Ever since I started making music, my name
was too hard for people to say. So they wanted to change the spelling of the
name and I was like, “I’m not going to butcher my name because you can’t say it.” You know, like that’s crazy. I realized that I had to go make a place for me. It was hard growing up not seeing anyone Indian,
like, I think the only Indian person that existed in American pop culture was Apu from
“The Simpsons” and he was like a caricature of Indian people. I loved Britney Spears. I loved Christina Aguilera and I loved all
these people, but that definitely was damaging for me as a child because none of them represented
who I was. The music I make is like a fusion of definitely
hip-hop, tribal, rhythmic kinds of things and an Eastern influence, melodically so. It’s like a genre, kind of like Bollyhood,
kind of like a little bit hood, but a little bit Indian. As a child I studied three of the five classical
styles of Indian dance. It’s my first relationship with art and I
learned about rhythm through classical dance. So then I took that and I was like, “Well,
what if I use these devices and I apply some English in there, make it a rap song,” kind
of what I grew up on being an American kid growing up here being influenced so much by
hip-hop, by people like Missy Elliot and people like Timbaland that, like, are fearless with
their fusion. So I was like, “Okay, what if we do, like… [RAPPING] And it was just like so exciting that I realized that they are the same and
that kind of started me on this, like, search to, like, make this fusion music. With new artists, I think there’s always a challenge for them to succumb to what society wants. Everyone wants to be able to say, “That’s
the next X, that’s the next Y.” Raja’s coming into this industry as incomparable. I don’t think she’s going to bend to what
people want to hear, but she’s going to create something that people are going to yearn to hear. So Mom, how do you feel about me putting the Kuchipudi and Bharathanatyam in pop music? Tell the truth. You worry. She always asks me, she’ll be like, “We really
like it, but like are the people going to like it? Are the American people going to like it?” She’s, like, always concerned. I’m glad she’s doing it because she is Indian
and, you know, yeah… The songwriting process for me has changed
over the years. I really feel like melody is king and I understood
that through, like, traveling the world. You know, you see people that speak different
languages, but they’re all singing along to the song. So the melody is what moves them and the language
is secondary. So for me, when I write now, I just try to
channel the melodies first. Once that melody is set, I let it tell me
what the words are. Alright, let me try again. I always view myself almost like a seed from
the motherland that’s, like, planted in the new soil. My parents, even though they came in the ’70’s,
they’ve lived in America longer than they lived in India now. So it’s always confusing to me when people
ask me, “When are you going to go home?” or something like that. I’m like, “I’m born in Southern California. I am home.” I did dye my hair blonde a lot when I was
a kid and I really, like, kind of tried to push my Indian heritage to the side because
I didn’t see a place where it could really be. It was a hard battle that I went through. When I signed my publishing deal for the first
time, to be like an official songwriter, I really put my artist stuff to the side for,
like, almost like two years. I really didn’t write things necessarily for me. I would write songs, like, “If Christina would
sing this or if Demi Lovato would sing this,” and I would just write songs outside of my own
perspective, outside my own voice, but after two years of doing that, I would be writing
these things that were fresh and different and then they would get to the point where
they were like, “This is so awesome, but who’s going to sing it?” and that was like, “Me.” Like, that’s when realized, like, “Oh [BLEEP],
I’m creating music that, like, nobody else can do.” Iggy Azalea did a video called “Bounce” and
she went to India. There’s a scene where she’s wearing a Kiritam, which is like the crown that the goddess
wears and, like, I’ve worn it in a very religious, spiritual way. So to see someone who doesn’t know what that
is kind of just gyrating on top of an elephant woke me up. I was, like, “Wow, literally something that
I’ve written in my journal that I want to film has been filmed by someone who has no
connection to the culture, and if I do not get up and do this right now, if I don’t make
my album, I don’t know what will happen. It won’t be me, part of the revolution. It won’t be me speaking for us. At some point you reach that place as an artist
where, like, if you don’t put something out, your head is going to [BLEEP] explode and
I think that that’s the place that she got to. The day that she called me, she just had this excitement in her voice. She was like, “I’m ready. Nobody’s stopping me. I’m not letting nobody else tell me no. [BLEEP] it!” and I think since then she hasn’t
slowed down. I’m actually working on an EP. It’s called “The Come Up” and it is about
being on the precipice of everything you desire and taking a leap and it’s really about visualizing
and manifesting. There have been many times where I have had
moments of doubt and wondered if I should, like, erase my culture in order to make it
in America, but as I’ve come here and I’ve understood my role in all of this, I see that
that is actually the thing that’s going to help me make it and that’s the thing that
makes me unique and that’s the thing that needs to be celebrated. So I realize that I’m actually going to make
it because of my cultural heritage and because I’ve understood it and celebrated it.