KR$NA Takes the Retrospective Route on Banging New Album ‘Still Here’
The New Delhi-based rapper calls on the likes of Badshah, Raftaar, Ikka and Rashmeet Kaur for his first record since 2014
Even if he’s hitting millions of streams and views within days (and sometimes, within hours) of releasing songs, rapper KR$NA aka Krishna Kaul says he’s not one for instant gratification. “I’m one of those people who makes things and I’m not immediately fond of the things I make. It takes longer for me to like what I do than maybe other people,” he says over the phone.
While he released his debut album Sellout in 2014, KR$NA’s taken plenty of broad strides since then, arriving at a space in hip-hop where he’s released music via rap heavyweight Raftaar’s label Kalamkaar, guested on a track called “Crossroads” with American ace rapper Royce Da 5’9” and brought in over 263,000 subscribers on his own YouTube channel. Along the way, if an idea was worth toying around, KR$NA took it – whether it was his 2016 song “Vyanjan” which was near educational for using every Hindi alphabet or his infamous 2019 beef with Mumbai rapper Emiway. The latter led to the creation of “Free Verse Feast (Langar),” where KR$NA breathed fire in front of the mic and only went from strength to strength.
What followed that millions-streamed track was an endless stream of reaction videos, fans poring over every lyrical utterance by KR$NA. He says about the fair-weather nature of the trend, “I watch reaction videos just to get a sense of what people are thinking. I don’t necessarily agree with reaction videos, because to be honest, a lot of them are not very qualified opinions.”
There are boatloads more reactions coming out now, especially for songs like “Roll Up,” which features Bollywood’s go-to hip-hop/pop artist Badshah. It’s taken off KR$NA’s new album Still Here, which focuses on the grit that got him to where he is today, even as he celebrates victories, analyzes vulnerabilities and of course, delivers lethal takedowns of the competition. In an interview with Rolling Stone India, KR$NA talks about the album, collaborations and what’s coming up. Excerpts:
You’ve been working on Still Here for the last few months. Is releasing an album like making an artistic statement for you?
I was very caught up between if I should make an entire album that is like a pure piece of art or should I make an album that has some sort of commercial value as well. That is always the biggest question. So I was leaning towards the center point where I can do some of my stuff that has my name on the album, and have some singles that will cross over, like ‘Roll Up.’ I was like, ‘Let’s just do this album like this and then next album I can probably concentrate on making it a little more,’ probably have a theme in it and all of that. But it’s a big deal because I haven’t released an album in years. In desi hip-hop it’s like everyone’s releasing an album, so I think it’s a good time. [Laughs]
Watch the video for “Roll Up” ft Badshah.
You’ve got Badshah, Rashmeet Kaur, Raftaar and more on this album. Previously, you hopped on a track with Royce Da 5’9”. How do you think about collaborations?
Honestly I think it depends on the song. With Royce, basically that song was high energy. [American rap artist] Hi-Rez sent me the song and he had told me, ‘I am thinking I should get Royce on the song.’ So I was like, ‘If you’re getting Royce on the song then I’ll get on the song too!’ Because that’s not an opportunity I want to let go of. [Laughs]
How I come up with collaborations or how I make that happen, it depends on the vibe of the song. When I made ‘Roll Up,’ it just sounded like a song that would sound good with Badshah on it. A collaboration is me stepping into someone else’s world, so that is how I treat it. Every big rapper at least has their own little signature style. So it’s always a challenge for me, can I step into their world and do what they do?
As someone who packs in a lot of lyrical content in your rap, how do you think about references and pop culture and even inside jokes?
Bro, I have been doing this metaphor, reference, wordplay game for years now. I feel like it just comes naturally to me because I’ve been doing it for so long. People think that there is a lot of effort put into it [references], but honestly there isn’t. It’s just that when you’re writing and when you’re in the flow of things, sometimes it just…I can’t explain it, but it comes together. There are some points where when I write a punchline, and I treat it a little like how stand-up comedy is written. You sometimes have the punchline but you don’t have the stuff behind it. Sometimes I’ll think of a punchline or a light reference, but I don’t have what’s behind it. So I go and create it in reverse.
How do you keep away from that whole feeling of instant gratification, when something blows up and hits a million views in a day? How do you keep yourself grounded in the face of those kind of things?
This is a really deep question. I think it’s very easy to get used to this sort of thing, like at one time, even if I got a 100,000 views, that was going to be the biggest thing, and it excited you a lot more. When that happens to be 500,000 and then you feel that it’s just a progressive thing. I’m sure there are artists who get 10 million views on average, they must be thinking, ‘Oh one million views is nothing.’ So it’s a never-ending thing. I’m happy that it does well and that’s it. I leave it at that, and I don’t go and keep checking views and all that.
Do you check out reaction videos and things, though?
I watch reaction videos just to get a sense of what people are thinking. I don’t necessarily agree with reaction videos. Because to be honest, a lot of them are not very qualified opinions. This has changed now, but earlier there used to be a huge… some artists have very strong fanbases. So imagine this; if there is a strong fanbase, the reaction guy realizes or the reaction girl or whoever the person is, they realize that this person [artist] has a strong fanbase, so what they’ll do is, they’ll purposely – even if it is not good – they will please that artist’s audience so that they can get lots of views.
I don’t think it’s a very genuine thing in that sort of way. I don’t depend on that opinion too much. I feel like if your audience is listening to it, and they’re happy and they’re not saying it’s trash or anything, it’s fine.
Watch the video for “Saza-E-Maut” below. Stream ‘Still Here’ on multiple platforms.