Image via Neil Narang

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Pranav Trewn finds peace in his vinyl record collection.

Several years ago, my friend and I fixated on an idea: to do for the rich traditions of classical Indian music what hip-hop has long done for jazz, surfacing through samples the undersung earworms and singular timbres that largely go unheard by contemporary listeners. Then we discovered Lapgan, who in his ornate beat tapes inspired by ancestral modalities and laced with echoes from across the subcontinent, we recognized a better realized vision of what we thought did not yet exist. On his 2019 and 2021 albums Badmaash and Duniya Kya Hai, the producer born Gaurav Napgal (his stage name is his last name backwards) cooked up an aromatic feast of found sounds that ranged from the sandy tip of Kerala to the hill stations of Punjab. Some tracks rearranged fluttering Bengali flutes into the frenetic bounce of a Just Blaze banger; other songs transformed Tamil film music in the most inspired way since M.I.A.’s Kala.

Since Duniya Kya Hai, Lapgan has continued traversing the world, both physically and sonically, expanding his rolodex of musical references as he moves. He gathered his growing collection of vinyl records back to his hometown of Chicago to patiently piece together his next project. Then in the last few months, Lapgan made a serendipitous yet seemingly inevitable connection with Heems, who was in the midst of preparing to launch his forthcoming Veena label and brand. Lapgan’s dissident instincts and his fusion-focused sleight of hand fit precisely the mission statement of Heems’ new platform, and thus Lapgan’s History – dropping this Friday – is slated to be the first release on Veena Sounds. Not only that, but the producer is working with the ahead-of-his-time Das Racist rapper on his comeback record for next year.

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“It’s so full circle to have one of your musical idols, someone you look up to, f*ck with and validate what you’re doing,” Lapgan tells me over Zoom from his home studio earlier this month. The vote of confidence inspired a new period of bountiful creativity for the producer, and now artists from across his record collection are starting to show up on his beats, a cast of names he can’t publicly share yet but includes several staples of the contemporary rap underground. More important than those star-studded collaborations have been the connections Lapgan’s music has allowed him with other creatives in the South Asian hip-hop beat space. “Only recently have I been making friends from music,” Lapgan says. “To be able to talk to people about music I like and share ideas and production tips, that’s a community that I feel like I never had and that I’m really grateful for and value.”

History will enter the early canon of this burgeoning scene, and is Lapgan’s most definitional statement yet – an attempt to decolonize what he sees around him as suppressed artistry confined to Western norms at the expense of a broader tapestry of available sounds. Fittingly, History reads like a documentary, cataloging forgotten worlds of music in its crate digging (done in partnership with his affiliate Digging In India) while mixing in sly vocal snippets of both nostalgic warmth and cutting bite (see: the imperialist as hell monologue on “Police, Police”). Dusty fragments from Bollywood and Lollywood snap into step with funky drums on opener “Ek Do Teen”, named after the simple recitation of Hindi numerals kids learn in school. “Heems’ friend Linde basically got a whole bunch of footage of South Asians in American media from the past 50 years,” Lapgan tells me of the song’s video, premiering today. “It’s kind of like the history of South Asians in American media.”

The “Ek Do Teen” video follows in the path of several prior visuals for the album that complement the music’s hat-tipping gratitude. He pays tribute to Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachan with the clip for “Background Music,” which doubled as Lapgan’s reintroduction after a couple years of staying quiet. For “Oh Pyar”, he compiled archival footage taken in Rishikesh and Delhi and had his friend Kauchki directed and edited it into a slice of life sequence.

But even when grounded by specific geography, Lapgan’s work always nods in the direction of greats from both hemispheres. He conjures the image of a bhang-drunk Madlib on the tingling and percussive cuts “Under The Bodhi Tree” and “Namaastay”. Elsewhere, he comes across more like a cosmic-minded classicist a la DJ Premier, spinning meditative loops with soulful grooves like on “Mughal Sh_t”. No matter the impression, the whole album reads like the ideal for the tradition of beat tapes, introducing listeners to exclusive game while simultaneously recontextualizing the past in ways that feel like the future.

What gets Lapgan most excited over the course of our chat is simply talking about the music he loves. He humbly deflects when I trace him back to a pantheon of forebears he absolutely deserves to be in conversation with, but he goes long on describing all the elements of their work that opened his mind and inspired his craft. Between digressions into Madlib, Yaasin Bey, Ilaiyaraaja, Preservation, Baalti, and many of his other favorite artists, we talked about the intricacies of his creative process, what you owe towards your source material, and producing for his hero after growing up on his records.

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