Raja Kumari Brings West Coast Rap to India

Name: Raja Kumari

Age: 36

Hometown: Claremont, Calif.

Now Lives: In a three-bedroom apartment in the Juhu section of Mumbai, India.

Claim to Fame: Ms. Kumari is a songwriter, singer and rapper whose work straddles both Western and Indian music, in a reflection of her dual identities as a South-Asian American. She blends English and Hindi lyrics, and classical Indian riffs over rap beats. Last year, she performed her single, “N.R.I.” (it stands for nonresident Indian) at an Asian-American inaugural ball for President Biden. Sample lyric: “Dot head eating samosas. Too brown for the label. Too privileged for the co-sign.”

Big Break: Ms. Kumari started dancing and singing at 6 and, by 10, was performing traditional Indian dance forms across India. She began writing and recording her own songs in her early 20s and eventually signed on with Pulse, a music producer and publisher in Los Angeles, where she wrote songs for Gwen Stefani, Fall Out Boy and Iggy Azalea. Her work with Ms. Azalea on “Bounce” (the video was shot in India) was a spark for Ms. Kumari to get back into the studio herself. “It woke me up,” she said. “I was, like, people want to add my voice, but they don’t want to have a South Asian woman do it? Why am I not taking that leap?”

Latest Project: In May, Ms. Kumari released her latest single — “Made in India” — that remixed a ’90s Indian pop hit, featuring the iconic Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit Nene. A 2020 single that Ms. Kumari’s worked on was featured in the new Disney+ series, “Ms. Marvel.”

Credit…Godmother Records/Raja Kumari; Album Art Design by Kirti Narain

Next Thing: After years of working with Western labels, Ms. Kumari has started Godmother Records, with “Made In India” being the first single produced under that label. “I owe it to myself to now stand on my own two feet,” she said. Her goal is also to use the label to discover and sign up-and-coming talent in India. “I have this dream of discovering a girl in India, and she wins a Grammy,” she said. “That would mean a lot.”

Manifesting: Ms. Kumari, whose real name is Svetha Yellapragada Rao, created her stage name when she was 14 to project a fearless version of herself and to build a visual identity around female Hindu goddesses. “It’s the character I needed,” she said. “I thought about the concept in my room and made it a reality to the point that I was on a billboard in Times Square. I don’t know anything more powerful than that.”



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