Raja Kumari is living her most cherished Bollywood dreams right now. Her single Shook released last month but more recently, she collaborated with Shah Rukh Khan to rap and sing for Husn Pracham, the song featuring Katrina Kaif in his upcoming film Zero. Within a day of release, Husn Pracham has already been viewed over 11 million times on YouTube.
Here, Raja Kumari talks about her experience of working with Shah Rukh, her classical roots, her love for ‘jalebi’ and Sanskrit, collaborating with Divine and Madhuri Dixit, and having AR Rahman as her musical father.
How was it rapping for Husn Parcham, Katrina Kaif’s latest song from Zero?
Shah Rukh actually called me. It was one of the craziest moments of my life. He told me he was a fan of my music and wanted to work with me on his next film. Shah Rukh himself co-wrote the lyrics with me and Katrina Kaif absolutely killed it in her performance. This is what my Bollywood dreams are made of.
Your real name is Svetha Rao. How did you come up with your stage name Raja Kumari?
Raja Kumari came to me when I was very young. When I first started doing hip-hop music, they’d call me Indian Princess in the cyphers and I felt that if you’re going to call me that I’d rather prefer it in Sanskrit since I love Sanskrit so much. So Raja Kumari, the name, was born very early.
Did you always want to be a rapper?
No, I wanted be a doctor when I was younger and then I discovered music. Initially, I didn’t realise that I was rapping. In my head, I was just singing. It was when I read in Rolling Stone India that I was the ‘desi rapper they were all waiting for’ that I accepted that I was truly a rapper.
What does rapping mean to you?
Rapping for me is being able to communicate with my music and put emotions and vibes into songs. I like being aggressive and it really helps me express myself.
Is it difficult to be a rapper of Indian origin in the US?
Yes, there are not many people who have come before me to set precedent. So, I am a trailblazer in my own way. When you come first, you have to deal with a lot of confusion and mis-education.
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You often use Sanskrit ‘shlokas’ in your music. Why?
Because I am a classical Indian dancer, I grew up listening to a lot of Carnatic classical music and dancing to a lot of Sanskrit ‘shlokas.’ So when time came to make my hip-hop, I felt that it was important to honour my history and my roots. I really love it. It was always my dream to hear Hindi and Sanskrit on American radio.
You are oriental yet very American in your approach to rap and your stage persona…
Honestly, I am inspired by the beauty of our classical arts. When I get dressed, I think about characters like Draupadi, Laxmi and Parvati. My outfits are really inspired by beautiful Indian paintings, architecture and art.
You have also sung with Divine in City Slums. How was the experience like?
Working with Divine was such an amazing experience. I was able to learn a lot about India very fast and got to tour with him all over the country. City Slums was my first song to hit a million views. It will always be special to me.
You have been a huge AR Rahman fan all your life and now you know him personally. How has his association helped you?
AR Rahman is my musical father and my mentor now. Just being able to call him and play to him my new songs and have his support is so important to me. It shows me that manifestation is real and as I move forward in my life, I am so thankful to have his influence.
You were working with Madhuri Dixit on the music album The Film Star last year.
I am really excited for the world to hear it. She is an incredible artiste in every sense and she has really killed it in this album.
What is your favourite memory of India?
India has given me so many incredible memories. Being on stage with Divine and having people sing back to me really made me realise that these were my people and they were going to support me. And of course, the first time I had ‘jalebi’ fresh, cooked on the street.
There are not many female rappers in India…
Yes, that’s why I find it really important to be present and make sure I create quality music.
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