Hip hop is a monumental genre within music, however, some of its most popular tracks have sampled South Asian music. We take a look at the best 20.
“he delivers an excellent first verse and a catchy hook”
To the surprise of many hip hop lovers, South Asian music samples have become a prominent element of the genre.
With brilliant producers like Kanye West and Timbaland who have a keen sense of musicality, their radar for unique sounds is vast.
However, there have been an array of artists before them who have tackled the Desi instrumentation.
Not only does the South Asian culture provide artistic singers and musicians, but it is also an innovative music genre within itself.
The synthetic intrigue of music maestro RD Burman, angelic melodies of Asha Bhosle and hypnotic strings of Ravi Shankar are compelling.
That is why legends like Mobb Deep, Truth Hurts and Jay-Z have all embraced this rhythmic flair.
These characteristics, no matter how obvious or buried, are all used within some of hip hops most popular anthems.
In addition, it’s interesting to see how the following South Asian songs have been transformed from their origin.
With this, DESIblitz explores 20 top South Asian music samples that have graced the hip hop scene.
As one of the oldest members and co-founders of hip hop royalty, Wu-Tang Clan, GZA is highly respected within the music industry,
His solo album, Liquid Swords (1995), is widely regarded as a masterpiece.
One of the reasons for this is GZA’s exploration of South Asian music samples, something, which is rare to find in his catalogue.
‘4th Chamber’ is an example of this rarity as GZA calls upon the legendary compositions of Indian duo Kalyanji-Anandji.
Their psychedelic funk theme song of the 1975 Hindi thriller, Dharmatma, provides the foundation of GZA’s iconic song.
Using synthetic drops and western loop cycles, the original sample was fresh for its time.
The trance-like beat was transcended by the production of GZA, who propelled the instrumentation towards a traditional hip hop sound.
Additionally, the clearcut vocals from hip hop powerhouses, Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest and RZA gave that extra thrust of culture.
Hip hop trio Company Flow joined forces with American rappers Breeze Brewin and J-Treds for this unorthodox fusion of hip hop and South Asian instrumentation.
‘The Fire In Which You Burn’ samples the great Ravi Shankar and his impeccable ‘Raga Puriya Dhanashri’ (1954).
The hip hop track starts with a choppy beat and irregular drums and the inclusion of record scratches encompasses the sounds of old school hip hop.
As soon as the rap starts, ‘Raga Puriya Dhanashri’ slowly creeps into the undertones of the track.
Once ‘The Fire In Which You Burn’ is in full flow, Ravi Shankar’s sitar takes over.
Although the jumpy instrumental is experimental, the musicality of Shankar shines. It entices the listener to engage with the metaphorical wordplay that is on display.
The sharp lyricism and the high-voltage atmosphere is overwhelming at times. However, the beautiful richness of ‘Raga Puriya Dhanashri’ adds a welcomed calmness.
Whilst the track requires multiple listens because of its structure and innovative qualities, there is no doubt that this song was ahead of its time.
In December 2002, legendary rapper Erick Sermon released ‘React’, which transformed the template of sampling Bollywood songs.
Produced by the iconic Just Blaze, the song encompasses all the qualities that made this period of rap so innovative.
The underlayer of strings, intoxicating chorus’ and impactful bars were lyrical yet you could still dance to them.
‘Chandi Ka Badan’ is from the 1963 movie, Taj Mahal. It did spectacularly at the 1964 Filmfare Awards, winning ‘Best Music’.
Sermon was allowed to create a refreshing song. However, what propelled this track into the limelight was the respect given to the Hindi vocals of Meena Kapoor.
Even though ‘React’ only samples one lyric from ‘Chandi Ka Badan’, it has its own time to shine.
Used as the main component of the hook, we hear Meena’s evocative tone that instantly reminds us of classical Hindi sounds.
Sermon proceeds to reply to the lyric with:
“Whatever she said,
then I’m that.”
The switch between the two languages was daring for its time but proved to be rejuvenating for hip hop.
It resulted in the track breaking into the 2002-2003 top 10 Billboard ‘Hot Rap Singles’, taking the eighth spot.
