Raja Kumari has been making waves in the global music industry with her unconventional approach to pop music—her style is a fusion of Indian melodies with the West Coast hip-hop vibes. She is a singer, songwriter, rapper and recording artiste whose creative force earned her a Grammy nomination in 2015.
She is known for her songwriting collaborations with renowned artistes and bands. Her breakthrough hit was co-writing Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries”, for which she won a BMI Pop Award in 2016. The other notable songs co-written by Kumari include Iggy Azalea’s “Change Your Life”, Fifth Harmony’s “Like Mariah”, Gwen Stefani’s “Red Flag” and “Naughty” among many more.
Talking about her passion for music, Kumari says, “Music has always been a huge part of my life. I wanted to find a way to have fun everyday and music was always that escape for me. Now I just happen to make a living from it. Sure, there were definitely times when my parents wished I would have been a doctor, but my dad always wanted me to do whatever makes me happy. ”
She credits her parents for her inclination towards Indian classical music since childhood. Even though she was brought up in California, she never lost touch with Indian culture as a child. She has been trained in Indian classical dance forms and holds a degree in religious studies. She says, “I credit my parents for raising me with deep respect and love for my culture. They always made me proud to be an Indian and made sure I knew my roots.”
These values went on to inform her signature style in music. “I believe I am the bridge between Western and Indian cultures and I want to open the doors for cultural exchange. I just want to see an Indian person impacting pop culture worldwide. It is an extension of my natural self. I live in both worlds and wanted to find a way to make them into one,” she says.
Kumari has recently launched her new single, I Did It, which is an extension of her multiculturalism and she calls it her “self-esteem boosting anthem”. She says, “I have always had to fight for my art. Instinct, faith and perseverance have been my greatest weapons. I Did It is an anthem written to remind myself that I can do anything that I set my intention on. It’s a song about believing in yourself at all costs while finding a way to stay authentic to who you are.”
On Kathak, the Indian classical dance form she is seen performing in the video, she says, “I made this song for my fans who have always wanted to dance with me. I’m a dancer first, so the rhythm just comes naturally to me. I wanted to create a true fusion of the sounds by blending classical dance into hip-hop and with I Did It, I feel like we have achieved this.”
She garnered immense appreciation for her 2016 song “City Slums” in collaboration with the Mumbai-based rapper Divine. The video of the song has received over 7 million views on YouTube. The song is part of her major-label debut album, The Come Up.
“City Slums” is a tribute to India’s homegrown hip-hop movement. Kumari says, “Hip hop as a musical culture was born of struggles, and one should give credit to African American community where the credit is due. In urban India today, the struggle is on the streets. Hip hop was planted in the streets of New York in the ’70s and now I am starting to see it happen in India. People have real struggles and some real stories to tell.”
She is one of the most prolific women rappers in the world today. On the challenges she has faced in establishing herself in the industry, she says, “It’s always difficult to blaze your own trail. Being a woman in a male dominated arena is a challenge but I welcome it.”
The performance powerhouse says that there have been numerous genres of music that influenced her. “I am influenced by everything from Carnatic music to reggae. I like to learn from each sound.”
The hip hop culture in India is clearly growing and is making an impact, through figures like Kumari, on a global level. “It’s an exciting time to be an artiste in India. The scene is growing at a rapid rate. I believe hip hop will soon become the most popular genres in the country,” she says.