We’ve all watched singer, lyricist, and producer AP Dhillon rapidly rise to stardom since the release of his debut singles Fake and Faraar in 2019. In just three years, a number of his songs have garnered widespread acclaim, with very few Punjabi music fans who don’t have his music in their library, In all honesty, every time I think I know how famous Dhillon has become, I see something on social media proving that his reach is even wider than I imagined.

Most recently, scenes of his Takeover Tour with Gurinder Gill, Shinda Kahlon, and G Minxer have revealed the extent of his fame, with the immense hype generated on and off social media. While I could care less what Bollywood thinks of Punjabi artists (which is an article for a different day), I was surprised to see videos of Karan Johar hosting Dhillon, along with big names like Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt at his concert in Mumbai earlier this year.

Dhillon was even included in Forbes India’s “30 Under 30,” for which he gave his first official interview. 

When asked about his artistry, he told Forbes India, “My favourite part is creating something out of a single thought and watching it impact the masses.”

AP, born Amritpal Singh Dhillon, has a diverse range of tracks in his repertoire—from the melodious heartbreak song Saada Pyaar, to the cautionary track Insane. Dhillon has redefined what it means to be an artist in the South Asian diaspora, seamlessly layering Punjabi vocals over R&B, hip-hop, and trap beats, producing a distinct sound that appeals to the younger generation.

When I was younger, it wasn’t always cool to listen to Punjabi music, or to embrace Punjabi art in Surrey. Even within our own community, some harbored their own internalized racism when it came to connecting “too much” with what it means to come from Punjab. 

Those who held these sentiments were often the victims of racism themselves, and were taught to rebuke aspects of their own culture to fit in. We’re supposed to be the model minorities—Punjabi but not too Punjabi. It was important to be different, but not so different that we make others uncomfortable. 

There was a line to walk with how much Punjabi content you consumed, beyond which you were othered by members of your own community, and by those outside of it. Openly bumping Punjabi music was one of those things that was often looked down upon, viewed as boisterous and disruptive.

However, Dhillon’s music has provided members of the South Asian, and particularly the Punjabi diaspora with a point of entry to Punjabi language and music—similar to how the UK Bhangra scene did in the 90s. Dhillon blends Punjabi with Western sounds in a refreshing, upbeat way—tying many listeners’ love for hip-hop to their connection to the Punjabi language.

This can be seen in the hit song Majhail, made in collaboration with Gurinder Gill and Manni Sandhu that samples the R&B classic What’s Luv by Fat Joe and Ashanti. Another example is the video for Brown Munde, featuring prominent brown boys such as Nav, Sidhu Moosewala and the U.K. based Steel Banglez. One of my personal favourites is Excuses, produced by Surrey native Intense, which continues to top the charts over a year after its release. 

Dhillon’s sound has resonated with fans around the world— within the South Asian community and beyond, and this is clear from his sold out tour dates and the many TikTok videos that include his songs. On the right day, you might even hear his song at the club with the girlies. 

Punjabi music has certainly spread across the world before, perhaps the most prominent example being Panjabi MC’s 2002 hit Mundian To Bach Ke, which I literally heard in the club just this weekend. The song achieved unprecedented worldwide success for a Punjabi song and was notably remixed by Jay-Z. 

I can’t lie, I get hyped when Mundian To Bach Ke, or any brown song gets played on a night out— not because it makes the art any more important, but because it’s exciting to hear them in spaces where South Asians are rarely at the forefront. 

AP Dhillon is opening doors for new Punjabi artists with the work he does, showing younger artists that they can concoct a fresh blend of the sounds they grew up loving while still connecting with their language and culture. Punjabi music too, can be appealing on the international stage. 

Dhillon’s on the up and up, he seems to just keep getting bigger. In just three years, he’s selling out stadiums around the world and proving that Punjabi music will continue to evolve and innovate. 

Still, AP Dhillon refuses to get comfortable with his sound. When asked what listeners should expect in 2022 he replied, “They should expect more collabs, new style, new takes.” 

“We’re about to switch things up in 2022.”

As AP continues to grow, it begs the question: do we need a mainstream co-sign to take pride in our music? Might AP be one of the key artists to bring Punjabi music worldwide for the younger generation? Either way, we’ll be watching and bumping his music along the way.

About the author

Jeevan Sangha

Jeevan is a UBC Sociology student, writer and self-proclaimed cinephile (to annoy the film majors). An aspiring journalist, she loves writing silly little articles about pop-culture, media, politics and the South Asian experience while balancing her job in community-engaged learning. When she isn't having an existential crisis, you can find her over-caffeinating, binging a new show or trying to prove that she's a much cooler, brown Rory Gilmore

Instagram: @jeevanksangha 

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