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Raja Kumari: ‘It’s Important That I Give Back to the Motherland and Don’t Forget My Bloodline’

The hip-hop artist speaks to Ebro Darden on Beats 1 about her upcoming EP, meeting Dr. Dre, writing for artists like Fall Out Boy, Iggy Azalea and more

Rolling Stone India
Rolling Stone India Dec 03, 2018

"What I want to do is try to support some young female artists and do whatever I can to make sure that art keeps growing in India," says Raja Kumari.

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Indo-American rapper Raja Kumari recently spoke to U.S.-based radio presenter Ebro Darden on his Beats 1 show on Apple Music. High on the heels of her latest fiery single “Shook,” Kumari tells Darden about the track, why her yet-to-be released EP is titled Bloodline and explains what taals are. Read the full transcript of the interview below.

Ebro Darden:  [You’re now] songwriting for Iggy Azalea, Fall Out Boy [and] Gwen Stefani.

Raja Kumari: I was doing songwriting for a couple years ’cause I realized that to be an artist, you have to perfect your craft and I wanted to learn from the greats. My first placement was actually on Iggy Azalea, “Change Your Life,” and then I worked with Fall Out Boy on “Centuries.” That was my first platinum, so I really got to experience having your song on the radio and the craziest thing was Kobe [Bryant] walked out to his final game to “Centuries.” And I was like, “Oh my God.” A song that came from my mind became the soundtrack of this great athlete in L.A. I happened to be in India, but someone sent me the clip and I was just like crying in Bombay.

I wrote with Gwen Stefani on her last album. Kind of amazing opportunities and it taught me a lot.

Ebro Darden: You going with kind of? How about amazing?

Raja Kumari: Amazing opportunities. It taught me a lot and gave me a lot of confidence as an artist.

Ebro Darden: What is “Shook” about? Who’s “Shook?” What’s “Shook?”

Raja Kumari: “Shook when you see a deity, we be army deep.” That means there’s so many of us, and our third eyes are open. You’re shook because we’re here. This record is just… it’s a battle anthem, but it’s really a statement like, “We’re here. Can you hear us?”

My favorite line on the record is, “Send my Benji’s over to Gandhi, and now we feast.” It’s like, I wonder if Gandhi knew, only 75 years after independence that a girl growing up in America would say she’s going to take all her Benji’s and give it back to India, like come back. That’s really the vibe of this. It’s like; we can grow up in America. We can be many different… We can have dualities. We can have all these things, but for me, it’s important that I go give back to the Motherland, and I don’t forget my bloodline.

Raja Kumari with Ebro Darden.

Ebro Darden: The upcoming EP is titled Bloodline. Why?

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Raja Kumari: ‘Cause it’s really about me. When I was making this album, it was really me questioning, “Where do you come from? What is this?” When I was starting to make The Come Up, I made the cover, me with the American flag across my face. That was in reference to what was going on in the political scene and things that I had heard that upset me. I was like, “This is America. This is the new face of America.” You can’t ask for the brightest and greatest of all the world to send their scientists and their doctors for us to build the infrastructure and then their children tell them they’re less American. I bought into the American dream.

I tell people the reason I’m different when I go into India is ’cause maybe those girls don’t have that same conditioning, but I’m like, “This is the land of milk and honey. This is the home of the brave. Pull yourself by your bootstraps and anything is possible.” That’s how I’m wired.

I don’t know that something can’t happen. I can make anything happen and that’s what I’m so thankful about having that American side of me ’cause it makes me be competitive and really excel. Even in India, there aren’t many female artists and for me to be able to go in there and just be this example of a strong woman that doesn’t really give a fuck what’s going on, you’re not gonna tell me what to do, and I think that’s just inspiring this revolution amongst the girls.

I’m starting a foundation in India called Kumari Kids, and it’s about supporting young girls through art ’cause my dad was great. He maybe didn’t want me to be an artist, but he still sent me to my music class. He still allowed me to learn, but that is lacking a lot in India. They don’t want girls on stage or they don’t want them out of the house. A lot of girls stop their education when they… [in] most villages and things, as soon as they have their period, they stop going to school. It’s crazy.

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So, what I want to do is try to support some young female artists and do whatever I can to make sure that art keeps growing in India ’cause there’s so much. That’s what Bloodline is really about. Who am I for real? Am I American? Am I Indian? Am I just the blood that’s running through my veins? What is my culture? And what am I willing to do to protect it? And that’s why this record has this… I think The Come Up was about manifesting my dreams and this one is about protecting what’s important and making sure that we stand up for ourselves, and that’s the attitude behind this album.

Raja Kumari on Meeting Dr. Dre.

Raja Kumari: I have a story about getting in the room with Dr. Dre, and I was really young. It was one of my first songwriting things. I was sitting in a back room and I was doing the taals, the (singing).

Ebro Darden: What is that called?

Raja Kumari: It’s a taal.

Ebro Darden: A taal.

Raja Kumari: Or a “Jaathi” in South Indian Telugu. So those are like rhythms.

Ebro Darden: Sounds like, we call that “scat.”

Raja Kumari: Yeah, but they have, each of those sounds has to do with a foot movement or the way you play the drums. It’s actually; it’s giving me an instruction on what to do with those sounds. So, it means “That with your foot.”

So I was doing some of those because I was experimenting a lot when I started songwriting with making samples of my voice, and the guy that I was working with was a sub producer to him and he’s like, “Hold on one second.” Leaves the room. Then here comes Dr. Dre, just walks in, and I’m in this tiny little closet room, and he goes, “Do that again.” And so I was just like, “Okay.” Why did Dr. Dre drop to his knees on the floor and was like…

Ebro Darden: Started making a beat, yeah.

Raja Kumari: And he’s like, “Do that again.” I was like, “Wait, hold up. Did I actually make Dr. Dre fall to his knees at the first time I met him?” I’m like, “Okay, God, thank you for that little moment off of my bucket list.” But I’ve had some really incredible experiences like that.

All photos courtesy of Apple Music. 

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