Additionally, the sprinkling of sitar throughout ‘React’ introduced thousands to a new blueprint of sampling success.
One of the most recognised South Asian music samples comes from American artist Truth Hurts’ track ‘Addictive’.
Released as the lead single off of her 2002 album, Truthfully Speaking, Truth enlisted the help of hip hop royalty, Rakim to grace the song.
‘Addictive’ grabs inspiration from ‘Thoda Resham Lagta Hai’ which was featured in the Bollywood film Jyoti (1981).
The track already had elements of a hip hop/pop song with its western snares and excitable rhythm.
However, it is the special voice of the legendary singer, Lata Mangeshkar, that takes centre stage on ‘Addictive’.
Off the bat, Lata’s tone vibrates around the ear and surprisingly as the beat drops, it maintains the cadence of the original sample.
The mix of Truth’s raunchy lyrics and Rakim’s effortless flow intertwine easily against the backdrop of Lata’s voice.
Even the music video had a Desi theme, with dancers in sarees, performing Desi inspired choreography.
The fusion project elevated South Asian music samples within hip hop and this was seen through the song’s success.
It sold over 600,000 copies in the US, went gold in several countries and peaked at number one in the 2002-2003 UK R&B charts.
Music heavyweights Jay-Z and Kanye West combined for their mesmerising song ‘The Bounce’, which is off Jay’s 2002 album, The Blueprint 2.
Produced by one of hip hops most experimental producers, Timbaland, the track flaunts the chorus of ‘Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai’.
Sung by Indian playback singer Alka Yagnik and Rajasthani folk singer Ila Arun, the track was part of the highly successful Khal Nayak (1993).
The movie dazzled at the box office but it was the soundtrack album that was the talking point.
It sold over 10 million copies, resulting in one of the year’s best-selling Bollywood soundtracks.
Additionally, ‘Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai’ won ‘Best Female Playback Singer’ and ‘Best Choreography’ at the 1994 Filmfare Awards.
‘The Bounce’ was typical in that it advertised Jay’s lyricism, Kanye’s unorthodox rapping and Timbaland’s daring instrumentation.
The lyrics “Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai” chimes in the chorus of Jay’s track and at regular intervals whilst the artists are rapping.
Although the original version has a higher frequency, Timbaland slows down the sample’s pitch. This results in a more intoxicating undertone that is subtle and airy but does not lose its intensity.
Jaylib is made up of hip hop musicians J Dilla and Madlib and when they released ‘Survival Test’ in 2003, the South Asian influence was distinct.
The pair had been big admirers of Indian vinyl, digging through various projects, which would help escalate their musical prowess.
This was achieved with ‘Survival Test’ which is off their album, Champion Sound (2003), sampling the ballad ‘Poorab Disa Se Pardesi Aya’.
This gorgeous track is sung by the soothing Lata Mangeshkar, featuring in the film Suraj Aur Chanda (1973).
The enriching tones of the song are cleverly refined within ‘Survival Test’ and serve as the bedrock of the track.
However, this South Asian tone is enhanced with the inclusion of Lata Ji’s hypnotic melodies, which pop up in intervals.
The two sounds mix effortlessly and one does not overpower the other. Instead, the catchy raps, head-nodding drums and hits of bass compliment the emotion of the vocals.
With over 654,000 Spotify plays, this song is a prime example of how South Asian music is a major influence within hip hop.
The Game is arguably one of the most influential hip hop artists of his generation.
With his unfiltered raps, he rose to the top in the mid-2000s, surpassing the likes of 50 Cent and Lil Wayne.
Hailing from Compton, USA, the home of music idols such as Kendrick Lamar and Dr Dre, The Game surprised many with ‘Put You On The Game’.
The tune is off the rapper’s classic double Platinum album, The Documentary (2005).
Produced by Timbaland, the sample used in the track’s chorus is from ‘Baghon Mein Bahar Hai’ (1969), a song in the 1969 film, Aradhana.
‘Baghon Mein Bahar Hai’ is a magnetic collaboration between Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi. However, only a fraction of the track is used.
In fact, the sampled portion appears at the very start of the original and can easily be missed.
