The primary music of Svetha Yellapragada Rao, identified by her stage identify Raja Kumari, got here from her first heartbreak. She was 11 or 12 and had a crush on an Indian boy in California, the place she grew up. He, nevertheless, favored the everyday American blue-eyed blonde. “That was the primary upset for me. He’s supposed to love me, I believed. I’m Jasmine to his Aladdin. He’s not alleged to go after Cinderella. Cinderella has her personal film,” she says with a self-deprecating giggle. “My first music got here from not feeling adequate or lovely sufficient.” Nonetheless, she received over it due to a deep-rooted love for her tradition, born of studying classical Indian dance from the age of seven. “I beloved the place I got here from too deeply,” she says.
This translated into an innate confidence that suffuses her music, which she describes as a sonic bridge between the west and the east. “It’s the method that I’ve translated my American and Indian expertise and eager to be included on each side,” she says.
She couldn’t have put it extra succinctly. Her music movies are stuffed with this dichotomy—mythology with know-how; gritty, guttural lyrics with flowing, classical dance strikes; sparkly physique fits with half-saris; bindis with crop tops; japanese bling with western minimalism; an exaggerated femininity within the overwhelmingly masculine world of hip-hop. There’s insurrection in her music. Years of others attempting to tame her right into a well-defined class has made her untamable. As she sings in her breakout music, ‘Mute’: “I needed to put them on mute… Standard factor, completely different day… I needed to feed these fools… I needed to go residence and regroup….”
Her newest music, ‘Shanti’, is the primary Hindi single that she is releasing. Some would possibly say that ‘Shanti’ is the primary cease on the religious journey that she has undertaken. “Within the music trade, you will get swept up in loads of the devils that accompany ranges of superstar, and I’ve discovered peace in meditation, yoga, sound therapeutic, and extra,” she says.
All the pieces about Raja Kumari is intense—from her infectious laughter to her willpower to benefit from every second. This want to seek out happiness was born out of a lot struggling. “Rising up, I didn’t actually see anyone that seemed like me,” she says. “That was a problem in itself, to seek out an id and to seek out someplace to be snug with my Indianness. [Later], I used to be pressured to simulate an American, particularly to start with of my profession. My managers would inform me to dye my hair, put on much less garments, change the best way I spelled my identify. However I simply caught to it. I envisioned myself as a devi, a type of Indian superhero. I used to be slightly lady obsessive about the Mahabharat. My favorite character whereas dancing was Draupadi.”
Her onerous work paid off! She has written songs for a number of the greatest names within the music trade, together with Fall Out Boy, Iggy Azalea and Gwen Stefani. She has additionally written music for the hit Fox present, Empire . She acquired a Grammy nomination for her work with Azalea and a BMI Pop Award for her work with Fall Out Boy. She has guest-starred within the Bollywood film, Gully Boy , judged India’s first rap actuality present, MTV Hustle, and hosted and curated her personal present, The New India.
The rapper credit Stefani for uplifting her to maneuver to Mumbai and convey out her first EP, The Come Up, in 2016. “I grew up watching her,” she says. “In a wierd method, she was the one one who gave an Indian illustration within the Western area. [There were the small things like how] she beloved sporting bindis. Rising up, despite the fact that I wore it at residence, it was the one time I noticed somebody put on a bindi on TV. It took a white lady to make me snug with my tradition.”
Transferring to Mumbai for 3 years was like coming residence for the primary time. “It was so great to be amongst my very own individuals,” she says. “India was a magical playground of colors and sensory overload. Each time I’m in America, I’m simply attempting to duplicate India out of this darkish, gray and desolate place.” Her first large efficiency in India was on the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in 2016, when she was a visitor on rapper Divine’s headlining set. Three years later, in 2019, she received to play her personal headlining set on the NH7 Weekender. “After I first began performing, there have been hardly any women within the crowd,” she says. “On the finish of my tour, after 30 exhibits, I may see so many extra ladies coming to the exhibits. In a method, I really feel I’ve created a protected area for them. They knew that there can be flowers and jewelry and hip-hop. It could not simply be all guys and harmful.”
She is among the best-known names in hip-hop at the moment. However she can also be a 34-year-old single lady coming from a tradition that believes a girl’s main function in life is to marry and begin a household. Does she really feel that accountability? “After all I need a household, have little infants and educate them in regards to the Mahabharat and find out how to meditate with stones,” she quips. “However I additionally really feel a dedication to my music and to myself.” She jokes about how, when she informs her dad and mom that she is on the duvet of Vogue or Rolling Stone , they reply that if she doesn’t get married, all of that doesn’t matter.
Sure, there have been many heartbreaks alongside the best way. Underlying that could be a perpetual longing to belong. In truth, that’s the reason she selected hip-hop within the first place. “Hip-hop has all the time been the voice of the sub-culture,” she says. “It was a automobile of communication for the under-represented, and I felt at residence in hip-hop in a method that I didn’t really feel at residence in America.” This mix of fearlessness and vulnerability provides complexity to her music. It additionally makes her model of hip-hop distinctive; it has Raja Kumari stamped throughout it. She is actually the queen of her universe.
INDIA WAS A MAGICAL PLAYGROUND
OF COLOURS AND SENSORY OVERLOAD.