Princess of hip hop

Originally Svetha Rao, she took on the moniker of Raja Kumari or ‘daughter of the king’ at the age of 14 for a life of hip hop

Rapper, singer, songwriter, dancer, actor — Indian-American Raja Kumari wears her many hats with elan, though she is best known for fusing classical Indian music with hip-hop music in rap songs.

Collaborations with stalwarts like Gwen Stefani, Tricky Stewart, Fifth Harmony, Timbaland, A R Rahman and a song written for Australian rapper Iggy Azalea that got her a Grammy nomination have put Raja Kumari firmly in the spotlight.
She will be performing in Bengaluru today, as part of her ‘Karma Kills’ India tour. Metrolife finds out more...

Where do you find inspiration for lyrics of your songs?

I find inspiration in everything I see. I am lucky enough to travel the world and get to connect with a lot of people, which also serves to inspire me.

Any pet themes or situations that you look out for?

I like people-watching and writing lyrics that are relatable; I find I do that when I am authentic and speak about my personal relationships.

Influences within Indian music?

I am a fan of pop culture and follow whatever is trending. For example, I love ‘Lamberghini’ as of now (laughs). From Bollywood music to folk songs to A R Rahman- I try to listen to all kinds of genres. Just this morning, I was listening to Mughal-e-Azam.

Within hip hop, I like listening to people from different regions.

Do you still practise classical dance?

I think when you do it for 20 years, it’s part of you. I haven’t given a performance in a few years as I have been busy with my music but I would love to do a classical performance.

You were called a child prodigy. Is fame a burden?

Everybody’s life is different. I always really loved art; I felt free on stage as it was akin to spiritual communion with the audience. Even when I go on stage with my music, it feels like an offering. 

Any connection between spiritualism and hip hop?

I listened to nothing but classical Indian music until I was nine. As part of my training, I was learning jathis and taalas — if you think about it, that’s a rap rhythm. (She breaks into
an impromptu taala and effortlessly switches to a rap line). I didn’t feel like an outsider to hip hop. There is something really ancient about the rhythms and modern at the same time. 

Tell us about your new album?

It is called ‘Bloodline’. The second single from it is called ‘Karma’ which is why the tour is called ‘Karma Kills’; it is said that karma kills you quicker than the reaper can.

The US leg was great — we performed in 11 cities to sold-out shows. Then all I could think about was I need to bring this to India. I am covering five cities here, two for the first time —  Indore and Kolkata.

So, you have been to Bengaluru. Thoughts about the city?

I love Bengaluru. I think the people there always appreciate music. Even in the beginning when people didn’t know my songs that much, they always gave me their attention and love. Plus, I love the thalis! Nagarjuna thalis are to die for.

A mantra that you swear by?

I am really practising self-love right now. I am trying to put myself before anything else.

Raja Kumari: Factfile

- Began learning bharathanatyam, kuchipudi and odissi at age five

- At ten years, embarked on 15 city solo showcase in USA and India, performing for massive audiences and raising money to build a meditation hall and a new wing for a hospital in India.

- Also has a degree in comparative religious studies.

- After signing a deal with Sony India, she relocated to Bombay, releasing her highly acclaimed collaboration with ‘Divine’, ‘City Slums’ in 2017, which garnered over 15 million views.

- Has worked alongside Shahrukh Khan for ‘Husna Parcham’ in Zero and Salman Khan for ‘Allah Duhai’ in Race 3, apart from doing a cameo in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy.

Catch her on stage

She will be performing at the Lalit Ashok today, 7 pm onwards. Tickets are priced at Rs 1,000 and are available on insider.in.

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