When Indo-American hip-hopper Svetha Rao had to stay at Madhuri Dixit's house
Indo-American hip hop artiste and songwriter Svetha Rao aka Raja Kumari speaks about writing for Gwen Stefani, living in Madhuri Dixit's home and her music
What are your thoughts on the Indian hip hop scene?
I am not just performing in Mumbai, but Chennai and Rajasthan too. Being able to travel the country shows that hip hop is growing here. Even in the US, it is one of the music genres that emerged in the '80s out of struggle. It seems to be happening in India now.
What attracted you to hip hop?
I found similarity between the taal of classical Indian dance [she is a trained Kuchipudi, Odissi and Bharatanatyam dancer] and the rhythm of hip hop. It was a natural way of expression for me.
How did you get into writing music for other artistes?
When I was younger and tried to record and write music, I realised that you only end up in the studio one or two times in a few months. To be a professional, you need to practise. When I wrote for other artistes, I got to be in the studio every day. There was a time when I was making two songs a day.
Did it get too industrial?
It made for good practice. I travelled to Denmark and Sweden to learn from their producers, and to writing camps in Jamaica and France. It can get industrial — it had become routine and that's what inspired me to do my album. During that time, I got the opportunity to prove myself as a songwriter who could be in the same room with these big artistes. After I got my first BMI Pop Award and my first platinum song for Fall Out Boy, I felt that the South Asian female voice was missing [on the hip hop scene] and if people could sing the songs I was writing, then why not me.
Working with which artiste was most memorable?
Meeting AR Rahman was big for me since my parents weren't aware of some of the big artistes I was working with. But when I came home and said I met Rahman and showed them a photo of us, they could quantify how large that was. Gwen Stefani was life changing for me as I worked with her right before I made my album. I learnt a lot from her about being committed, and not doing anything halfway. She was going through a public divorce. We [Justin Tranter and other writers] were helping her express that pain through music, which I knew would help other people too. It taught me that being an artiste takes a lot of sacrifice to make it.
What was it like to work with Divine and create City Slums, which has 3.9 million views?
He is one of my inspirations to come to India. I respect him and what he stands for; I doubt there's anybody better in the country. When I put the mic to the audience at my shows, they know every lyric of his songs.
How did you end up living at Madhuri Dixit's home?
[Laughs] I saw two different sides of Mumbai as I was with Madhuri and with the gully boys [Divine and other rappers]. We met in LA for her project [Dixit's yet-to-release debut album] and when I came to India, I continued working on her project. It just happened.
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