It is the piercing falsetto of Lata Mangeshkar that Timbaland loops to create a dynamic reverberation, which then resonates in the deeper layers of the song.
Additionally, ‘Put You On The Game’ was one of the first examples of producers having to adapt. Instead of rapping over an entire sample, a small portion is used most artistically.
Once you hear Lata Ji in the background, it is hard to imagine the song working without it.
The Black Eyed Peas are one of the most influential hip hop and pop groups to have ever graced music.
Consisting of formidable artists like Fergie and will.i.am, the group amazed fans with their track ‘Don’t Phunk With My Heart’.
As the standout single from their 2005 album, Monkey Business, the song boasts an array of samples. However, it is the two Asha Bhosle tracks that stand out.
The first is ‘Aye Naujawan Sab Kuchh Yahan’ from the 1972 movie, Apradh.
The Black Eyed Peas used the same sultry sitars from this track to form the melody for ‘Dont Punk With My Heart’.
As soon as ‘Aye Naujawan Sab Kuchh Yahan’ begins, every listener can hear Fergie singing:
“No, no, no, no,
Don’t phunk with my heart.”
The group keep the Bollywood theme consistent with the dramatics of the song’s topic. Riddhi Adsul from Republic World outlines:
“The song follows the story of a couple, wherein one tries to end the relationship and the other is in disbelief.”
Additionally, the track also embeds the synthetic twang from the starting of ‘Yeh Mera Dil Pyar Ka Deewana’.
This sound was entirely associated with ‘Dont Punk With My Heart’ as the song opens in a similar fashion. However, unknowingly, it is taken from this Bollywood track, which features in the 1978 movie, Don.
The Black Eyed Peas infiltrate the track with their unique pop-infused raps, a catchy chorus and great vocal ranges.
Although, there is no denying how profound the South Asian music samples are in the masterpiece.
The variety of artists inspired by South Asian music is vast and that was proved by the hit, ‘Mirame’.
The hip hop-reggaeton fusion track is off Mas Flow 2 (2005). This album was a joint venture by Latin producers Luny Tunes and artist Baby Ranks.
Enlisting the help of ‘reggaeton king’ Daddy Yankee and singer Deevani, the hit track samples the joyful track ‘Eli Re Eli’.
Showcased in the Bollywood drama Yaadein (2001), the feelgood track is sung by famous artists Kavita Krishnamurthy, Alka Yagnik, Hema Sardesai and Udit Narayan.
However, it is the vibrant vocals of the female singers, which are sampled in ‘Mirame’. The tune opens with colourful guitar strings that are typical of Latin music.
Then the talented stylings of Kavita Krishnamurthy enter and suddenly the song takes a new turn.
The vocals are slightly slowed down on ‘Mirame’ but it achieves a tense build-up where the listener has to brace themselves for the drop.
This is where the beat suddenly opens to classic reggaeton drums, rich percussion and the layered vocals of Daddy Yankee.
The unlikely mix of hip hop, Bollywood and Latin pop creates a fascinating mix of cultures that surprisingly works.
‘Mirame’ provides a multilingual blueprint into how South Asian music samples don’t need to be applied to just English-speaking songs.
This was verified at the 2006 Lo Nuestro Awards, which gave Mas Flow 2 ‘Urban Album of the Year’. Undoubtedly, ‘Mirame’ was a significant part of that triumph.
Considered to be one of the pioneers of East Coast hip hop in the mid-90s, Mobb Deep are one of the most successful rap duos in history.
Made up of artists Havoc and Prodigy, the group have sold more than 3 million records. Their most illustrious body’s of work include Infamous (1995), Hell on Earth (1996) and Murda Muzik (1999).
Given their pioneering music, ‘Give It To Me’ was a slightly different avenue that the group explored.
It was part of the duo’s 2006 album, Bloody Money, which was their debut project on 50 Cent’s G-Unit music label.
The track sampled ‘Tujhe Yaad Na Meri Aaye’ from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998).
The saddened melodies, which open this song also appear at the start of ‘Give It To Me’.
Although the sample itself is short, it is looped throughout the track. It serves as an underlying component that makes way for the raw rap of Mobb Deep.
