Raja Kumari: The Music Diplomacy of "Bollyhood"
Indian-American songwriter and rapper Svetha Rao, better known as Raja Kumari, is branching out from songwriting—a career that brought her into collaboration with artists such as Fall Out Boy, Gwen Stefani, and Fifth Harmony—and into her own brand of socially-conscious hip-hop.
Born and raised in Claremont, California, Rao studied Indian classical dance from the age of seven. The Fugees’ album The Score introduced her to hip-hop, and by 14 she was a freestyle MC under the stage name Indian Princess—later Raja Kumari, meaning “daughter of the king” in Sanskrit.
After receiving the BMI Pop Award for Songwriting earlier this year, Raja Kumari released her first original music video, Mute, merging classical Indian imagery with hip hop culture, a syncretism that she terms “Bollyhood.” With her first solo EP The Come Up debuting November 17th and an Indian tour in the works, Raja Kumari is taking on a role as a cultural ambassador and a force for representation rather than appropriation. In her own words, “I am from the West but I am a seed of the East with my knowledge of Eastern culture. It's my goal to be a vessel of culture between the two.”