Dr Zeus: ‘Punjabi Hip-Hop is Lacking Originality’
The U.K. music producer and singer talks about his upcoming album ‘Global Injection’, star-studded collaborations and wanting to prove himself in Mumbai
At the moment, there’s no dearth of frequent flier miles for Birmingham-based producer and singer Dr Zeus aka Baljit Singh Padam, who is among the most favored names in Punjabi hip-hop. Dr Zeus mentions he’s often in Mumbai but is also flying to the U.S. and to Vancouver to work with different artists and actors, including actor-singer Amrinder Gill.
With two singles out last month – “Tha Tha” and collaborating with singer Ikka on “Dope Ladka” – Dr Zeus is also readying more releases that will be a part of his full-length album Global Injection. It notably features “Woofer,” which released early this year and featured rap legend Snoop Dogg, actor Nargis Fakhri taking a turn at the mic and Zeus’ regular collaborator, singer Zora Randhawa. With over 51 million views on that song alone, Zeus has built himself up a long way since 2003’s breakout hit “Kangna” and now there’s no stopping. Dr Zeus spoke to Rolling Stone India over the phone from Birmingham about upcoming projects, his stint in Bollywood and Punjabi hip-hop. Excerpts:
You have two singles out right now – “Tha Tha” and “Dope Ladka” – how different were these for you?
It’s totally different. One’s a very typical Punjabi energetic number, which was due. Because on the album so far you’ve had youthful, clubby numbers. What I wanted was a desi number – that caters to youngsters to the old people too, like having fun at weddings. With Ikka (“Dope Ladka”), it was a continuation of what we left off on. It was perfect because I put out two songs in quick succession – one is very urban and the other is very desi.
When you’ve worked with Indian hip-hop artists across the board, like Jazzy B, Gippy Grewal and the likes, what do you think the scene is lacking?
I think Punjabi hip-hop is lacking originality. When I did ‘Kangna,’ back in the day, it wasn’t like I bought a beat. These days you have moombahton and raggaton or trap music – kids can buy the beat and all they can do is sing the melody on top. I think our people are rushing to become famous and they’re lacking creativity, which was one of the main things I was taught when you’re making music. It’s creativity that takes you places. If I hear a beat on a Snoop Dogg song or a Destiny’s Child song – I wouldn’t copy the beat. I would try reach that standard of production. My practice would be to imitate that beat, but not to put out. It’s to practice creativity and have an understanding.
Nowadays what kids want to have the fast route – buy a beat or sample a loop and sing a song on top of it, shoot a video and put it out. You’re not doing any favors to the industry. I think you’re ruining the industry. I think sooner or later, the public isn’t stupid, they’ll catch on. You’re dealing with a very intelligent public now – they know what’s real, what’s put together and what’s fake, between someone trying to be famous and someone genuinely talented.
A somewhat new mainstay in Punjabi music now is including English in their music – after a certain point, they just started talking that way so it found its way into lyrics – what can you tell me about that?
I like to do Punjabi music with a bit of English in it because I want my music, my culture, my mother tongue to cross over. If we can have songs like ‘Despacito’ and Indian people are singing them even though they don’t necessarily understand it. Why can’t that happen with Hindi or Punjabi?
This is my aim, this is what I think would be the best for our future and for the kids, for anyone doing music in the future. If we could open up these doors, for every newcomer to come in and do something great with our culture.
You’ve got Snoop on “Woofer,” but more interestingly, you’ve got Nargis Fakhri singing and rapping – what did it take to convince her?
She was really down to earth and so easy to work with. I just said, ‘Nargis, you reckon you can sing this?’ and she said yeah. She was absolutely cool and very confident about it. Would you believe she sang those bits in 20 minutes and gave me extra bits? I had good fun, we had a laugh. She’s very much a friend than a work colleague now. She was very good for the project and helped it in a big way. I’m sure we’ll do some more stuff in the future.
Watch the video for “Woofer” ft Snoop Dogg, Zora Randhawa and Nargis Fakhri below.
Are you working with any more actors who want to sing?
Yeah, I’m doing a song with Richa Chadha. There’s a song coming out on this album, I’m looking forward to that. I’m in Mumbai from July 4th onwards and we’ll be shooting a video for that. That’ll be coming out at the end of July, along with the album.
Speaking of Mumbai, do you look back on your short stint in Bollywood every time you’re there? Do you still get offers? Do you feel like some of the people there still haven’t changed?
I do what I want to do. I’ve just kind of keeping my distance from people. I want to put my album out and prove myself in Mumbai. After Global Injection, I also have a Sufi EP that’s ready, with Sukhwinder Singh and the Nooran Sisters and a few other big names. It’s a Sufi album that’s lyrically Sufi, but musically roots.
I really respected everyone in the world but when I came to Bombay, I felt like they really didn’t care or give a shit. I want to change that, even though I’ve become friends with Shah Rukh Khan and done a lot of stuff, I think it was a lot to do with the fact that I wasn’t appreciated when I did music with Kanika Kapoor and stuff. (Zeus’ collaboration with Kapoor, 2014’s “Baby Doll” was mired in allegations of undue credits and intellectual property theft).
I wasn’t appreciated by her, therefore no one else was going to appreciate me, do you understand what I mean? She was just out for herself and that really put me off from coming to Bombay and then I met some friends and came back. I thought, ‘I’m not going to be put off by Bombay, I’m going to go out there and prove my point that I am the best’. This is why I’m in Bombay next, so that no one can mess with me. When I did ‘Kangna,’ there was no Pritam, no Honey Singh. I set the trend. People weren’t listening to stuff like that.
What’s coming up through 2018?
I think about 25 to 30 movie songs. I don’t believe in making them on the spot. I have them ready and then I get to step two, where I have material ready to play for people.
Watch the video for “Tha Tha” below.