Both vocals compliment each other beautifully. The hard-hitting lyrics seamlessly flow against the sample’s melodic echo in a celebration of two cultures.
Jaylib member J Dilla shows his admiration for South Asian music samples once again with his use of the dramatic song ‘Mujhe Maar Dalo’ by the buzzing Asha Bhosle.
The track was part of the Bollywood movie Geeta Mera Naam (1974). All the music featured in the smash-hit was composed by the stylings of Laxmikant-Pyarelal.
Their artistry shines in ‘Mujhe Maar Dalo’ as the melodramatic musicality is met with Asha Ji’s theatric vocals.
However, it is the singers signature melody found at 2:10 that J Dilla uses for his short yet potent record ‘People’.
Off his 2006 album, Donuts, the powerful track is a musically constructed protest against bigotry, discrimination and racism.
Asha Ji’s harmony oozes throughout the song, as her voice is used to symbolise the cries of segregated people.
The screams of “my people” towards the end work perfectly with ‘Mujhe Maar Dalo’, providing an overwhelming finish for the listener.
The blend of both sounds highlights the singing capabilities of South Asian artists, which can be manipulated to fit any genre or message.
With over 469,000 YouTube views, the artistic piece was an immersive depiction of the black plight of African Americans.
British Asian rapper and activist, M.I.A, is one of the most widely recognised artists in the world.
Known for her experimental fusions of dance, electronic and hip hop, M.I.A continually pushes the boundaries of her artform.
She unapologetically advocates for South Asians, with the majority of her music being an evocative commentary on immigration and identity.
The starlet’s appreciation for her cultural roots was epitomised in her 2007 song, ‘Jimmy’, which is off her album Kala (2007).
Rather than a sample, ‘Jimmy’ is actually a modern rendition of ‘Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja’ from the movie Disco Dancer (1982).
Both tracks are identical to each other, delivering a disco ambience, whilst radiating retro instrumentation.
However, M.I.A’s version has a slight techno flavour but still holds on to that Bollywood funk. Some listeners may have perceived this as lazy, but it is sonically authentic.
Also, the translated lyrics introduced a more diverse audience to the soul of South Asian music.
The illustrious track went on to top the UK Indie Chart in 2007, gaining worldwide notoriety for its colourful tones and hits of Hindi melodies.
Los Angeles born rapper, producer and DJ, Flying Lotus, was onto a gem with the release of his album Los Angeles (2008)
It was ‘GNG BNG’ that really stood out, sampling playback singer and composer Vijaya T. Rajender’s wonderful track ‘Indralogathu’.
Taken from the Tamil movie, Uyirullavarai Usha (1983), this captivating tune was impressively written by Rajender.
Sung by late Indian playback singer, SP Balasubrahmanyam, the cool tones of the song are futuristic yet joyful.
These same sounds open ‘GNG BNG’ and are almost identical to the original. Lotus allows the sample to run for twenty-one seconds until the beat switches up to a heavy drum and bass percussion.
This pace lasts for approximately twenty seconds and then the South Asian strings start to play elegantly.
Although there are continuous shifts in sound, the listening experience is fluid and compelling.
Lotus’ track emphasises the intrigue in hearing how South Asia was pushing the boundaries of hip hop and impacting its musicians.
Similar to ‘Truth Hurts’, La Coka Nostra composed this masterpiece, which puts the South Asian music sample at the forefront.
The hip hop group consists of talented rappers DJ Lethal, Danny Boy, Everlast, Ill Bill and Slaine.
What’s mesmerising about this project is the contrasting elements of the beat and lyrics.
Sampling Asha Bhosle’s melancholic ‘Mujhe Maar Daalo’ from the movie Geetaa Mera Naam (1974), ‘Choose Your Side’ is an extraordinary listen.
With the help of notable rapper Bun B, the raw lyricism against the sweetness of the sample makes this track penetrating and insightful.
A review on Sputnik Music reiterated the talent Bun B brought to the track:
“One of the best tracks features Southern rap legend Bun B.
“On ‘Choose Your Side’ he delivers an excellent first verse and a catchy hook over an Arabic-styled beat.”
