New Face, Fresh Style: Emerging Model Musician Raja on Blending Hip Hop With Bollywood

Gpeg Gary Plange Jr.


"If your song isn't playing in the strip club, then it's not popping," declared emerging hip-pop act Raja -- decked out in a floor length fur coat and Jordans -- en route to open for PNB Rock in Poughkeepsie, New York back in March. 

Four months later, the fresh talent sticks to that original thought. Eating dinner at his favorite Indian restaurant Bukhara Grill in NYC, Raja tells Billboard Style that his single "Hangover" is finally gaining traction in the city's strip clubs (and virally) a year after its release. This had been a long way coming for the featured model of Soho's Alternative Apparel, who has also had international ad campaigns for Sony and other independent fashion retailers. 

The Long Island native is a first generation son of an Indian father and mother -- his dad coming to America with "only $13 in his pocket," selling hot dogs at Yankee Stadium before joining the Air Force and becoming an engineer. Despite coming from a "strict family" of Hindu and Patel origins -- used to relatives becoming doctors and lawyers -- Raja lived in a music-loving household. "I grew up with my middle sister listening to 90's hip-hop one day, my older sister playing Gloria Estefan and La Bouche the next, while my mom listened to Bollywood songs."

Everyone knew that Raja would be the star of the family, particularly his father. Unfortunately, Raja's biggest inspiration wouldn't be able to witness the success of his son, dying from a stroke in 2009. On his father's musical taste and influence: "My father was very religious so he would listen to Indian drums, and I took on playing the tabla as a result."

The musical combinations of hip-pop and dance pop come across in "Hangover" which was produced by Ron Browz, the artist responsible for Jim Jones' 2007 smash "Pop Champagne" and Nas' "Ether" (Remy Ma would go on to use that beat for her Nicki Minaj diss "SHEther"). But what sets the song apart from other strip club jams is it's Indian roots, a sitar driving the production.

Raja believes "Hangover" is a potential hit, because it contains "a Superman-energy that leaves your adrenaline pumping." DJ Superstar Boogie of Scandals NYC Gentlemans Club in Queens backs that belief up, as he regularly spins the song alongside Raja's pop-friendly track "Could Be Us." Raja owes gratitude to Boogie as he says "people would approach me and tell me that he plays my songs in the club all the time." 

For Raja, he holds fashion as a "big part of my brand." At Bukhara Grill, the singer wore a camo Vlone hoodie over a Yeezy Season 3 t-shirt, pants from Rick Owens, and Balmain zip-up boots. He considers the A$AP Mob and Kanye West's fashion lines to be amongst his top choices; while he prefers to shop at Opening Ceremony, Supreme, and Barneys, with occasional visits at vintage shops. "You never know what to expect from me in terms of my looks," explains Raja, who can't wait for this fall's New York Fashion Week. 

What to expect from him next, music-wise, is a new single titled "Sangria Sangria." The smooth R&B cut will feature new vocalist Rhea Raj and be produced by Rey Reel, whose contributed to Beyoncé's acclaimed, self-titled LP. Reel has also produced for one of Raja's favorite rappers, Drake

"I’m a big fan of Drake -- I think he has done a lot in a short amount of time." And Raja's admiration extends past Drake and into his OVO Sound roster: "PartyNextDoor is amazing and very talented. He doesn't receive enough credit. I met him during a Fashion Week event last year at 1Oak and he’s one of the most humble people I’ve ever met in the industry." The independent act hopes that one day, his music will capture OVO's attention.