India’s Most Daring Rapper Kr$na Gets Personal

When Kr$na entered the Man’s World set, he was everything you’d expect out of one of India’s most audacious rappers. A walking-talking hype beast decked out in an Acne Studios t-shirt, sacai pants, a personalised monogrammed Louis Vuitton duffel and mint AJ1s. His eyebrow slit and immaculate fade is a precursor to his slow, swagger-inducing walk. His entry is fronted by his dedicated manager Sagar, because which big-ticket musician enters the stage solo? Yet, besides his urban get-up that would look right at home in Tokyo or the West Coast, there’s nothing to suggest that the Gurgaon native spits out fireball lyrics at an earth-shattering velocity that makes you shut up and listen.  

In real time, Krishna Kaul is restrained. Soft. Concealed. A manner that’s made both fans and haters question his attitude off stage that could come off as, in his own words, “standoffish.” But unlike many of his ilk, the 34-year-old—who forms the old guard of Indian rappers and is very much a part of the present scene—carries maturity and a quiet confidence that’s directly proportionate to his age. He doesn’t try hard to impress you. He’ll disclose only the bare minimum unless prodded. And he lets out a big smile if you manage to go beyond surface exchanges.  

But make no mistake, Kaul’s every move and the image he projects to his audience is carefully calibrated. He likes his life to be private, and his music to do all the talking. That’s when you get a look into his psyche. A front-row seat into his state of mind, past struggle and current place in the crowded world that is Indian hip-hop. One in which he stands out for his lyrical dexterity that is arguably second to none, oscillating between Hindi and English in a manner that helps him craft his own language.  

There’s no better example of it than with his latest EP, Far From Over. A tight package of five songs that he’s put out after a four-month break. A strategic blend of a track that’s very “Kr$na” for his hardcore fanbase, a melodic style that he’s been experimenting with and an introspective number to spotlight everything he’s presently all about. We dig deeper to get to know the real Krishna behind the rap phenomenon. 

He’s entered the big league of hitmaking Indian rappers, but Kr$na feels he still hasn’t peaked 

Caption: He’s entered the big league of hitmaking Indian rappers, but Kr$na feels he still hasn’t peaked
Credit: Co-ords; by Dhruv Kapoor. Chain, rings; by Drip Project. Sneakers; Kr$na’s own. 

Far from over 
“I’m putting new music out after a gap of four months because I wanted to find a space where I could be myself rather than what people wanted me to be artistically. I was also going through writer’s block and a lack of inspiration. It’s why I called the new EP Far From Over because even after this gap, I still have it in me to keep coming back and keep doing this over and over again. So, I’m not really looking at the outcome of this but I’m like, let me just do my thing and we’ll see what happens.” 

Breaking it down 
“This EP has some signature tracks. ‘Still Standing’ is a little resilient and boastful. ‘Prarthana’ is a very Kr$na track. ‘Wanna Know has this very melodic hook and the topics within the lyrics dig deeper where I’m talking about life in general. ‘Hola Amigo’ featuring [hip-hop duo] Seedhe Maut is a fun track made for rap fans. ‘Some Of Us’ featuring Canadian rapper AR Paisley is the most introspective track of the lot. It ties this whole EP in. I talk about how I’m feeling and the way I’ve felt these last couple of months. How there’s some self-doubt at the back of this. Even though there’s success now, I’m still not confident about it. That’s probably the years of struggle that’s hardwired inside me. It also deals with what’s happening around our label [Kalamkaar] and some artists leaving. So, I address all of that with a tone of how things still get better, and we keep coming back.” 

Caption: For his hardcore fans; we (actually) made Krishna laugh
Credits: Shirt: by Dark Hour. Pants; by Zara. Rings; by Drip Project. Watch; Kr$na’s own  

A normal childhood 
“I was born in Delhi, lived there for 10 years and moved to Gurgaon. It was a  
regular childhood. Then, I moved to London for about five years. Coming back was harder than going there. In those formative teen years, you start understating your preferences, and rap music was a big part of it for me.” 

The early struggle 
“I finished studying and worked at a PR firm for a couple of months. I was doing music on the side, but rap didn’t really have a market in India back then. I would go to labels and give them my music but they would disregard it. Most of them didn’t even hear it. So, I began working at Universal Music in 2009 [in Bombay]. At the time I was making music I was passionate about rather than thinking that it was going to be commercially successful. But I got sporadic success with ‘Kaisa Mera Desh’ in 2010 which became India’s first viral hip-hop track, while continuing with my regular job. When I left the Universal system three years after joining, I got the opportunity to be signed by them. I released an album with them in 2014. It was weird from there. I wanted to make music all the time. But I couldn’t because I wasn’t making any money. It was sad because I was a signed artist, but I had to get a part-time job to pay my bills in Bombay. After a point, it got too much, and I moved back home.” 

The scene back then 
“A fact that people don’t know about me is that when the Delhi hip-hop scene was coming together, I was a part of that. This was before Honey Singh and Badshah had become household names. And I was there when the Bombay scene was coming together, too.” 

Caption: His rapper ego balances his retrained personality  
Credits: Blazer; by Dhruv Kapoor. Sunglasses; Kr$na’s own 

The beginning of Kalamkaar  
“When Kalamkaar [founded by Ankit Khanna and Raftaar] switched from being AK Projekts, an events and artist management company to becoming a label, I brought in experience on how a label operates and the dos and don’ts of it. Without that value add, I wouldn’t have got that place [to be a partner] at Kalamkaar.” 

The making of an album 
Sell Out (2014) was an album that I never felt was a representation of my skillset. I made it in only two and a half months just to get an album out there. There were a lot of loose ends on it. With Still Here (2021), a large crowd believed that it should’ve had a story woven into it. But when you’re going out there, you need to put out a product that can get you more eyeballs. I strategically put out songs that work individually and not necessarily as a package. And I feel like it was the right move at the time. If I was to make an album now, I’d probably go the other way. I’d do something different. I’d make a more balanced album.” 

Playing favourites 
“The ‘Still Here’ intro is up there for me. The entire song is exactly me. There’s a duality in the song that goes between me being introspective and me being boastful. It goes between being Kr$na the rapper, who is competitive and confident, and Krishna as a person who is confident but not as aggressive. In real life, I’m pretty chilled. I don’t have hyper-energy. ‘No Cap’ is also special. I was in a weird slump before it. I’d made two songs; ‘OG’ and ‘No Cap’. ‘OG’ was me venting what I felt and ‘No Cap was me going back to what I do. I needed to deliver at that point, and I delivered. That was a fond memory.”  

Caption: He has all the trappings of a global superstar 
Credits: Jacket, trousers; by Shahin Mannan. T-shirt; by Zara. Rings; by Drip Project. Shoes; Kr$na’s own 

Songs that get personal  
“I am conscious about what I’m saying in my music. I also understand that I don’t give people what they want outside of my music, so I have to be more open in my songs. I like it that way because they’re coming to hear the song, not see me cry over the internet about what’s not happening in my life. I am an artist who makes music at the end of the day. And what I have to say should be through the music.” 

The lyrical genius 
“I have the vocabulary in my head and can draw similarities in phonetics between Hindi and English, which is the actual difference of how I rap v/s how someone else would rap in both languages. I take a Hindi word and an English word that sound similar. It’s not so much about the actual word. I speak more Hindi at home than anyone else in my family, but I’ve grown up speaking in English. It’s a good mix. Writing in English is easier for me because It’s an easier language to rap in. But I live in India and no one’s going to look at me if I don’t rap in Hindi.” 

Everything is planned 
“I feel like my bent of mind has always been a little strategic. Whatever I do, it’ll very rarely be ad-hoc. Everything is thought about. I guess I’m in my head a lot more than other people are. You could call it overthinking or that I’m wasting my time, but it comes with a path that allows me to meet my short- and long-term goals.” 

Competing with a new generation 
“Strangely enough I’m part of the first generation of rappers within this country but because my graph has gone up only in the last few years, I feel like I’m at par with the generation coming in. The only thing that stops me is the fact that they have more enthusiasm. But I have maturity. I don’t see myself as part of the old guard because there’s a whole new audience who don’t know my story. Some people discovered my music last year or two years ago. I feel like I haven’t peaked.” 

