Eight months after the release of the lead single “OUT OF BODY” in September 2023, Rhea Raj dropped her debut album HUNTER on May 24. The eight-track record is an introspective exploration of femininity and sexuality, inviting listeners to shed their inhibitions through a series of Y2K-inspired instrumentals. 

After wrapping up a full day of rehearsals ahead of her May 30 performance in Los Angeles, Raj hopped on our Zoom call palpably eager to discuss her new era. Dressed in a cheetah-printed hat that hinted at the album’s namesake, Raj talked EnVi through the journey of creating HUNTER.

The Making of HUNTER

HUNTER takes its name from the record’s first track “HUNTER,” which was the driving force behind the project. After working on the song, Raj was motivated to pursue a full-blown project based on this newly discovered theme. “I immediately finished writing it and I [thought], ‘Oh, the project is called HUNTER.’ It just felt so powerful to me,” she said.

As she entered this era, Raj sought to embody everything that the album title encapsulates: dominance, confidence, and a strong presence. To do so, she took creative liberty with everything about HUNTER, from its thematic lyrics (e.g. “I’ll be the prey/If you’re down to be the hunter”) and visual branding. For the album cover, Raj collaborated with makeup artist Emilia Weryńska — who also worked on “MESSY” — to create a double-winged eyeliner resembling snake fangs. “Snakes are really important to me, for the transformation that they experience when they shed their skin,” Raj explained. Raj reprised the snake motif for the styling of the album cover, which comprises multiple leather pieces with snakeskin patterns.

But beyond embodying confidence and dominance, HUNTER is a reflection of Raj’s own growth — in her words, her transformation. “I think we’ve all experienced different chapters and different eras in our lives. This one in particular, for me, is about coming into my own as a woman as a brown girl — just growing up, becoming an adult, and feeling this sense of confidence and self love in this era.”

The idea of embracing femininity and sensuality is clear across the entire album. Raj traverses the eight songs on HUNTER with grace, bringing to life sultry lyrics with her notable vocal ability. From the lines “I’m miss erotic / I’ll let you get a glimpse” in “HUNTER” to “Bet you would die for me naked / Baby, I know I’m your favorite” in “DIGITAL BABE” and “Never second guess / I meant what I said/Bitch I’m born again” in “OUT OF BODY,” Raj consistently asserts her power.

Storytelling Through Visuals

As an artist, Raj pays special attention to the role of visuals in storytelling. With her new release, it was important to Raj that each music video, outfit and makeup look contributed to creating the world of HUNTER — a world that invites and celebrates unabashed self-expression. From her newly debuted bleach blonde hair to the animal print featured in several looks, every decision thus far has been intentional.

Recently, the HUNTER style — or, as we coined during our call, HUNTERcore — has influenced Raj’s off-duty closet as well. For the Indian American singer, “off-duty” means outside of work, but still dressed up. This may translate into a cheetah-print sports bra worn to day-long rehearsals or even a bold pair of statement boots worn to the grocery store. “Even in the off-duty moments, I still want to feel like the HUNTER version of myself,” Raj explained. “I’ve realized this, especially with rehearsals, now that it’s just been more ‘performance mode’ for me: my outfit, my hair and my makeup really elevate my confidence and my persona so much that I have to be that way 24/7.”

Raj lit up as she divulged her latest fashion obsession, which she serendipitously crafted during one of her rehearsals. To balance comfort and confidence, the singer has been pairing her basketball shorts with thigh-high boots. The unconventional combination reflects Raj’s perspective of self-expression through fashion: “With every choice, occasion or event, have one piece that’s your comfort zone… then mix up that something else, like a statement, outside of your comfort zone.”

Mixing up your regular clothing rotation with new, experimental pieces presents an opportunity to grow without feeling uneasy in your outfits. “You want to be pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, but you don’t want to go out and be uncomfortable,” Raj said.

As Raj continues to explore her own style preferences in her HUNTER era, she has kept up with trends and collections around the world. Namely, she has recently fallen in love with designer Kim Shui and her eponymous brand. Since wearing a Kim Shui gown to the Gold Gala in 2023, Raj has developed a deep appreciation for the New York-based label and its unapologetic designs. In February of this year, she even attended the Kim Shui show at New York Fashion Week — representing a full circle moment for the singer. 

Looking Ahead

Raj has grown in various ways since her American Idol audition at only 15 years old and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Music has always been her passion — look no further than her own experience begging her parents to gift her Logic Pro in her younger years. Over time, Raj became comfortable finding samples, layering vocals and crafting lyrics that resonated with her artistic and personal style. 

Now, with years of experience writing and producing music under her belt, Raj is a self-made artist who proudly participates in creating her work. For instance, Raj is credited as a writer on all eight tracks on HUNTER and has contributed to the creative and production processes of multiple music videos.

Taking the new era in stride, Raj plans on giving HUNTER the full attention it deserves. Aside from working hard for an upcoming music video for “HUSH,” the latest single off the album, Raj has been planning performance visuals to accompany the record —  she admitted she wasn’t allowed to spill much more than that, though.

When asked about her ultimate career goals, Raj first reflected on her growth thus far. Her answers, rooted in Raj’s long-standing aspirations, came with no hesitation: sell out Madison Square Garden, headline Coachella, and win Best New Artist at the GRAMMY Awards. Playing a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden ties into Raj’s New York upbringing — the iconic venue is a hot spot for musicians’ “I’ve made it” moments. Headlining Coachella, on the other hand, was a much more recent addition to the list. After attending the festival this year, Raj felt motivated to one day take the stage with her own set. 

Being nominated for and winning the Best New Artist award at the Grammys hold significant meaning for Raj. In fact, it’s a goal that aligns with one of the singer’s biggest missions: to increase representation in the music industry. “I’ve been wanting that for so long,” she said. “For baby me, to see a brown girl — an Indian girl — on that stage, it’s going to be the craziest, wildest thing ever.”

Rhea Raj profile. Date of birth: April 5, 2000. Nationality: American. Zodiac sign: Aries. Company: Misschief Records. EnVi song rec: DIGITAL BABE.
Thumbnail courtesy of Dara Warlick.

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