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Chakdey.com’s Ramneek reviews Tigerstyle’s Digi-Bhang

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After the release of Mystics, Martyrs & Maharajas, Tigerstyle provided production for Yugraj’s Chan Warga Chamkara; a highly underrated folk-heavy gem, Miss Pooja’s solo albums, Bikram Singh’s Bik.I.Am, Nav Sidhu’s Born to Shine and they also occasionally found time to drop genre-bending singles, including “Kudi,” “Ik Banere“ “Ay-Ha!” and “Boss,” in preparation for Digi-Bhang.

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It’s been four long years since the release of Mystics, Martyrs & Maharajas, Tigerstyle’s uneven magnum opus. Although the record featured quality tracks, including “Maan Doabe Da,” “Bol! Bol! Bol!” and “Heer,” there were definitely some questionable moments. Mystics, Martyrs & Maharajas, along with Indian Timing, might just be one of the most ambitious Punjabi albums of the past 10 years, but, with a runtime of nearly 80 minutes, the product had inevitable moments of filler, which resulted from Tigerstyle choosing to provide beats for undeserving artists, who proceeded to tarnish quality productions with lacklustre rhymes.

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After the release of Mystics, Martyrs & Maharajas, Tigerstyle provided production for Yugraj’s Chan Warga Chamkara; a highly underrated folk-heavy gem, Miss Pooja’s solo albums, Bikram Singh’s Bik.I.Am, Nav Sidhu’s Born to Shine and they also occasionally found time to drop genre-bending singles, including “Kudi,” “Ik Banere“ “Ay-Ha!” and “Boss,” in preparation for Digi-Bhang.

Although the Tigerstyle brand has commanded attention since The Rising, the Digi-Bhang singles were irresistible sonic anomalies, resulting in the upcoming album being the most anticipated Bhangra release since the Tru-Skool and Diljit collaboration on Back to Basics. But, unlike Back to Basics, which featured Tru-Skool’s brilliant throwbacks to the world of Charanjit Ahuja, Tigerstyle seemed to have taken the Deepak Khanzanchi route, developing their own subgenre of Punjabi music. Producers have experimented with Electronic Dance Music in Bhangra for years, but the Digi-Bhang singles sounded like miniature audio revolutions. “Kudi,” “Ik Banere,” “Ay-Ha!” and “Boss” were unlike anything else in Punjabi music, and these teasers have finally culminated in Digi-Bhang, a focused exploration into the realms of EDM and Punjabi Folk. And it’s probably Tigerstyle’s finest release since Extended Play.

Kicking off the record with the now familiar singles, “Ay-Ha!,” “Boss” and “Kudi,” the listener is reminded why anticipation grew exponentially for the album: sinister basslines, topnotch vocals and experimentation galore. Opening up with 25 seconds of pure beatboxing, courtesy of Big Tajj, Tigerstyle pay homage to the likes of Doug E. Fresh, Biz Markie and Buff Love from the Fat Boys, before relentlessly dropping eargasmic basslines; ingeniously amalgamating moombahton and dubstep; layering electronica with algozey, dhol and tumbi and unearthing vocalists like R.K. Mehndi.

After the dust has settled and the listener has been reacquainted with the singles, the pressure is on and Tigerstyle decide to introduce the new material with a Rap tune, a recipe for disaster. If you are familiar with A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr and Jeru the Damaja, you know that the majority of Punjabi Rap is the lowest form of Hip-Hop music. Blending Hip-Hop beats with traditional Punjabi instruments has resulted in classics like Word is Born, Do or Die and Grass Roots, but pseudo emcees in the Bhangra world have hurt the quality of modern Punjabi music with their infantile rhymes.

