Benjamin Saint Fort was hiking in Pennsylvania when his friend played "Sanam Re," the title song of the 2016 Hindi film. The song opens with a simple acoustic guitar riff and a vowel-y vocal run that is both ominous and calming at once. "I was like, 'What is this?! This would sound crazy on a drill beat,'" Saint Fort told VICE.
A few weeks later, the young producer chopped the sample, made a drill beat, complete with the panning hi-hats and sliding 808s, and grabbed an isolated vocal from Metro Boomin's "Up to Something," featuring Young Thug and Travis Scott. The beat took about 30 minutes to create, he told VICE. As Saint Fort knew, he was touching on a storied relationship between Bollywood and hip-hop.
The video for "Sanam Re" has over 350 million plays on YouTube, and I told Saint Fort I felt like a bad Indian because I was not one of those plays; I'd never even heard of the song before. It doesn't appear to be the first time it's been sampled, and Saint Fort himself said he was sure someone must've used this loop before. There's a song "Exposing Me" by Memo 600 and King Von that flips the same vocal.
Bollywood and hip-hop's relationship is one that goes back far enough to a time before Saint Fort was making hip-hop, or even listening to it. He recalls getting sucked into the world of metal after seeing a DragonForce music video on TV. He then began listening to Metallica, Dream Theater, Animals as Leaders, and others. It was during this time, by Saint Fort's recollection, that Scott Storch and Timbaland popularized the Bollywood sound in hip-hop.
He recalls "Scott [Storch] played everything and never sampled" while "Timbo samples heavyyyy" he said in a text message. The twang of the sitar, and the fluid thump of a tabla drum, or looped falsetto singing are often signature features of the tracks. He pointed to the Truth Hurts song Addictive" produced by DJ Quik, Timbaland & Magoo's "Indian Flute," and Beyoncé's "Baby Boy" and "Naughty Girl," both produced by Storch.
Though Saint Fort made the Bollywood trap beat in question (Hindrill?) it's not his usual style of production. The son of Haitian immigrants, 25-year old Saint Fort is a recently moved from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania to Los Angeles. His producer name is BNYX®, (pronounced Benny X.) In the last four years, Saint Fort has gone from making "type beat" type beats in 2016 to earning production credits with high-profile acts like Ty Dolla $ign and Shy Glizzy, with aspirations to work as a pop music producer. Still, he's often making videos with an attempt to go viral, he told VICE, and this song was just one of those ideas.
He's been successful in the past. While he was at work at a phone store in 2017, he saw Travis Scott drop the remix to Rae Sremmurd's "Swang," and thought he could do better. The BNYX® rework of the song has over 12 million plays on SoundCloud, and had millions of plays on YouTube before it was taken down. He didn't have a manager or team in place to put the record out properly, he said—he has a manager now—but it earned him more recognition in the industry.
Saint Fort put out his remix for free, so he's avoiding another common thread of Bollywood samples in hip-hop: lawsuits. Both Aftermath Records (who put out "Addictive,") and Timbaland have faced legal issues for lifting Bollywood samples, though Indian copyright law is not as strong as it is in the United States. It's come full-circle, too, Indian musicians have ripped off American artists who were incorporating Indian music into their songs. For example, see "Gela Gela Gela," the Kirkland Signature version of R&B singer and indicted sex criminal R. Kelly's "Thoia Thoing." Bollywoodcopy.com has an entire website dedicated to pointing out these "inspirations."
Saint Fort's remix was a highlight for me, to see my heritage (India) and one of my loves (hip-hop) shaking hands on my twitter timeline, and it was also a reminder we have more than Nav. And it was great to hear of Saint Fort's appreciation of Hindi music in general. The shrill violins and impossibly high falsettos used to make me cringe, they were so unmistakable Indian, and therefore "other." But these exposures are exactly what help create art like Saint Fort's, and he expressed a fascination and appreciation to the scales in this type of music not usually found elsewhere.
"Wouldn’t have been possible without my South Asian friends that put me to the fire food Music [sic] and movies😤" he said.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.