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EXCLUSIVE! Raja Kumari shares the powerful feminist energy with Madhuri Dixit while talking about her latest album, Head Bitch In Charge

Mumbai (Maharashtra): Raja Kumari is a powerhouse that has created a niche for herself in the world of rap and hip hop. She is among the very few artists who can blend two contrastingly different music genres – hip hop which is western and Indian classical which is very traditional. As a result, she has garnered an immense fan following in not only America but is considered among the top hip hop artists in India as well. Raja Kumari, an Indo-American artist, debuted in the Indian underground scene with ‘City Slums’, her collaboration with Divine. The song became an instant hit and etched her name with these underground hip hop artists who are all the rage in Indian music right now.

Talking to First India, the artist opened up about her upcoming album, Head Bitch In Charge, the success of her latest single ‘Made in India’, working with Madhuri Dixit-Nene and her roots in Indian classical music and dance among many others. An easy-going and confident personality, Kumari enthusiastically talked about her being inspired by Alisha Chinai’s 1995 hit, Made In India and using interpolations from the song for her new hit single with the same name. “I think in my career I haven’t done any samples or coverages. So, when it came to making my album, I wanted to know what people were enjoying. And I realised that people are bringing back old great songs and enjoying them on TikTok and Instagram and I immediately thought that I want to make an anthem for the motherland as well as the diaspora. And my art deals with the duality of these two identities. With Made In India, I had a lot of growth and a lot of self-acceptance. And that song is coming from a different place where it does not matter where I am from, they look at my face and know that I am Made In India. When it came to doing Made In India, I just wanted to take a song that meant a lot to the audience and bring it back to a new audience but obviously, adapt it to my artistic speciality. So, we borrowed the melody from the chorus which was the most memorable and we re-imagined it into rap and reggae style music. We also had this sitar break and I feel like whatever we made did justice to the original. With all the promotions I am trying to bring people back to the original to let them know that this is the original song that I am paying homage to and to the strong female energy that was before me,” she said.

Talking about her association with Indian classical dance forms and their influence on her work, the ‘Believe In You’ singer said, “I think it is the foundation of my work. I have been doing this since I was seven years old, so my whole life I have learned to look at the world through the eyes of my dance. The dance has helped me embody the high vibrations of my work. Because classical dances are done as an offering to the god and I think I kind of brought that into my art. So, whenever I am trying to perform, I try to do the best that I can. I learned dedication and the beauty of art through dance and I won’t ever forget it. It is the lens through which I look at the world.

She further spoke about working with Madhuri Dixit-Nene in her music video ‘Made in India’ calling her the archetype of a modern Indian woman and stating that there was no one bigger than her to represent that in her MV. “I find her to be someone who supports talent and genuinely is a nice person. It was so much fun on set with her. Everyone on the set was young and we were all just pinching ourselves unable to believe that our art had taken us so far that a superstar that was so unattainable to every one of us is coming on our set. And the fact that she came and she trusted us and gave us that million-dollar wink, in the end, was so crazy.

She also elaborated on directing a superstar, stating, “I donned the cap of a director and also starred in the MV. I used to sit on the chair and direct her through the microphone like, “GO Madhuri! Give it to us!” I had to make sure that everything was on time and that we were on our best behaviour as a superstar was there. I used to sometimes forget that even I am supposed to be a superstar and be on camera. That many times made me doubt myself whether I am good enough. But I used to look myself in the mirror and repeat that this is what you dreamed of as a child and that dream is about to come true. So, be in the moment and have as much fun as possible. And I think that the child in me came out. In a few frames, I look at her and one can evidently see how much I love and adore her.

About her album, Head Bitch In Charge, Kumari explained that the album is about taking control unapologetically. “With me going independent and making Godmother Records, and its first release being Made in India with Madhuri and making a statement and following it up with an aggressive rap record. It has everything that people love about me and find something new. The direction in which Made in India is going is where I want to take the listeners with this album. So for me, it is like opening the door to the next part of my career which has full independence. A place where I do not have to convince five men that my song is worthy enough for the world and decide on my own, when and how my music is released. So, it is like a new era.

The rap artist further explained what compelled her to create her own record label and make songs independently. “I feel like the whole music scene is changing. Previously the record labels were needed to get everything out on time and to be organized. But now with platforms being strong, you can really bring out your own music. So, I would just encourage people to make their own music and let the people decide. Anything is possible in this day and age. Rather than sticking to the past why not do something innovative and bring something new.

As the singer is gearing up to share the space with Shah Rule again, with their last collaboration being the 2019 hit ‘Kaun Hai Tu’, she spoke on why she chose to work with him again. “Shah Rule and I were neighbours in Bandra and we had a lot of similar experiences to share. Like he was born in Russia and came back to India, so he has a lot more perspective on our shared experiences. I love Shah Rule because he has so much quality to his songs, just the harmony and production, so you just know that you are going to get something dope. So, the song that we came up with, we just wrote it in a day. We were sitting on his roof where you can see the ocean and people walking back and forth on the road and we were writing the verses. So, I am so glad that the fans are going to get two songs from both of us,” Kumari said.

She also revealed the discrimination she faced as an indo-western artist where she was considered too Indian for the hip hop scene and too hip hop for Indian. Raja Kumari stated that this bigotry was the bane of her existence as an artist and how the Indian market has influenced the way western record labels view Indian-American artists. “Imagine getting signed by a major American record label, that is such an amazing feat. And then you realise that they live with the views that Indian girls do not rap or India does not matter and I used to be like, it is 1 billion people…how does that not matter? Cut to seven years, now record labels would fail if they do not have a concrete plan for streaming in India. Such is the influence of the Indian market today. I feel like I was ahead when I was trying to let people know that there was so much potential here.

That kind of prejudice where I have been told that they will give me a bigger budget if I don’t wear the bindi. I had to go through all kinds of things but now I am at a point where anything is possible and that is a wonderful place to be”, the artist said before signing off.

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