Long before Jay-Z endorsed his hit anthem, Mundian To Bach Ke, Panjabi MC had already impressed desi music lovers with his bhangra record-making skills. The American superstar rapping over two of the verses simply highlighted PMC’s genius idea of sampling the Knight Rider theme tune and laying it over Labh Janjua’s vocals to create a brand-new fusion.
Several years on and the Midlands-based producer delivers the 10th and arguably most accomplished album of his career. Boasting a whopping 18 new tracks, The Raj (titled after the artist’s real name, Rajinder Rai) is 80 minutes of pumping basslines and body-moving beats that will please bhangra purists and experimentalists alike.
Unlike his previous album, Indian Timing, which was created on the road, PMC sticks to the studio here, proudly stating that The Raj is recorded in Great Britain. With influences that stretch from UK bhangra and Punjabi folk to hip hop, dance and even a hint of dubstep and qawwali, The Raj isn’t as mixed up as it sounds. PMC’s knack of blending mainstream sounds with ethnic beats works a treat and is reflective of his cultural soundscape.
Songs like Moorni with its infectious ‘balle balle’ lick and fantastic vocal by Ashok Gill can be grouped together with Mundian Di Kher and Akh Da Eshara for their thumping bhangra beats and trademark PMC tumbi running throughout. Whereas new versions of Freaky Like That by Yung Texxus and Sox In Da Air featuring Shizz Nitty and Kamalmeet Kaur are fine examples of how hardcore hip hop can meld seamlessly with traditional Punjabi lyrics and rhythms, sounding at home in any club in the world. But beware: they come with a parental advisory warning for their X-rated lyrics.
However, what really stands out is not PMC’s production prowess, more his own performance skills. Stepping to the mic for the title-track and Big Day Party, a sure-fire wedding anthem in which he accompanies the legendary Kuldeep Manak, PMC’s husky patter commands attention. But it’s Salute that really grabs attention with PMC getting political whilst paying tribute to the historic sacrifice made by soldiers and their families.
Paying homage to his roots while also having the courage to experiment with new ideas is what PMC has always been about. With The Raj he is keeping bhangra alive and contemporary, and stamping his authority over his peers.