The international singer, songwriter, and rapper creates music, art, and dance in a powerful combination of her background, upbringing, interests, and influences.
Raja Kumari is one of the top female rappers in India. She is classically trained in multiple styles of Indian dance and has graced the covers of numerous publications including Rolling Stone India. She was a global face of MAC Cosmetics and a judge on MTV’s “The Hustle.” She was also the first female rapper signed to artist Nas’ record label in 2020.
RAJA now has over 43 million monthly Spotify streams. She was the first woman to headline NH7, India’s biggest music festival. She has co-written songs with Gwen Stefani, Fifth Harmony, Twin Shadow, and Iggy Azalea. In early 2023, RAJA and John Legend co-wrote the infectious “Just Keep Walking” music anthem for Walkers & Co., by Johnnie Walker Refreshing Mixer. Raja and John Legend then co-headlined the Walker’s and Co. experiential music concerts in Mumbai and New Delhi in India.
Most recently, RAJA founded Godmother Records in order to have the freedom to pave her own way in music and to unapologetically bring her visions and dreams to life. She is a fearless, charismatic personality and natural-born storyteller whose songs are an undeniable sonic bridge between East and West. The music fuses the rhythms she absorbed as a trained classical Indian dancer with her love for hip-hop and her constant musical evolution as an artist. Her latest album The Bridge released on April 28, 2023, making it her debut album on her own imprint, Godmother Records.
In this interview, we chatted with RAJA about her Grammy nomination, Indian roots, cultural fashion, signing to Nas’ record label, and more!
Tell us a little bit about you. Where is home?
I’m Raja Kumari. I am from Los Angeles but have lived in Mumbai, so my home is somewhere between LA and Mumbai.
Where is your artistic home? Share more about how both the East and West helped inspire and inform your art.
I feel like right now, I love to create my art in India. I found the first couple of years whenever I tried to create visuals in the U.S. I was trying to recreate India. So once I had access to being able to make my art in India, I never really turned back because when it comes to fashion, to the colors, the tapestry of my mind only plays in those colors. So my artistic home is in the East but I love bringing that to the West and there is still a very important part of me in the West as well.
What was the defining moment you realized you wanted to do music? Has music always been your career plan?
I remember the defining moment when I thought I could sing. Mariah Carey was on the TV and I was singing and my mom was yelling at me to turn it off and I had, but I kept singing and she kept yelling at me to turn off the TV, and I thought ‘OMG she thinks I’m Mariah’ (haha). But after college when I graduated, I got my degree in religious studies and I was going to start my Ph.D. program, my dad told me, ‘You want to study ancient history and religion and it’s not going anywhere, and I don’t want you to look back on your life and regret not pursuing music.’ So, I give credit to my dad for giving me that space.
However, he told me 1 year, and I definitely stretched it into many many more years after that (haha). But, I was pushing towards my goal and every time I thought ‘Should I turn around and go back to school,’ something big would happen — like getting a Grammy nomination for a songwriter or meeting A.R. Rahman; as things continued to progress, there was no turning back. I will say after meeting A.R. Rahman, my parents really believed that what I was doing was of substance (haha), so I decided I was going to fully do music. It was something I went after wholeheartedly and tried not to take ‘no’ for any reason.
The Fox Magazine is all about inspiration, what/who inspires you the most?
It changes all the time, but right now, fashion. It makes me emotional. It makes me feel something and I think in the last year it’s been so great. My stylist Meera Godbole — one of my best friends for many years, really helped me understand that for some of the things I wanted to do before, people would always act like couture was out of my reach because I wasn’t sample size.
While I understand that, Meera came in and changed the whole game for me. With her vision and relationships, we connected with all the top couture houses in India and I was able to wear runway pieces that were made for my body. Now, I caught the bug and I can’t turn back. I find myself looking at images from different designers all over the world, tapestry, history, looking at paintings — getting inspiration. I am fully inspired by culture, by art. Indian fashion right now is incredible. Beyoncé was just wearing a dress that I have been salivating over for a while since I saw it on the runway, so I know if Mother B is wearing it, our time is coming.
