Did you know that Dan the Automator and DJ Shadow produced an album of Indian music in 1999? Well, they did. That should get you reading …
Some background: Just as American cinema has B-movies to counter big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, Indian cinema has masala, or “mixed spice," pictures.
Brothers Anandji V. Shah and Kalyanji V. Shah directed and scored a majority of these films and, it turns out, the music was extraordinary.
Enter Dan the Automator, the out-there producer responsible for such classics as Dr. Octagon’s Dr. Octagonecologyst
, Del tha Funkee Homosapien Deltron 3030
, Handsome Boy Modeling School’s So … How’s Your Girl?
and the first Gorillaz album. Automator found the Shah brothers’ recordings and, well, I assume this was his thought process at that point …
"Wow, these songs are badass! You’d think the music would be simple and repetitive, but those guys really knew what they were doing! You know what I should do? I should release this! A lot of people would dig it! Wait, though, before I release it … how about I call my good buddy Shadow over and we change the songs?! Yeah, I’ll add a new sitar part and write some new beats and Shadow, well, he can add a new drum track!"
Basically, that’s exactly what Automator did. He and DJ Shadow (billed as DJ Josh Davis for some reason, probably some contract issue) took this wonderful, fresh music and, well, they tinkered with it quite a bit.
Fortunately for listeners, they were tasteful about the entire process and the end product, Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Car & Sitars
, is flat-out incredible. People that haven’t heard the album might see the track names and fear that Automator is mocking Bollywood culture (some track names include “The Good, the Bad and the Chutney" and “Fear of a Brown Planet"), but it’s all done in fun. Though it is
a bit strange that they didn’t just release the original recordings, these tracks are strong enough to interest listeners in digging deeper into the world of Indian musicians such as Anandji and Kalyanji. And considering the fact that Automator could have just as easily left the recordings wherever he found them and made another weird hip-hop album (dude must get hundreds of requests a day from various emcees), it’s refreshing that he went out on a limp and released something that can actually open a few eyes to a brand new culture.
Now, with politics out of the way, we can move on to what really matters: the music
, baby! And the tunes here, well, they’re phenomenal. Though almost all of the tracks are instrumentals, these songs never get old or tiresome. Beats change and the songs change directions enough that you’ll never find yourself wanting to skip ahead.
Automator also samples brief snippets of dialogue from the Shah brothers’ films throughout Bombay the Hard Way
, allowing listeners to feel more in tune to the Bollywood culture than if they were only hearing the music. This added layer also makes the album more engaging, with practically every song kicking off with a new batch of dialogue.
“Bombay 405 Miles" opens things up with energetic horns and creepy percussion, immediately setting the scene. I’m no expert in Indian music, but I know what I think sounds great and this
, folks, sounds fantastic. The next track, “The Good, the Bad and the Chutney," features heavy wah effects, enough that it almost sounds like generic old school porn music, but it’s the keyboards that really standout, adding an almost menacing appeal to the tune.
DJ Shadow fans wondering which songs feature him the most should skip ahead to “My Guru," which starts off with a catchy sitar and then becomes about 4,000 times better when Shadow’s drums start. These are raw, simple drum parts, think the “Strike" interludes on Preemptive Strike
, but they’re still very effective, making you bob your head as if you’re listening to straight-up hip-hop and not, well, a sitar-driven tune called “My Guru." Another highlight is “Ganges A Go-Go," which actually features lyrics, though they are as simple as lyrics can get. Two voices sing the words over a fast drumbeat and the whole thing is very tongue-in-cheek and playful.
Another strong cut, and my personal favorite, is the outstanding “Inspector Jay From Dehli." The opening dialogue, which is in English, sounds like its straight out of an old James Bond flick, and after 30 seconds, the song starts and you hear the album’s best beat. Hell, this might be one of the best beats Automator ever produced, up there with Dr. Octagon’s “Earth People" and Deltron 3030’s “Things You Can Do." The beat is slow, so slow it almost sounds like its from one of those horrendous “Chopped and Screwed" CDs you see everywhere, but it packs such a punch that you can only sit there and listen in awe. Seriously, even hip-hop fans that think the idea behind this album is stupid should at least download “Inspector Jay From Dehli."
Overall, this is a remarkably strong effort and certainly one of the weirdest hip-hop albums I own. It isn’t even really hip-hop, but I don’t know what else to call it. Just check it out, you won’t be disappointed.