While a big name in increasingly rap-savvy India, most American hip-hop fans probably best know Panjabi MC from his international hit “Mundian To Bach Ke” (“Beware of the Boys”), to which Jay-Z famously added two verses back in 2003. While it was undoubtedly a career-shifting track, the English-born Panjabi MC has been making music for two decades now, focusing largely on integrating the genres of bhangra and hip-hop.
XXL recently caught up with the DJ/producer/rapper to see what he’s been up to in the ten years since “Beware,” what he thinks about hip-hop culture in India, and what he’s got cooking for release this year.—Katie Moore
Let’s start with some background, for readers who mostly know the Jay-Z track. You got started with music at the age of 12, right?
Yeah. I started writing raps and stuff at the age of about 12, and I managed to record by the time I was about 16. But these were just local raps along the lines of U.K. hip-hop that was happening at the time. And I didn’t really plan to rap alongside American artists or anything like that.
Could you give us a rundown of your evolution as an artist, maybe what you see as the high points of your career?
I’ve done a number of EP releases through local independent labels in the U.K., and around 2002, a couple of my songs—mainly “Mundian To Bach Ke”—started getting picked up by hip-hop DJs. I’ve been doing shows since a few years before that and I’ve just carried on releasing EPs. At the moment, I’ve got my own label, as well. I’ve kept it very independent, very underground. I’ve just released stuff from a street level. And I’m open for people to license it onto films and then hope for it to get big enough for it to go mainstream or whatever. But it’s not something I like to do myself. I don’t really make videos or anything myself. But when an album or something might get licensed in India and they might say, “Look, we want you in the video,” then I might say, “Yeah, OK, no problem.” But apart from that, I just like to release things from the bedroom.