Caption: A lyrical demi-god in the Indian rap scene 
Credits: Shirt; by CMYKAY. Jeans; by Dhruv Kapoor. Bracelet, necklace; by Drip Project

The rapper ego 
“I was very confident of my craft. As rappers, we’re trained to think that we’re the best. That’s how it works. It’s a contact sport except there’s no contact. We’re always competing with others and with ourselves. I would listen to someone else’s track and think, ‘I could do this better.’ That ‘rapper ego’ didn’t let me think that this was it. I just felt sad that I couldn’t quite capitalise on it [after ‘Kaisa Mera Desh’]. At that point, I felt like I’d be doing this for a long time but there was no real-world impact of it. Still, it was a moment where I felt like okay maybe what you’ve been trying to do all your life isn’t some bullshit, made-up dream.” 

The power of networking 
“My colleagues from back then are now the heads of distribution services. That’s helped me tremendously because they know me from before I made music. I don’t need an introduction. I’ve always kept the artistic side, but I know that these relationships are important. I tell a lot of young artists that they need to understand the importance of networking. They don’t know who runs Spotify or Apple Music and then complain that they don’t get a playlist. They have no face time with these people. You have to make an effort to get to know them at some point, even at a random event because then there’s some recall value. I know artists who think that networking events are boring and would rather go to a house party and get drunk.” 

The flip side to being a celebrity 
“The general invasion of privacy. People in your personal space are subjected to the excess because they’re connected to you. The hate I get is something that comes with the territory and it’s a space I willingly stepped into. I’m okay with it because I asked for it. Now I just put the numbers into perspective. If someone says, ‘Oh I didn’t like this song Kr$na made’, that song has 13 million views. Am I going to listen to those 10 guys or the 13 million that give me five lakh streams every month? I have a dedicated fanbase. If they like what I do, I’m good. On the other hand, I’m also not the type who’ll get gassed up because 10 people tell me that this is good. I always have this part of my brain that tells me it’s shit. So that keeps me on my toes. I don’t get caught up in praise. I get a general sense of what people think about me and then I’m out of there.” 

The process behind the person 
“It’s exciting when something drops but after that comes a downer. But I’m casual about it. I feel like it’s an issue that I might seem a bit jaded but then there’s nothing else I’d do than this. Maybe earlier in life, I’d have more enthusiasm where I could make 100 songs in 100 days. Now I make a song when I feel like making a song. But the levelheadedness I have today or being able to see things beyond the moment is why there’s a right time for everything. I have this 72-hour rule for myself. If something is going wrong or people are angry, give it 72 hours. I try and do things that distract me. I’ve realised that if you’re not on your phone all the time, then that problem doesn’t exist. I hate getting addicted to anything.” 

A normal day 
“I wake up in the morning, get coffee, go to the studio. I bought a space and made a studio out of it. I spend my day there. Even if I don’t have something productive to do, I still go and treat it like a job. I have a lot of cousins and friends in Gurgaon, where I stay, so I chill with them over the weekend. Most people I know are not from my world and have a 9-5 job, so I abide by their timings. For me, I don’t know which day it is. I do the same thing on a Sunday as I would on a Wednesday.” 

The personal life  
“My biggest issue is that I feel like I’m pretty much married to my work. I hate it when things get in the way of what I want to do. If I wake up tomorrow morning and am inspired to write a song, I’ll write a song. I don’t want to deal with anything else. I find it hard to balance everything. And I do seek balance. People want me to get married. But rap and hip-hop is a young man’s game. You have a certain amount of time and focus to capitalise on it. It’s very hard to find a partner who can live with the fact that you’re not going to be around most of the time or you’re on the road or even the kind of things you say in your songs. It’s not easy to deal with it. If I have any public relationship, that person gets the hate, too. You have to be in a place where you can handle it and so can your partner.” 

The five-year plan 
“I’ll still make music, but I want to diversify and do other things. Start a few businesses, which I am doing—something that’s fashion-related, with a friend. We want to make a brand similar to [the American fashion label] Kith and stay true to hip-hop, without stamping my name or face on a t-shirt. Something more far-reaching. Apart from that, I want to branch out, maybe even act.” 

Credits: Photographs by Keegan Crasto/Public Butter at Inega Talents;

Creative Lead: Shivangi Lolayekar;

Head of Production: Siddhi Chavan;

Stylists: Peusha Sethia & Sakshi Prithyani;

HMU: Taskeen Chunawala 

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