BENGALURU: Think rap music, think Divine, Naezy or Yo Yo Honey Singh. But thanks to Svetha Rao, the Indian male-dominated music genre is slowly seeing more female representation, one song at a time.
The Indian-American rapper even reveals that one of the reasons she moved to Mumbai was to help other girls realise that they could foray into rap as well.
“I shifted here after my performance in India in 2016. When I went back to the US, I couldn’t forget the love and respect I got here and I just knew that I was needed here,” says Rao, who was in town recently for her Karma Kills India Tour. The musician, who is popularly known by her stage name, Raja Kumari, told CE, “There weren’t enough women in hip hop here and if I didn’t make a move, maybe young girls wouldn’t know that they could do it as well.”
For Kumari, rap isn’t just a musical genre, but also provides her a way to express her identity.
“Even though I was raised Indian at home, I was American on the outside, went to school in America and had all American friends. So hip hop spoke to us and me, and allowed me to express the two cultures,” says the 33-year-old.
Referring to her music as ‘desi hip hop’, she explains, “It’s nothing but music that originates from India or the diaspora, on topics that we relate to, but with fusion elements.”
A sense of Indianness is deeply rooted not just in Kumari’s music but also her costume as well. Often decked in Indian jewellery, she explains that fashion is an extension of her music and an expression of herself.
“I love to mix Indian designers with Western ones. I love to work with Indian jewellery designers since accessories are integral to my look. I encourage others to also wear jhumkas with their jeans,” says the songwriter who has also penned songs for Gwen Stefani, Iggy Azalea and Fall Out Boy.
Her stage name too carries a Sanskrit influence, thanks to her childhood learning of Indian classical dance styles.
“When I started making rap music as a teenager, all the other rappers call me Indian Princess, but I felt like that didn’t define me. I wanted something in Sanskrit, because I was a classical dancer. So, Raja Kumari was born, which means the daughter of a king in Sanskrit,” says the rapper.
Recalling her childhood, she says her parents raised her as an artiste but hoped she would enter the family business of medicine.
A believer of music healing people, she chose to pursue her creative passions instead. “Though music wasn’t their first choice, they wanted me to be happy and encourage me to follow my bliss,” she says.
Kumari’s parents aren’t the only ones who came around to rap music. She says Bollywood is also becoming excited by hip hop.
She even lent her voice for The Wakhra Song, a number in the to-be-released film Judgementall Hai Kya.
“I definitely see myself continuing to work in Bollywood and contributing to music that can cross genres.”