NEW YORK – Hip-hop producers may be scouting a more peaceful type of artist this year.
Instead of an edgy, fast-flowing rapper or a soulful crooner, music consumers should be on the lookout for albums by a fresh breed of talent — yoga practitioners.
Krishna Das, a well-known yoga guru, will release his fourth record of Hindu chants next month. But this one has a twist: Breath of the Heart (Triloka Records/Karuna Music) is being produced by Rick Rubin, co-founder of Def Jam Records — the same company that jump-started the careers of rap legends Run DMC and LL Cool J.
Krishna Das practiced yoga and meditation in India for nearly three decades before making his musical debut in 1996. He then began doing free performances at the Jivamukti Yoga Center in New York City, a mecca for celebs like Madonna and Sarah Jessica Parker.
His efforts paid off. "His music is now the preferred soundtrack to most yoga practitioners in America," said Mitchell Marcus, president of Triloka Records.
Krishna Das later worked with Sting, who has long preached the benefits of yoga. He even paired with the Material Girl herself, whose henna-tattooed hands brought chant-inspired music to the pop charts with her 1998 album Ray of Light
With such famous musicians already sampling the chants, it makes sense that record executives would seize on the trend.
"In Los Angeles, Rick Rubin learned that (Krishna Das) was doing a new record, and approached him after one of his performances," said Marcus. "Instead of doing an album with studio effects and samples, Rubin convinced Krishna to have him produce Breath of the Heart with a 50-person choir in a live studio."
Another hip-hop impresario with an ear for the genre is the Beastie Boys' Mike D. He has produced Now by chant performer Bhagavan Das. The album will be released this fall through Mike D.'s label, Grand Royal Records.
The music is for "whoever is ready to find it," the rapper was quoted as saying in a newspaper interview. "Our whole concept was, if kids can be on the dance floor singing sacred chants along with 'I See You Baby,' (the 1999 dance hit by Groove Armada) then let's do this."
But how do long-time yoga devotees feel about their spiritual music going mainstream?
George Feuerstein, founder of the Santa Rosa, Calif.,-based Yoga Research and Education Center, said the new albums could have a positive impact on the culture.
"I think as with many so-called yoga efforts in general, where yoga has been stripped of everything it represents ... (the music) is useful because it might draw attention to the real McCoy," Feuerstein said.
He noted that today's yoga craze, seen in the abundance of fitness club classes on the subject, isn't for purists. "Some people do yoga for a fitness training, which is not its original intent," he said. "It is a spiritual journey, not for entertainment."
Hindu chanting can be related to other spiritual music forms, such as gospel. But will the upcoming albums catch on the way gospel once lit up the charts with songs like Kirk Franklin hits "Stomp" and "Revolution"?
Vibe magazine music editor Shani Saxon believes recent trends in hip-hop prove that's quite possible.
"Artists like Timbaland, Foxy Brown, and Missy Elliott have recently sampled Hindu beats on their records," she said. "There has definitely been a recent interest. I think audiences have at least been exposed to that marriage of genres, and I don't think it's too far-fetched."
With the release of Now and Breath of the Heart, it may only be a matter of time before teens catch on to the new sound — and maybe even start practicing yoga themselves.
"My opinion of the youth is that they are more open-minded, and so much of what they listen to samples all kinds of music," Saxon said. "They would at least, if anything, give it a chance."