They introduced me to some great music: classics that I listen to now, like Arctic Monkeys, The
Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age, Rage Against
the Machine. Basically all kinds of grunge music
and alternative styles that I hadn’t heard before.
I had been listening to more popular music, but I
fell in love with all kinds of indie music so quickly that it completely changed everything about
me. The music I was making immediately
became better and more experimental, less formulaic, less pop-y.
I was making music with these kids and loving it.
They were older and exposed to music for much
longer, so they knew more and showed me stuff I
hadn’t heard — stuff that wasn’t playing on the
radio or being spoken about on blogs. They really
opened my eyes.
Finally, a random kid from Australia transferred
to our school and happened to play drums. We had
a guitarist and a bassist, so we formed a band and
called ourselves Felix and the Cats.
Felix and the Cats were the glory years of my life.
We would perform Rage Against The Machine
songs, do other covers, make our own music: funk,
rap, jazz, rock, everything. It was so much fun.
A lot of kids have that story about being in a band
in high school. What happened later?
I graduated and had to figure out what I was
going to do with my life. We moved over here so I
could go to school in California — which I was so
excited about because it was where so many of my
favorite rap songs originated...
There was so much better reception to my making music
than there was in high school. People used to laugh at me
and make fun of me, but when I came to college it was different. People thought it was super cool.
I started playing at college events and bars. And I met one
of my best friends, Peter James. He is a rapper. He thought
I was good and wanted to team up. So, we formed a band,
and we were active for about two years. But Peter felt like it
wasn’t really going anywhere and kind of lost confidence in
himself. He said I should just make my own music.
Also, during college, I went through a lot of stuff. Typical,
like breakups, hard relationships, and being free from my
parents gave me a new perspective. With this, my music
became even better in my opinion. I started making more
of my own stuff. I stopped caring about what people
thought of my art, finally.
Coming to college changed things for me. I started to
make music that reflected what I truly felt, and people liked
it a lot more because they could tell it was more honest.
From there I also met one of my band members,
Harrison Tucker, a singer, and Foster, my other band member, a rap artist. I produce with them and mix with them
and record with them and we all perform live. That kind of
brings us to now. That’s the story.
With that experience, what do you see as the differences
and similarities between the American hip hop scene and
hip hop where you grew up? How did these affect you?
The American hip hop scene is really complicated,
because over the years hip hop has become the biggest
genre in America next to electronica.
When I came to the California, or the US more generally,
I heard a lot more music from the West Coast that I was
previously not exposed to. That’s one really good aspect of
hip hop here — when you hear about rap outside of
America, it’s pretty much just everything that’s getting
pushed by major labels. That was my experience with hip
hop before I came to the US and before my buddy Steven
showed me anything that was worth listening to, which
was pretty much only available through the Internet.
I was then able to really hone in on what was happening
alternatively and underground in America… There’s this
whole underground scene; there’s a whole indie scene for
every genre. Like, if you went to a Kanye West concert in
America, you’d find yourself among hundreds of thousands
of people. But you could pretty much go see your favorite
rapper, who you think almost no one knows, and end up at
a concert with 500 people, which is still a scene.
I think that’s why I feel so comfortable here. I feel like I
can make my own fanbase through a grassroots independent movement.
My growth as a musician in other countries was much
slower. The platforms available for listening to music and
exploring are pretty much only online. So, my musical
growth in China was probably half the rate it’s been here
because I couldn’t even find anything. No one was listening
to anything but what everyone else was listening to.
Here, you find that’s true with a certain group of people
maybe, but once I found my clique or my community, people
who were interested in the same things I was, it was much
easier for me to grow in a place where music and art thrive.
How do you feel the receptivity is toward South Asian hip
hop artists, here and globally?
Since I’ve been around the map a little bit and I’ve had
friends in different countries, I know a lot of Korean rappers
and Japanese rappers who rap in their own dialect, and
whenever people see that on the Internet, all I hear is praise.
I could be doing pretty well if I had rapped in my own
dialect, but I want to get a larger audience.
The way people react to me being Indian, which is something I actually surveyed on my Facebook page, is that a lot
don’t care. It’s gotten to the point where so many people
from so many different places are making music — it wasn’t like this when I was in high school, this is now — that
skin tone and color and ethnicity are not what matter, but
it’s simply the quality and the credibility of the music.
Every now and then I get a comment on YouTube or
something that’s like, ‘I’ve never seen an Indian rap so well,’
and with those — as much of a compliment as they are
meant to be — it’s almost offensive to me. I don’t want it to
be like, ‘This is really good for an Indian kid.’ I don’t want
my background to be taken into consideration when people
are deciding if I’m good.
I don’t use my ethnicity as a way to get in the door or even
mention it too much, but I do use my knowledge of being
from India and my global perspective and understanding
of the world in my music.
I don’t think being Indian is a crutch or advantage in any
Whose work has influenced you?
It changes every year. I tell my dad every year that some
new person is my favorite artist.
Currently, when it comes to hip hop, I listen to Chance
the Rapper, and Kendrick Lamar and J Cole. There are a
lot of underground rappers I like, like Aesop Rock.
But most of the music I listen to is actually rock and
alternative, like the Arctic Monkeys, and the Grizzly Bears.
The music I listen to doesn’t directly reflect what I make
The way people react to me being Indian, which is something I actually surveyed on my
Facebook page, is that a lot don’t care. It’s gotten to the point where so many people from
so many different places are making music — it wasn’t like this when I was in high school,
this is now — that skin tone and color and ethnicity are not what matter, but it’s simply
the quality and the credibility of the music.