Panjabi MC feat. Jay-Z – “Beware of the Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke)”

Released: 3.11.03

Peak: #33

Hip-hop began pillaging overseas beats in earnest around the turn of the century–call it capitalism with a black face–but as with so much else nineelevenchangedeverything. What had signified as exotic plunder on “Big Pimpin'” now suggested the porous borders through which illicit dark skins infiltrated the First World–for once, African-Americans got to piggyback off the allure of the spooky Other. The major role of Indian-derived music within this new global beat scheme would hardly surprise any London clubgoer. And yet, as befits an era of back-door globalism, bhangra slipped into hip-hop not as a proper direct-from-UK import, but via its affinity with current dancehall.

Even as Tim and the ‘Tunes twiddled riddims into gold, though, “Beware of the Boys” became the first (and last?) above-board bhangra infiltration into U.S. pop. Jay-Z must have realized its momentousness–at times, he even raps about something other than his greatness. “We back home screaming ‘Leave Iraq alone'” counted as a protest lyric in that political retrograde moment, and if Jay could he have gone further (identifying with races of color international, for instance), well, it’s the implication that counts. And though an underground thinker like Capital D would spell out more concretely the equation of Bin Laden and Reagan lazily laid out here, the sentiment isn’t cowardly, and I’ll take it over Jadakiss’ brainless conspiracy theories on “Why?,” or, um, wasn’t there some Beasties’ song?

I’ll also take Jay’s rhymes over the original patronizing if not sexist Punjabi, which from what I can tell order a young woman to protect herself from the prying eyes of men. But lyrics are secondary here to the opaque foreignness of the voice. Even “Beware”‘s rhythmic accommodation to the West–that once-more recycled Knight Rider bassline–is de-familiarized by that one-string tumbi hook. For a few minutes, “Mundian To Bach Ke” could make us believe that the world was too big for even Jay-Z to rule.

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