‘Choose Your Side’ imitates the beat of ‘Mujhe Maar Daalo’ but has an insane drop that is drenched in hip hop.
The added pulses of Asha Ji’s voice provide a sensual relief before the bars about genocide and suicide effectively continue.
With more than 3 million YouTube views, this track was a gamechanger for the hip hop scene.
A close affiliation with Jaylib is one of the original turntablists, J Rocc. The infamous DJ and producer has been reinventing the hip hop scene since the early 90s.
However, it was not until 2011 where we saw the artists first album of his own production, Some Cold Rock Stuff, released.
The immersive project included the prominent track ‘Party’ which sampled ‘Yeh Dhuan Kahan’, sung by the amazing Asha Bhosle.
The track was composed by Indian duo Laxmikant-Pyarelal and featured in the movie Dil Aur Deewaar (1978).
Interestingly, in the movie, the song is performed whilst at a disco and J Rocc uses this as the main ambience of his track.
Using the groovy bassline of ‘Yeh Dhuan Kahan’, Rocc adds a vibrant beat that fuses modern and retro sounds, resulting in incredible replay value.
Towards the end, the song transitions into Willie Hutch’s ‘Mack’s Stroll/The Getaway’ (1973). Hutch was a tantalising Motown singer, most prominent in the 70s and 80s.
This just reinforces the versatility, soul and culture of the piece. ‘Party’ is definitely a project to add to the playlist.
True Tiger, an established UK dubstep and grime production group, skyrocketed with the track ‘Slang Like This’.
Although the group took charge of the composition, iconic grime artist P Money shone with his metaphors and addictive flow.
The instrumental is draped in hardcore sounds of the British underground and gave Bollywood sampling a new lease of life.
Against the heavy wobbles of bass, the lyrics “parbat ke peeche” flutter in the background.
The track is part of the 1976 movie, Mehbooba, and was scored by one of the greatest composers of the Indian film industry, RD Burman.
One would think the aggression of a dubstep inspired beat would drown out Lata Ji’ charming vocals. However, it does quite the opposite.
The electronic tinges and modern production allowed both songs to flourish simultaneously as well as individually.
The track is not completely hip hop. Though, it still has an element of freshness, which undoubtedly progressed the UK’s music scene.
‘Slang Like This’ is an anthem that is still adored by music lovers. The replay value, even in 2021, is powerful but not surprising.
One of the most agile producers in hip hop, Kanye West, composed ‘Pain’ as part of rapper Pusha T’s album, My Name Is My Name (2013).
Kanye is known for his use of samples and his ability to transform them where they sound completely original. Unsurprinslgy, this was achieved with ‘Pain’.
Pusha, who is the president of Kanye’s label GOOD Music, is one of the most symbolic artists within the music industry.
So their combination, along with hip hop star Future, was always going to create a grand song.
West used the comical song ‘My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves’ from the movie Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) as a sample.
The drums, vocals and sounds are totally unrecognisable on ‘Pain’. Using his futuristic vision, Kanye turned ‘My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves’ into a weighted, melodic and dark treasure.
The raw rap, solid chords and resounding echo over the minuscule undertone of Kishore Kumar’s excellent vocals are astounding.
Even though it is harder to fathom the South Asian sample on ‘Pain’, it emphasises the reach of Bollywood music.
The thrilling track was one of the first singles released by Pusha to promote the album.
Thus, highlighting the rappers pride and belief in the song, which wouldn’t have been possible without ‘My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves’.
Keeping in line with hip hop mogul, Kanye West, he revisited Bollywood music again but this time for his own album, Yeezus (2013).
The robust, synthetic and experimental sounds are poignant within this album and ‘I Am A God’ is no different.
The abrupt pauses and vigorous drums ALSO elevate the track to the point where no sample can be heard.
In June 2013, Ryan Dombal from Pitchfork emphasised the experimentation of this piece, exclaiming:
“The song is pierced by a series of primal screams, pixelated outbursts that are only briefly able to halt the beat’s heaving evil.”
This is the intriguing mystery of the track. However, Manna Dey and Asha Bhosle’s ‘Are Zindagi Ka Khel’ is sampled.
