When Tamil-English rapper Lady Kash left Singapore for India at around seventeen or eighteen years of age, "there was no scope [for a career as a hip-hop artist] back then in the Lion City". She says that the Singapore hip-hop and rap community has now "come a long way".
It was no easy road for the rapper, whose real name is Kalaivani Nagaraj, taking on and moving past the challenges thrown her way. These challenges include being unable to see her family for 3 years during the COVID-19 saga. That did not stop her from putting the work into building her label's studio in Bangalore from scratch.
Lady Kash returns with her single, 'Running In The Same Space', her first release since 2022. Working with UK-born producer A.k.ashhh, as well as Chennai-born singer-songwriter and classical dancer Laya, the track "takes you into that intense current state of mind as the climb gets steeper".
"The way I see it, you could be running, but in the wrong direction and therefore actually going nowhere. This is equivalent to being stuck in the same space. So here, I am not only talking about progress and forward motion, but also about the right direction", she shares.
In an exclusive interview with Hear65, Lady Kash talks about persevering in the right direction, her journey as the first female Tamil-English rapper, the sacrifices she made in building her label AKASHIK from the ground up, and ensuring a space for independent artists to grow.
Hi, Lady Kash! Who are the independent artists that you’ve been listening to and why do you think everyone should be listening to them?
Vanakkam! What's good? Thank you for having me. Ryan Leslie, Russ, Kehlani, Masego are some names that come to mind off the top of my head. One thing that is common between all these artists is versatility and a high value of creative expression.
Congratulations on releasing your latest single, ‘Running In The Same Space’! Tell us what this song means to you and your thought processes while working on this project.
Appreciate it. Post the COVID-19 chaos, I had to make the difficult, yet conscious decision of putting the music releases on halt in order to focus on the design and building stages of my label's studio out here in Bangalore, India as it was completely bootstrapped. I have been based here for the past year for that very reason. I had to constantly remind myself that this was a sacrifice I had to make to take my music business and our efforts to the next level. I had been away from my family for 3 years. During that period, it was intense in my mind, as the challenges [that] my partner, Shrutilaya, and I faced were nightmarish. ‘Running In The Same Space’ is therefore a sonic world that takes you into that intense current state of mind as the climb gets steeper. It reflects on my years of perseverance, purpose, and staying liberated by recognizing that the journey itself is the destination.
"I had to constantly remind myself that this was a sacrifice I had to make to take my music business and our efforts to the next level."
What was your favourite line to write from ‘Running In The Same Space’? Tell us why you picked it.
See, I bag my own groceries
No magic no sorceries
Just wanna buy ma mom some porcelain
Stairway to heaven
These are personally my favorite lines from the song. It communicates a deep sense of purpose and effort in a very minimalistic and simple manner. I am working towards the day when I can get my mom ‘some porcelain’ if you know what I mean. The reference to ‘Stairway To Heaven’ makes this even more special as [it] is a legendary song with such profound meaning. I believe in the ethos that heaven is a state of mind, a way of life. You can live like it is heaven every day right here on earth.
"I believe in the ethos that heaven is a state of mind, a way of life. You can live like it is heaven every day right here on earth."
Tell us about the concept behind the music video of ‘Running In The Same Space’. How does it expand on the song’s themes?
The title ‘Running In The Same Space’ is an irony on its own. The way I see it, you could be running, but in the wrong direction and therefore actually going nowhere. This is equivalent to being stuck in the same space. So here, I am not only talking about progress and forward motion, but also about the right direction. That is the key. We have filmed the video in a single space to bring this to life, instead of various sets. The entire video takes place in the raw build premises of our studio, DOJO BLACK Studios., where the viewer is able to see a cross-section of the premises with its wires, materials, unpainted walls, etc., displayed in all its chaotic glory. If my mind was to be painted, it would look something like that right now. A special shoutout to Arun Mily and Prabhahar for rising to the occasion despite the short notice (which is usually the case with us). [laughs]
As someone with the title of the first female Tamil-English rapper, what are some responsibilities that you think you have whenever you make music?
This is a tough question. I both dislike and value responsibilities at the same time, it is a love-hate relationship. As the first in the domain that you mentioned, it was important for me to share my heritage and culture in the most authentic manner. At the same time, growing up in a manner where I have been exposed to so many different countries and cultures, it was difficult to find a fine line. I also was aware that the future would see many more rappers coming up in Asia and I wanted to pave a path that was built to last, powerful, and also influential in a positive way. Growing up, I have heard people say that rap is useless, that it's garbage. But it is the exact opposite. It is a powerful tool that can move the world. I am just trying to keep that going.
"Growing up, I have heard people say that rap is useless, that it's garbage. But it is the exact opposite. It is a powerful tool that can move the world. I am just trying to keep that going."
You are also the founder and CEO of the independent label AKASHIK. In what ways have your experiences in this role contributed to your growth as an artist?
It is actually the other way around. My experiences as an artist span over 16 years and that's what has contributed to my abilities and growth as a CEO. I had to learn the ropes on my own when YouTube had just begun and the resources were close to none - be it branding, marketing, press, live bookings, distribution, publishing - you get the picture. I am a part of the entire process when it comes to AKASHIK and I am able to ensure that any artist that works with us is able to put out the most authentic creation in its highest quality output while keeping their personal beliefs in mind.
"I had to learn the ropes on my own when YouTube had just begun and the resources were close to none - be it branding, marketing, press, live bookings, distribution, publishing."
In May last year, you took a break from making music to set up a recording studio described as a safe and premiere space catered to fellow independent artists. What inspired you to do so? What’s your biggest takeaway from that venture?
The fact that I didn't have these opportunities back then is what inspired me to do this. I was always told to take the next week's booking because "this week we are completely booked for a movie" or "we only have commercial rates''. It is a fact that commercial rates do not work for indie artists that are just starting out or are trying hard to figure out how to gather funds for their first album / EP. What they need is an independent package and that is what we will offer. DOJO BLACK. Studios., is an indie-first space. Regarding the takeaway from the venture, ask me again in 5 years.
Let’s talk a bit about Singapore’s hip-hop/rap community. How do you hope it will continue to evolve?
We have come a long way. There are many new hip-hop artists in Singapore today. When I left the shores to pursue a music career, I did so because there was no scope [for music] back then in the Lion City. It has taken almost 12 years since then for the iconic hip-hop label Def Jam to launch in Singapore and Southeast Asia. That speaks for itself. It happened today because trailblazers like myself have fought hard to pave the path. Shoutout to the OGs. I hope that these major labels will use their resources in the best way possible and also give back to the ones that helped the hip-hop/rap community come about and thrive in the first place.
"It has happened today because trailblazers like myself have fought hard to pave the path. Shoutout to the OGs. I hope that these major labels will use their resources in the best way possible and also give back to the ones that helped the hip-hop/rap community come about and thrive in the first place."
Finally, what is coming up next for you?
A slew of releases from the label - hip-hop/rap, pop, neo-soul - and a very exciting multi-artist collaboration titled "Desam — One Sky". I am striving to begin the mind-mapping phase of my debut album. I am looking forward to the launch of the studio. I am also thinking about collaborating with trailblazers from different parts of the world. Let's stay connected! I’ll see you at the next release.
Listen to 'Running in The Same Space' here: