We can’t stop humming Raja Kumari’s single City Slum, which released recently. The Indian American songwriter and rapper has collaborated with one of the popular Indian hip hop artists Divine (Vivian Fernandez). While promoting the single, the artist couldn’t stop praising Divine. “Divine had sent me the song, I wrote my part there (US) and he wrote his part in India. I have been a fan of his work for some time now. There is no denying that he is one of best hip hop artists in India. He is very talented. He would get so many concepts to the studio and was full of energy while recording the song. It was an awesome experience,” she says.
Raja Kumari says she has been watching the hip hop scene in Mumbai from Los Angeles and has realised that people making real hip hop are out here ‘while I am making fusion music in America’.
The rapper calls City Slum a true collaboration. She says, “I am inspired by the real people of India and Divine is proud of where he comes from. We thought we should celebrate the true spirit of the people.”
The singer is also performing in Pune on November 5 at Laxmi Lawns. Excerpts...
The spirit of the City Slum...
There are different facets to the life of the people who live in the slums. Ask her how did they decide which aspect to highlight and Raja Kumari replies, “Most people concentrate on just negativity around the life in slums and talk about the poverty in India. Divine being the voice of the streets, he wanted me to be honest with the record. The lyrics and songs therefore talk about the music and sound coming from real people.”
Shooting on real locations
The video has been shot at real slums in Mumbai and Raja Kumari says it was something she always wanted to do. “I love all the colours and was having fun walking through the lanes.”
Shifting to rapping
Not many know that besides being a musician, Raja Kumari also holds a degree in religious studies and is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer. So how did the shift to rapping happen? “I have been an artist since a young age and the reason I pursued religious studies is because I am interested in ancient history and India,” she explains.
But were her guru and parents happy with her decision to get into rapping? “My parents have always been supportive of me. They were with me in whatever way I wanted to be an artist.
They weren’t exactly the happiest but I didn’t want to be a doctor and I really wanted to do something in music,” she says.
As for her guru, she says it has been the biggest gift of her life. “My guru has created the foundation that made me who I am today. My family is proud of what I am doing because I have a pure heart when it comes to music and it makes me happy, so they are happy,” she says.
Connected to roots
Even though the musician has witnessed different cultures, she says that is always inspired by her roots. “I am a South Indian and I have visited several temples like Tirupati, Chidambaram Nataraja Temple. I remember as a child, I used to walk through the temple bare foot and feel that I am walking the same footsteps that has been walked my the kings or my ancestors, this kind of inspired me the most. I always remember my roots while creating music and pay homage to it,” she adds.
Raja Kumari is known for collaborating with international artists. Her first song was for Iggy Azealia titled Change your Life, which was later nominated for a Grammy Award. She also wrote six songs for Gwen Stefani album This Is What The Truth Feels Like, which was number one on the Billboard Top 200 chart in 2016.
The singer says that each artist has contributed to her career. She says, “When I was working with Gwen, I learnt so much because she is an incredible artist. One important thing that I learnt is that you have to always be on. Even when she was at the recording studio, she always had her make-up on. If you have to make it big, you have to go all the way, there is no half way. You are the artist you are and you have to keep the integrity.”
She says every producer she has worked with has taught her something. “I have picked up every opportunity I can to learn from all the huge names I have known because my goal is to try and make South Asian music famous all over the world. When I was growing up, there wasn’t any South Asian artists or names to look up to so I had realised early that I had to be be that name or person in the future.
Lately it’s been a great time for South Asians and they are getting their due and I hope to contribute to the culture,” she says. She hopes the international community respects the hip hop music coming out of India and that’s the reason why she is spending time here.