The first song of Svetha Yellapragada Rao, known by her stage name Raja Kumari, came from her first heartbreak. She was 11 or 12 and had a crush on an Indian boy in California, where she grew up. He, however, liked the typical American blue-eyed blonde. “That was the first upset for me. He is supposed to like me, I thought. I am Jasmine to his Aladdin. He is not supposed to go after Cinderella. Cinderella has her own movie,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh. “My first music came from not feeling good enough or beautiful enough.” Still, she got over it because of a deep-rooted love for her culture, born of learning classical Indian dance from the age of seven. “I loved where I came from too deeply,” she says.
This translated into an innate confidence that suffuses her music, which she describes as a sonic bridge between the west and the east. “It is the way that I have translated my American and Indian experience and wanting to be included on both sides,” she says.
She could not have put it more succinctly. Her music videos are full of this dichotomy—mythology with technology; gritty, guttural lyrics with flowing, classical dance moves; sparkly body suits with half-saris; bindis with crop tops; eastern bling with western minimalism; an exaggerated femininity in the overwhelmingly masculine world of hip-hop. There is rebellion in her music. Years of others trying to tame her into a well-defined category has made her untamable. As she sings in her breakout song, ‘Mute’: “I had to put them on mute… Same old thing, different day… I had to feed these fools… I had to go home and regroup….”
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