The merging of cultural style into your art is impeccable. How does fashion or style play into your role as a Southeast Asian musician?
I realized really early on that fashion was and is as equally important as music. It’s not about surface things that ‘I need to look beautiful’, it was about performance. As a classical Indian dancer, when I was a little girl I would go through 3 hours of makeup and costume transformation from the long braid, jewelry, flowers, the exaggerated eyeliner, painting our hand with red designs, tying the bells…it’s all so detailed. So, I believe for me fashion is always going to be a canvas that I can tell so much more of a story. So, you will only see me dive deeper and deeper into it because I’m literally obsessed.
What inspired your interest in starting your own record label, Godmother Records?
After seven years at a major label, going through four deals, and being signed to heavy hitters and industry titans, at the end of every season, I found that no one quite understood me and what to do. So I feel like I had to make Godmother Records to make for a safe space for women because a lot of things I faced whether it was patriarchy, racism, sexism, or whatnot, I had to create a space for myself by being strong and cutting/pushing through. I had to go into this dark demon-like mode. I didn’t feel that every woman should need to become this demon warrior. Can we (women) do that? Yes, but do we need to?
Going into that dark side of me, it took those two years of healing and making THE BRIDGE and going to therapy to return back to my sacred feminine and this receiving side and balance. So I figured, after all the things I’d been through, I’d learned how to do every job from the ground up — from artwork to music releases, directing my own music videos, and so I thought why not do this for myself and create a safe space for others? Especially in India.
In the past, I would look around at festivals and there were only two Indian females in the entire lineup. There is so much talent out there and if we don’t allow these women to grow by giving them opportunities then we won’t see them. We will see the same mediocre male tropes being done and redone. So Godmother Records was built out of my angst and audacity to believe in myself and others.
As a Grammy-nominated artist today, what are some of the challenges you overcame or are currently facing today?
Honestly, the biggest challenge is staying true to yourself and honing your craft. Because no matter how things change, if you know your craft, you can navigate through it.
I always encourage everyone I work with or that I meet to ask for advice. I tell them to hone their craft and master it, to learn songwriting, to learn producing, to master it, and to focus on that because then they can’t take it away from you.
Any favorite artist collaborations? Also, name a few artists you would love to do a song with and why.
I say those artists that seem out of reach because then it becomes a goal and I manifest it to know anything is possible! (haha), so, I would say Bad Bunny. I was really inspired by his Coachella set and I think the combination of Spanish and Indian influence could be something really interesting. From my side, I was lucky to have some of the best collaborations with so many amazing people, but Diljit Dosanjh and AP Dhillon are two I would love to collaborate with.
I love what they are both doing and I would love to do a song together and bring all this honed craft into the room. Oh, and Drake! Drake is a dream collaboration. When he collaborates with someone, it really helps. It becomes mainstream and that is one of my goals in life is to really break these Indian sounds into the mainstream in a way that is not like a token song. And I know Drake has a love and care for Indian culture, so it would just be amazing to work with him.
What motto, quote, or words to live by do you use to stay motivated when you aren’t feeling inspired?
Everything that is meant for me will not pass me. And I always remind myself that manifestation is real.
Things are not a loss, they are a redirection.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am actually a nerd. The persona is that I’m a super gangster and I think I was a little rough around the edges when I first came on the scene, but now I have really settled into my fully nerdy, ancient alien space. Most people would be surprised to see what a baby I actually am and how sensitive I am inside that exterior.
What’s your best advice for aspiring musicians?
Similar to what I said before, focus on your craft. Learn and focus on the music. Don’t do this to be famous. Focus on the music and everything will come to you that is meant for you. My best advice would be to find out and figure out who you are, then no one can come and influence you to do something outside of your character. If you stick to who you are, then you are definitely going to get what you deserve.
Everybody gets their chance if you really persevere and stay at it.
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