original recording, against Dr. Dre et al., demanding the astounding sum of 500 million dollars.6
A few months after “Addictive” hit the
charts, Erick Sermon, Redman, and producer Just Blaze released their single
“React.” In addition to a
short excerpt from a Bollywood soundtrack,
“React” features the repeating, originally composed motive as
shown above that appears alternately voiced as synthesized strings and a
sitar. This motive achieves a certain kind of sonic Orientalism,
referencing a musical stereotype about the
First Verse and Chorus from “React” (Erick Sermon)
Hey yo, I’m immaculate, come through masculine
Wide-body frame, E-dub’s the name, whoa
In the field of rap, I’m superb, I’m fly
I should be in the sky with birds
I ride 20 inch rims when I lean, yo (Hey yo, them tens nigga)
I know, I keep ’em clean though
Come through stormin’ the block like El Niño
Scoop up an Arabic chick before she close
She goes, those my people
Yeah, them broads from
Yeah, watch how the “E” locs 64
Black rags, black interior, shift on the floor
Burn out, I do it for the kids
They’re hoppin’ the turnstile, the “E” goin’ wild
Yo, like them white chicks on a DVD
Yeah, I’m worldwide, MTV and BET, nigga
Sample: Kisii ko khudkhushii kaa shauk ho to kyaa kare vo
[If someone has a fondness for suicide, what can one do?]
Whateva’ she said, then I’m that
If this here rocks to y’all, then react (repeat)
Regarding this juxtaposition of Hindi and English, a
listener named Samir remarked: “If
you’re not Indian it sounds fine but I understand, and everyone I know
thinks it sounds stupid.”7 Like
“Addictive,” the video for “React” features African
American women in a fusion of Middle Eastern and South Asian dress, in this
case mouthing the words of the Hindi sample.
Sermon refers to the disembodied voice, now made flesh, as an
“Arabic chick.” According
to Raj Beri, an Indian
American music journalist, “This ignorance of South Asian culture is
furthered through songs like ‘React,’ which, like most media,
tend to group anything exotic and strange from the so-called ‘Third
World’ into one category. This
is especially dangerous after 9/11, and contributes to the public’s
lack of knowledge about the regions—evidenced by how South Asian Sikhs
and Arabs are all the same in
Of course, the unspoken question remains whether it
is really the responsibility of the artist to educate or enlighten the
masses. Should we expect to learn
lessons in geography and culture from popular music? According to Sammy Chand,
the founder of a South Asian music label based in
Whether or not they are hip hop fans, Indian
Americans are paying close attention to the Bollywood
trend in mainstream hip hop. Media
time for anything Indian is scarce in this country, so the issue is
loaded with an unnatural gravity. The
flow of Indian sounds and samples into hip hop, and the flow of hip hop
culture into the Indian American community has thus created a critical crossroads,
and increasingly the conduits that carry the flow of music and culture are
joined through cross-cultural collaborations.
Raje Shwari, an
Indian American singer who has collaborated with Slum Village, Jay-Z, and
appears most recently on Timbaland’s
“Indian Flute,” says of these artists: “They are making it
hip and accepted to be Indian...[and]...what they really ended up doing was
breaking down the barriers for artists like me that have always tried to do
the East meets West thing.”13 South Asian sounds have, in other words, gained a certain
“street credibility” through the work of artists like Erick
Sermon, Jay-Z, and Truth Hurts, setting the stage for outfits like
Likewise, African American hip hop artists are
becoming more aware of their Indian American fan base. At the height of its popularity, Truth Hurts
recreated her video “Addictive” as a live stage show at the 2002 Bollywood Awards before a capacity crowd of South Asians
1 Excerpted from his online article, “Kaliyon ka Chaman [Lata Mangeshkar] Vs. Addictive
[Truth Hurts],” <denunge.dk/article/articleview/1235/1/35>;
2 Bhangra, originally a Punjabi folk music (and dance), was
transformed in the South Asian diaspora setting of
3 Sunaina Maira, “Henna and Hip Hop: The Politics of Cultural Production and the Work of Cultural Studies,” Journal of Asian American Studies 3/3 (2000): 329-369.
4 Sammy Chand,
interview with author,
5 As quoted in “Federal court lawsuit claims that hit single ‘Addictive’ borrows from Hindi song by B. Lahiri” (Reuters), News India-Times.com, online edition (8 November 2002); accessed 15 August 2003.
6 In all fairness, it must be remembered that, as Peter Manuel points out in Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in Northern India (University of Chicago Press, 1993), the Bollywood film industry has a long history of borrowing and adapting music from the West.
7 Tina Chadha, “Mix This: Young South Asians’ Love-Hate Relationship with Hip-Hop’s New Indian Beats,” The Village Voice (2-8 July 2003): 48.
8 Raj Beri, e-mail interview with author,
9 In response to this criticism, I find it interesting that those charging cultural imperialism do not seem to consider the fact that those who stand accused do not fit the usual imperialist profile. On the contrary, they are African Americans, an historically oppressed group, “Othered” within the West.
10 Chris Fitzpatrick, “Boom Go the Bombs,
Boom Goes the Bass,” Music Video Review, Pop Matters (
11 Chand, interview with author.
12 Nitasha Sharma,
“Rotten Coconuts and Other Strange Fruit: A Slice of Hip Hop from the
13 Quoted in Peta
Cooper, “Raje Shwari:
Making Waves in Western Music,” Desiclub.com, Music Features, n.d. (2003), <www.desiclub.com>; accessed
14 Quoted in Chadha.