exclusive interview with the1Shanti

interview by dimmSummer
date: 6.20.03
painfully transcribed by dimm summer
listen: Streaming MP3 40kbs mono
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ET: This is ethnotechno's interview with the1Shanti... Tell us about your Asia trip for the next three or four months.

the1Shanti: We're going back to Bangkok because that's where we're based out of for the summer. We radiate from Thailand to all the other asian countries throwing the Supa Fly Bindi shows that DJ Cavo and Ofay1 put together. The goal of that is to bring the Indian sound to that area and have a consistent club night and format for it. There are bhangra sections to it, but basically we're trying to represent the hip hop vibe mixed with the Indian stuff.

ET: So what 's the reception like? When you say Bangkok, is it just Bangkok or all the surrounding areas?

the1Shanti: We've been all over, Jakarta, India, Japan... all of Asia, and then they're doing Europe again. In Europe we've been on the road with Ursula Rucker from the Roots crew, FeelGood Productions from Italy... we've done a lot with DJ Pathaan from Stoned Asia... The reception's great. Kids are hungry for it because there's music to back up everything that's going on. So when something like this comes to their town, there's nothing else like it around to break in those sounds for them.... We were on the road with Swaraj, and that was different because you have a lot more drum and bass and the UK influence; but with Ofay from San Fran, Cavo and I from New York, and Niraj [Chag] from London... we got our own vibe, it's more hip-hop-based.

In Bangkok we're got close to a 1000 kids coming up to NovaTel, the BoomRoom every week... There's over half a million people in the Bangkok Metro area alone. So they have to turn people away basically. After a couple of hours, it's dirty because there's all these Panjabi kids wanting to come in, get tanked and hit on girls. After a while it gets violent when you gotta turn them away cuz there's no more room.

ET: So if your show is billed as 'Indian,' is the demographic all Indian or do you see a mix?

the1Shanti: We see all sorts of faces, Indian, Thai, White, Black... to them it's just good music... but the slogan for the Supa Fly Bindi tour is, "Spreadin the Desi Vibes WorldWide." I've never been on a tour where it's been 'Indian' billed - I just treat it as a hip hop show... with Dum Dum Project and Swaraj, they've always been on the road as the Urban/Asian Underground sound - but for us it's just billed as a club night that's mixing up all these different sounds. I'm really happy because the majority of it's hip hop based. When I first came to London a lot of it was really drum and bass/breaks heavy - and although I love listening to that it would more in the crib than out in a club, cuz I'm just a hip hop kid from New York. Now's it's a great climate where Ofay will flip remixes of Eminem over bhangra beats live on four turntables - which has been done but not to that extent by American DJs overseas. It's usually from people like Panjabi MC, but the sound is really expanding.

ET: When you're dropping your rhymes is it all English or do you ever pull out other languages?

the1Shanti: It's mostly English, but I speak Bangla fluently... I did rhyme in Bangla on a record before signing on with Dum Dum Project to see how it would be accepted, and it was on some next shit, people weren't even understanding what was going on.

ET: We heard some other stuff that you are producing here, can we talk about that?

the1Shanti: ...naw, let's keep it hip hop - Right now my fiance and I've been producing a lot of people, working on a lot of hip hop projects incorporating New York MCs and DJs with vocalists form DC, world music vibes... you'd consider it downtempo mixed with hip hop - taking hip hop ideals from 1990 and mixing it in with world music flavour. Sort of the way Timbaland's been doing for the last five years. When Timbaland does it it's hip hop, but when these people overseas do it they don't wanna call it hip hop, they have their own genres and definitions for it. They call it "downtempo," "chillout" or "buddhabar..." So when we hear it, we know it's hip hop and we show the way we would do it.

We're also working on the new Dum Dum Project album- the sound's evolved and changed, it's the dopest thing I've heard in my life. And with Cavo [Sean Dinsmore, aka Dum Dum Project] bringing Niraj on board, who's signed to Artful Dodger and producing every top ten single hitting the UK... he's bringing the asian elements to what we're doing to make it cross over and hit the charts. He's got the sensibilities to take what Cavo and I are doing and make it something that everyone can feel beyond just a hip hip vibe. And that's what happened with Panjabi 5-0... that was basically Niraj and Cavo's brainchild.

ET: It seems that people in Asia (East Asia, India) are really obsessed with cheesy 70's classic rock... do you see yourself needing to water down your own style to feed whatever it is that they want? Or do you just bring them you sound and say, "This is it, take it or leave it?"

the1Shanti: We're lucky that the taste-maker DJs over there are music fans themselves...perfect example: DJ Ofay over in Bangkok who's on MTV, he's on Channel V, he does the largest gigs at Q-Bar bringing over MTV-acts from the US... have been brining over Cavo for a while now, and when they heard about me, they knew it was going to blow up there because nothing like this has been done... So, we don't ever really water our stuff down. Usually, they'll bring Cavo out to test the waters, and it'll end up that we won't even have enough time to do all the shows they want us to do the demand's so high. So it's not a take it or leave it situation, it's all DDP and the1Shanti, if it swims here in New York, it can make it anywhere.