The song, from comedy-drama Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) is composed by RD Burman and is partly synthetic in itself.
The impactful dhol, clinking instruments and emphatic vocals ring together seamlessly yet interestingly.
However, there is not a definitive part of ‘I Am A God’ which mirrors ‘Are Zindagi Ka Khel’.
In addition, the hip hop masterpiece uses various samples from the Bollywood classic. Although, the samples are so artistically modified that they become unrecognisable.
Some may see this as a negative thing. But, each South Asian sample, no matter how distinct, is needed to create the final instrumental.
‘I Am A God’ utilises undertones of screechy strings, whispy cries and creepy footsteps.
These elements exemplify the way Kanye has used South Asian music samples to symbolise more than just sounds.
Therefore, Bollywood’s influence on Kanye is much more than hearing the melody, it provides a basis for some of his impeccable songs to flourish.
As of 2021, Travis Scott is one of the faces of hip hop and his musical journey has been noteworthy. Especially for his daring fusions and original productions.
Collaborating with another prominent rapper, ASAP Ferg, the duo released ‘Uptown’ in 2013 which was part of Travis’ debut mixtape, Owl Pharaoh.
The track was inevitable in delivering the typical Travis recipe of a head-nodding beat, trappy tempos and passionate raps.
Nonetheless, it is the instrumental, which has listeners going crazy.
That is mainly down to the sample taken from ‘Kamar Meri Lattu’ which features in the 1973 film, Banarasi Babu.
The soulful track, sung by Asha Bhosle, symbolises the singers gracious vocals and emotive tone.
However, it is only three seconds at the start of the track, which are sampled to make up the entire duration of ‘Uptown’.
Travis slightly pitches up the horn-like wails but adds a layer of echo to achieve a tense atmosphere.
As the track builds up, the hits of bass come in and suddenly a South Asian sample turns into a hip hop classic.
Impressively, this was all constructed by Canadian producer, WondaGurl, who was just sixteen years old when she produced this.
The addition of Travis’ iconic adlibs and Ferg’s rhythmic flow achieves an immersive ambience of musicality.
Moreover, ‘Uptown’ epitomises the production of South Asian songs.
It emphasises instrumentation and how such a tiny element can provide an awe-inspiring foundation for an entire hip hop song.
Global superstar Tinashe is an American singer, songwriter and dancer who sampled the dazzling ‘Bol Na Halke Halke’.
Taken from the hit movie Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007), the song starts with a symphony of soothing instruments.
Each time the beat stops, another instrument is added, building a sequence of layers that entice the listener.
Tinashe recognised the delicacy of these sounds and used them as the groundwork for her hit ‘Wrong’.
The piece serves as a well-received focal point of her seven-song mixtape, Amethyst (2015).
Similarly, the track opens up with the tone of ‘Bol Na Halke Halke’, but the added eery vibrations make it a more sombre atmosphere.
Although Tinashe did not sample the vocals of music idols Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Mahalakshmi Iyer, her voice is irresistible against the South Asian pulses.
This should come as no surprise as the artist linked up with Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth.
He is a long-term advocate for South Asian sounds.
Furthermore, as ‘Bol Na Halke Halke’ is artistic and intimate, ‘Wrong’ intensifies these same emotions impressively.
The elongated notes, hits of percussion and chunks of trappy pitch achieve a tranquil ambience, similar to its Bollywood counterpart.
With such an array of South Asian music samples gracing hip hop, it is important to recognise how the two cultures complement one another.
From legendary artists like Mobb Deep to modern-day moguls like Travis Scott, the impact of South Asian culture is poignant.
Whether it is the dramatic ballads of Bollywood or passionate renditions of the sitar, these creative sounds are beloved.
Furthermore, many music fans are unaware that these popular hip hop tracks have had any Desi influence at all.
Not only is this an ode to the artistry of creating music, but shows that songs aren’t always completely original.
That’s not to say they aren’t masterpieces but it emphasises how formidable South Asia is within western music.
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20 Top South Asian Music Samples in Hip Hop – DESIblitz
Hip hop is a monumental genre within music, however, some of its most popular tracks have sampled South Asian music. We take a look at the best 20.