Rajinder Rai, 27, has been making club hits in England
for nearly a decade by fusing traditional bhangra rhythms
with pop and hip-hop beats.
Hip-hop and R&B artists from Missy Elliott to R. Kelly have
been experimenting with Indian rhythms for more than a year, but England's
Panjabi MC has the first authentic bhangra hit to cross over to the
mainstream in the USA. It has reached the top 20 on the rhythmic top
40 airplay chart and was the No. 37 most-listened-to song in the country
Rajinder Rai, 27, has been making club hits in England for nearly a
decade by fusing traditional bhangra rhythms with pop and hip-hop beats.
His Mundian to Bach Ke (Beware of the Boys) originally became an international
hit three years ago, but thanks to a remix featuring Jay-Z, it has crossed
the Atlantic and is heating up the clubs and radio airwaves.
While he may be new to American audiences, Rajinder Rai, 27, has been
making club hits in England for nearly a decade by fusing traditional
bhangra rhythms with pop and hip-hop beats. He hails from Coventry,
but both his parents are from Punjab. He was given his stage name by
black rappers who thought it odd to encounter an Indian rapper.
Beware of the Boys driven by an insistent sitar rhythm that segues
smoothly into the Knight Rider theme has succeeded even though
the lyrics are sung in Punjabi, a language native to northern India
When translated, those lyrics are relatively conservative for a club
jam. They warn a blossoming 16-year-old girl, "Be careful of the
boys/You've only just grown up," adding, "Look after your
youth/This time won't come again."
Jay-Z adds a different flavor, urging, "Move your body like a
snake, mama/Make me want to put tha snake on ya."
Panjabi, who says he doesn't mind that the song now has a double meaning,
says Jay-Z heard the song about four months ago when he was in Switzerland.
"He saw the reaction it was getting in the clubs and on the radio
and with the underground, and he wanted to get involved," Panjabi
says. "Once he was aware of it, we were able to get together through
The match turned out to be something American listeners were ready
for. The rapper gave the song a certain familiarity, but the traditional
Indian breakbeats were something new.
"It's different, and it doesn't hurt that Jay-Z is on it,"
says Dana Hall, former R&B editor at Airplay Monitor. "It's
just the right combination of him and a new, interesting beat that is
exciting for programmers to play."
In March, radio program directors were reluctant to play it because
of the war in Iraq. They felt uncertain about the song's language and
the content of the lyrics, Hall says. But once they got the translation
and learned it was nothing political, they started playing it.
On the heels of his crossover success, Panjabi's album, Beware, will
come out July 1, and he will play limited dates in New York in June