Indian-American rapper Raja Kumari's new song Rani Cypher depicts a progressive narrative around gender stereotypes
The Grammy Award nominee and recipient of the BMI Pop Award for songwriting, Raja Kumari chats with us about her objective behind Rani Cypher, inclusivity, gender equality and women empowerment
Back in 2016, Svetha Yallapragada Rao aka Raja Kumari, an Indian American rapper, songwriter and recording artiste made heads turn with her first single Mute. Her songs struck a chord with the South Asian diaspora for her unique lyrics and focus on diversity. As an independent artiste, Raja Kumari has created a musical space for herself and she tells us that she always tries to deliver a message of authenticity, empowerment and self-confidence. Bringing this vision to the fore is her recent music video titled Rani Cypher in collaboration with Absolut Vodka. The video celebrates the potent voices of a new generation of women who dare to dismantle deeply ingrained gender stereotypes and forge a path for themselves.
Delivering an unfaltering social message through a collaborative effort, the track fortifies its woman-power credentials with appearances by breakthrough female rappers — Dee MC, SIRI and Meba Ofilia. With lyrics that provoke dialogue on equality, the video visually juxtaposes the four rappers as queens in the contemporary world. The anchor verse is an unabashed anthem of their sentiments: “rani, rani, don’t forget that you’re a queen, rani, rani duniya ki shehzaadi, there’s nothing that can stop you now, lift it up and wear that crown.”
Born in Los Angeles, her parents moved from India in the 70s, yet her songs have a strong influence of Indian culture and classical music. She says, “I grew up in a South Indian household with a Telugu upbringing.” Telugu music, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Missy Elliot and Lauren Hill — all had a part to play in her musical growth. The Grammy Award nominee and recipient of the BMI Pop Award for songwriting, Raja Kumari chats with us about her objective behind Rani Cypher, inclusivity, gender equality and women empowerment. Excerpts.
Tell us about your song Rani Cypher.
Rani Cypher is a song that’s really about remembering who you are and walking in your power. I’m really excited because this is the first time I got to collaborate with all-female musicians. I do work with an all-female crew whenever I can, for creative and behind the scenes, but to be able to feature these three female MCs on this record is exciting. I’m a fan of all three of them. So, it was amazing for us to be able to make this happen.
What was the inspiration behind the song and what did you want to convey through the music?
I think the inspiration was that in the industry, they always try to make us feel like there’s no space for more than one of us, that when one of us gets through, that’s enough, and the rest of the seats on the table are for everyone else. I just felt like what happens when we elevate each other when we use our platform to showcase others, what can happen.
You’ve spoken a lot about inclusivity through your music, what are your thoughts on the importance of inclusivity?
Music is a safe space. Here, we all can find a place where we can belong. Inclusivity, especially in our world in music is so important because there isn’t a lot of representation for us in the West and even for people outside of mainstream Indian beauty. I just think it’s important to show real people and celebrate all different types of people. This song, I think, is about that, and asking everybody to wear their crown.
What do you think about empowering women in the music industry?
Empowering women in the industry is one of the most important things that we can do right now. I feel like in the next five years, I want to focus on music infrastructure in India, like how can I give back, how can I mentor more, how can I teach what I’ve learned over the last 10 years as a songwriter. So I think this is the beginning of many, many things that we can do to empower women in the music industry and create platforms for all-female teams to thrive.
Thoughts behind your present collaboration with MCs and Absolut?
I think the fact that we collaborated shows that I resonate with the brand and that our goals are the same for this project and for the future ones, which is creating a platform to amplify the voices of those that are not normally in the mainstream and also make some uplifting stuff and have fun. So I think that it’s been a great partnership.