“Sorry that my sari ain’t Indian enough/ And America don’t love me ’cause I’m Indian as f*ck,” Raja Kumari sings in her smash hit, “N.R.I”. This isn’t the first time the young star has created ripples with her bold, controversial lyrics and it certainly won’t be the last. “Controversial” is a word that’s often associated with Kumari and while many choose to label her art with this term, Raja Kumari is so much more.
Born Svetha Yallapragada Rao to Telugu parents in Claremont, California, Raja Kumari found her calling in music at an incredibly young age. When she was in the fifth grade, Kumari was thrust into the world of hip-hop after discovering Fugees’ album, “The Score”. But of course, the rapper drew her influence from a number of wells, particularly from the prolific Lauryn Hill.
In a conversation with Rolling Stone India, the rap star discussed what it was about Hill’s style that pushed her to further develop her own, “Her music wasn’t like the stuff that Britney and Christina were doing, like, ‘I’m a genie in a bottle, rub me the right way.’ No, it was more like, ‘I played my enemies like a game of chess’,” Kumari explained.
Now, if you glance through the star’s impressive body of work, it’s her songwriting that sticks its head out, demanding your attention. With a lot of her music, Kumari makes a statement. Fueled by personal experience, her politics bleeds into her writing. And, perhaps it’s this aspect of her art that makes you sit up in your chair and look closer.
Kumari’s Songwriting Propels Her To Fame
While finding her footing in the industry, Kumari’s songwriting talent spoke for itself, allowing her to collaborate with some of the biggest names in the industry. Some notable mentions include Iggy Azalea, Fall Out Boy, Fifth Harmony, Gwen Stefani, Avril Lavigne and more.
But it was in 2016 when Raja Kumari finally launched her solo career with the debut single “Mute” featuring Elvis Brown and produced by Jules Wolfson at Epic Records. The music video for the track currently stands at a whopping 2.3 million views on YouTube and “Mute” soon created the perfect foundation for Kumari to explore different avenues of the rap world.
While building her repository of tracks, Raja Kumari certainly didn’t intend for every single song to spark debates and rile up her consumers. With a lot of her art, the rapper aims to create a strong narrative. She translates personal experiences into rhymes and beats. Be it the pitfalls of fame, the struggle to find her roots or her journey to self-acceptance – at the end of the day, Kumari simply chooses to tell her truth, hoping that it will both resonate with and inspire her listeners.
Raja Kumari & The Success That Followed ‘Bloodline’
Now, while “Mute” found a space on Kumari’s 6-track debut EP, “The Come Up,” it was ultimately the star’s next project that really put her on the map. In 2019, the rapper made her descent with a second EP, “Bloodline”. This record nursed some brilliant hits like, “Shook” and “Karma” and both tracks witnessed quite a bit of commercial success. With a string of sparkling accolades under her belt, Kumari was all set to take on 2020 with a renewed confidence.
2020: Kumari Kicks Off A New Era In Music
Raja Kumari welcomed a new step in her career when she was signed to Nas’ label, Mass Appeal India, in 2020.
Why was this so important for Kumari? On one hand, this is a renowned label, therefore allowing the rap star to cross another milestone in her career. Further, it was also launched by one of Kumari’s biggest role models: the seasoned rap phenomenon, Nas. Speaking of this deal, the young star explained, “I just remembered Nas being synonymous with real hip-hop, you know? It’s like Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, Tupac, Lauryn…For me, growing up in America, I can clearly remember sitting in my room listening to ‘One Mic’ by Nas. I was thinking about that other day. That back then I wouldn’t have known that later the same man would sign me. Give me a seal of approval.”
As 2020 unfolded, the year witnessed new gems from the star. February 13th marked the arrival of her fiery hit, “Bindis and Bangles” followed by the buzzing number “N.R.I” in April. The next few months proved to be the most challenging in light of the global coronavirus pandemic. But this didn’t stop Kumari from adding to her growing roster of tracks. The latest addition was a mellow, dreamy tune titled, “Peace” which also arrived with its very own music video. Interestingly, this track took a firm step away from the star’s previous projects, passing up sleek rhymes for softer melodies. But this wasn’t just Raja Kumari experimenting with a different genre. “Peace” stands as proof that you simply can’t box her in, nor slap a label on her art. As a musician, she’s versatile, unpredictable and prepared to allow her music to take on any shape – as long as there’s meaning behind it.
What Else Lies In Store For The Rap Star?
Kumari has often emphasized that it’s very important for her to craft music that leaves behind a message. As she articulated, “I’ve understood now that I have to be authentic even when I’m dealing with people or something I don’t like. I think that there’s always going to be people that have these perceptions and ideas of how a South Asian woman is supposed to behave. So I’d like to break all those stereotypes.”
Currently, Raja Kumari is gearing up to drop a brand new album, “Bridge”. And as she grows, both as a musician and as a person, it’s safe to say that she will continue to mould the rap landscape into something spectacular.
By: Nina Karun