What do Amitabh Bachchan and rapper Jay-Z have in common? A superhit album composed by the reverent music director duo Kalyanji-Anandji of the evergreen film Don. Parts of the film’s original music feature on the rapper’s latest experimental album, Hindustani Gangster, meshed with Jay-Z’s unique rapping style.
It is an ode to the on-screen gangster’s psyche represented vividly in the retro Bollywood era — a theme that has been close to Jay-Z’s heart since 2007 when he released American Gangster, his 10th studio album dedicated to Ridley Scott’s cult film by the same name, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.
On the Hindustani Gangster website (hindustanigangster.com), Jay-Z talks about his tryst with retro Bollywood cinema. On watching desi classics like Don, he found an uncanny resemblance in the gangster heroes in both Bollywood yesteryear hits and Hollywood chart-toppers. So, after American Gangster, Hindustani Gangster felt like a natural progression and he decided to dabble in old Indian film music.
On the site, Jay-Z goes on to talk about how Hindustani Gangster’s journey began like a mere experiment, with a few mash-ups, but then soon snowballed into a full-fledged album with eight original tracks, six mash-ups and a few edits. It is now available as a free download online on the website.
“Fusing Hindi film lyrics with rap and R&B has become common in the hip-hop music industry,” says music composer Salim Merchant of the duo Salim-Suleiman. “But with Hindustani Gangster, Jay-Z has managed to create a one-of-a-kind collaboration of two disparate genres that is not just smooth, but unique thanks to his experimental vision,” he adds. The tracks on Hindustani Gangster include direct lifts of theme music, iconic dialogues, and lyrics from Bollywood classics such as Don and Bombay to Goa and each Bollywood “insert” appears in good time during the course of each track.
The rap largely focuses on how a gangster’s life is restricted by fate and circumstance. The interlude wraps up with a line: Kisi Ki Zindagi Samajh Ne Se Pehle, Bahut Zaroori Hai Unki Zindagi Jina— that it takes a lot to have lived like a gangster, reasons a common man cannot grasp without having lived that life, and survived to tell the tale.
“The lyrical style and what he raps about is from his life in Marcy Projects (Brooklyn) where he grew up, and can easily be related to a gangster's life in the 70s in India. It’s all about the hustle — hustle to make cash, hustle to everything,” says Anish Tripathi, (29), a Jay-Z fan and an avid hip-hop music listener.
Tripathi thinks the album provides great listening because it resurrects groovy sounds and instruments from the Bollywood of the 70s in a new form. Besides good entertainment value, this new spin to old Hindi music can be a great opening for the Bollywood music industry, believes Merchant.
Hindustani Gangster is a contemporary tribute to Bollywood hits, its heroes, villains, and the music that even after decades stays alive and becomes critically acclaimed in another continent, miles away from where it was first created.