The hype and praise surrounding the Digi-Bhang singles is reminiscent of JK’s Gabru Panjab Dha. After releasing four singles, the anticipation for JK’s debut was also ridiculously high. When released, the record started off with the familiar title track and a skit before transitioning into the fresh material with Tru-Skool’s pounding percussion on “Panga Peh Giya,” a hard, accessible and brilliant folk track.  Tigerstyle could have taken a similar route and placed  the more accessible folk track in place of the Rap tune, but they decided to take a huge risk by giving the Californian Kanwar, previously featured on “Son of a Sardar” and Jazzy B’s “Rambo,” another shot at Bhangra glory, and although Hip-Hop heads might be skeptical, Kanwar actually delivers the goods. Effortlessly coupling Punjabi and English rhymes, Kanwar’s braggadocious machismo is backed by a beat that sounds like a mixture of Scott Storch’s “Lean Back,” some G-Funk and even the beat making mind of DJ Premier, as Tigerstyle creates a chorus out of scratches and a Labh Janjua sample.

The following track “Tera Hasna” will surely sate the appetites of folk junkies, who prefer the Tigerstyle heard on “Dhol Vajda” and “Putt Jattan De Shakeen.” Featuring an outstanding vocal from Tanveer Gogi, who had one of the finest tracks of 2011 with the Highflyers’ “Naal Nachna,” the song sadly represents one of the few pure elemental folk moments on the album. “Pehli Peshi” is the other raw folk track, featuring a pulsating dhol throughout as R.K Mehndi makes his second appearance on the album.

Zulfaan De Naag,” features Kaur-B, who is one of many female vocalists to appear on the gender equality promoting Digi-Bhang. It might go unnoticed, but the amount of female vocalists used on Tigerstyle’s latest is rare for a modern Punjabi album, and it should be mentioned that none of these females are Miss Pooja or Sudesh Kumari. Sadly, Gunjan also doesn’t have a guest spot, but the brilliant Jaspinder Narula makes a welcome appearance on “Dhi Punjab Di,” featuring about 40 seconds of minimal production carried by that great voice.

Kaur-B, who sounds similar to Miss Pooja but has a vocal delivery that is less exaggerated, has one of the finest moments on the album and is succeeded by “Ki Faida,” featuring Raj Brar. As Brar sermonizes with his Premi Johalesque delivery, Tigerstyle menacingly unleashes intricate basslines that other Bhangra producers would probably kill for.

Party” is definitely the weakest moment on the album because it features those annoying chipmunk vocals, which were used effectively by RZA on his eerie productions for the Wu-Tang Clan and later by Kanye West early in his career. It’s not exactly an abysmal track, but it does have a sense of cheesiness that isn’t often heard in Tigerstyle’s music.

The previously released “Ik Banere” concludes the album. A deviation from the energetic sound prominent on Digi-Bhang, “Ik Banere” is the only song that Bobby Friction would label as being a “herbal track.” Featuring Ms.Rajni’s delicate vocals over the harp, the composition is reminiscent of Talvin Singh’s 90s hit “Jaan” but far more lyrical, ethereal and poignant. After experiencing a 40 plus minute rambunctious onslaught of tracks that would make the most mundane get-together transform into a memorable party, the listener is left basking in the allure of Ms.Rajni’s angelic voice.

One of the major complaints with contemporary Punjabi music is that the prominent producers start playing it safe after finding success; relying on recycled beats, safe song structures and tired lyrics, but Tigerstyle has always attempted to advance their sound. From The Rising to Digi-Bhang, the albums from Raj and Pops have all been distinct entities that represent progression. It’s hard to have imagined that the sample-reliant Burmys of The Rising would later become these messiahs of Punjabi Electronica, but Tigerstyle never played it safe. They’ve mashed up Coolio, Queen and Michael Jackson with Kaka Bhaniawala, paid homage to Bhindranwale on “Warcries,” threw in a Godzilla sample on a Surinder Shinda joint and has now delivered an album drenched in Electronic Dance Music. As a result of these quirks and experiments, Tigerstyle has never grown stale. Great artists like Radiohead, Kanye West and The Beatles immortalized themselves by continuing to experiment with unfamiliar sounds, resulting in landmark releases like Kid A, 808s & Heartbreak and Revolver. Although the experimental Digi-Bhang is limited to the Punjabi crowd, unless some counter-cultural hipsters discover it while virtually crate digging, it’s also a landmark release and deserves endless praise.

Rating: 4/5

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