ET: What's your take on the whole UK/Bhangra scene and how the DDP is doing with Panjabi 5-0?

the1Shanti: Bhangra scene's beautiful man... Bhangra's been this little bastard child of the UK music scene for like twelve years now, but it's beautiful because it's so hip hop... a lot of these kids are making hip hop-based... there is drum and bass and garage.. but it was inevitable that something was going to break-through - PMC and Jay-Z... that was a beautiful thing: being an MC myself that was told by the majors that the time wasn't right, there's no market for you here and something that big coming out makes me proud because somebody's been able to do it.

Panjabi 5-0 was a story out of Vikram Chandra's "Love and Longing in Bombay" about a Panjabi cop... and Cavo was always kicking around the idea of doing something based loosely on that story... so one day we were all going to a Stoned Asia gig in London where we see a homeless Sardarji (devout Sikh), tattered jacket and all, sitting on the curb. We all think, "Man, we gotta help uncle (respectful name for elder man) out," because we just don't see homeless Indians in the US. So, just as we stop the cab a robbery was taking place up the street... When the homeless Panjabi dude sees this he turns around and opens his jacket to pull out a walkie-talkie and all of a sudden all these cops rush out to bust these dudes... And both of us at the same time were like, "OH SHIT! Panjabi 5-0!"

Eight months later Niraj and Cavo send over the tune, I dropped my freestyles, and that was it.

ET: Yeah that's doing really well right now on Bobby & Nihal, it's tearing it up...

the1Shanti: Yeah, that's exciting.. Bobby Friction's the MAN.. all those guys, they've got so much love over in the UK. And it's weird for me coming from hip hop where you've gotta earn your respect... but they just took me in, and they're like family now.

ET: So what kinda music do you listen to when you're walking down the street with your headphones on?

the1Shanti: I listen to everything... really been feeling the Norah Jones album... I listen to a lot of beats - Elite, from RuffRiders will nail me out a beat CD and I'll just listen to that and freestyle in my head. But Cavo got me hooked on Bollywood soundtracks - he's been listening to a lot of Hindi, Tamil and Middle Eastern music - he's really opened up my perspective. When I listen to a track that's not hip hop I listen for samples, thinking, "Yo, it'd be so dope if we flipped that and threw an MC over that." He's taught me to appreciate someone else's art in the moment without the need to take someone else's art and trying to incorporate it into my own art because of it's inspiration. And that's Cavo, he really loves and respects music. We weren't making the kind of bucks we were making in the US while trying to break in Asia, but he's got so much vision and respect for what he does.

ET: Let's talk about why you do music... obviously it comes from the same place, but now that you are starting to get a lot of attention, what are your goals?

the1Shanti: Well, I started rhyming when I was eight, and released my fist recorded when I was twelve. That was when I thought I could change the world with my music. Then the business kinda beat that shit out of me slowly but surely. Then for a while I put out underground indie 12-inches with friends like L Fudge, Louis Logic, MastaMinds, J Zone, just having fun. When I got that first indie 12-inch out I was so happy, like, "this is it, I got to do something. Anything after this is going to be extended play time..." After that, everyone came through saying that I shouldn't stop, that I had to keep going. So then I put together an EP called DeadLine and put that out - underground again. And it was organic, people just wanted to hear it. It had nothing to do with me being Indian. Other people decided it was good enough to play on radio shows with everything else. After that and meeting so many great people, I could go into places like Sony and it wouldn't be like the kid waiting at the receptionist's desk with a demo, it was like, "hey I heard your stuff and I like it..." Then I got into the business side of music and learned a lot. My goal right now is still not to change the world but maybe I might be able to contribute something.

I used to really be into lyrics thinking, "Yo, I'm gonna spit the illest battle verse in sixteen bars, shatter muthafuckers and blow them away...there were all these people running around in the same circles, everyone was underground. And that's what you did, you battled. But that doesn't make you money. You can put out battle records forever but after a while, how many battle records are in your girlfriend's collection? I've been around the world enough to just want to see people party when they see me, to keep the party going.

ET: Nice, nice. What do you talk about in your music, is it the "Indian" perspective, or just a human perspective?

the1Shanti: It's hip hip. It's not Indian.. now, more than ever hip hop's colourblind. I've seen Thai rappers, British MCs.. in Paris they won't even listen to American hip hop, they have their own scene, they don't wanna bring over Ja Rule or DMX. Maybe ten, fifteen years ago it was different, but now everyone can speak through the art form. Of course, me being who I am, I've got a joint called "Come Closer," about growing up when Indian girls wouldn't dig me. They'd only date black dudes, white dudes or other Asians. The Indian guys were the last ones they'd ever wanna date. But when it comes time to get married, they've got their proper doctor/engineer on lock down... That leaves people like me in the dark because I love Indian women. This track is about having lots of dope, bangin Indian friends that were girls that would never consider me a romantic interest because I was Indian. I wrote that shit general enough in a hip hop vibe, you know, "come closer, we supposed to be together" but what it's really saying is, "you haven't even given me a chance because of who I am, but who I am is who YOU are."

ET: That's dope man... Is there anything that you want people out there to know that we haven't touched upon today?

the1Shanti: I think I've been incredibly blessed in that I have all these incredible people in my life: Elite from RuffRiders hooking up incredible beats and music that make me cry, same with Niraj Chag, same with Cavo... the people that are contributing to my experience and the fans that are supporting what everyone around me is creating is so amazing... So, thank you for the blessings everybody...

Fade into "Dealines" -the1Shanti with L Fudge