Rapper King’s collaboration with Nick Jonas has catapulted him into the international arena. He’s now eyeing a Grammy
With his growing audience, King’s music has also shifted from a raw, bars-heavy approach to a more accessible pop sound. (Photo: @Xo.visuals)
Four years ago, Arpan Kumar Chandel was earning Rs 10,000 a month as a game attendant at a New Delhi Municipal Council-run sports complex, a job that required him to help people with basic workouts and exercise equipment. Much of his salary would go into his side hustle as an aspiring recording artist. The New Delhi native had been writing songs since he was in high school, and now—having dropped out of college, with a job that gave him both free time and money for recording costs—he was determined to put them out for the world to hear. Stardom, he insists, wasn’t seriously on his mind (“the idea of a music career seemed like magic, and I didn’t believe in that”), just a need to express himself through these songs that were bubbling out of him.
So, when Chandel—now better known as King—first heard a scratch demo with American pop star Nick Jonas singing on a new version of his song ‘Maan Meri Jaan’, he must have felt like an atheist who had accidentally stumbled his way into the presence of God. “I was a Nick Jonas fan since before I started writing music, so when (Warner Music India MD) Jay Mehta suggested a collaboration, it was like a dream come true,” he says over the phone from Gurugram. “I went mad over the first scratch he sent, and I’ve been listening to the song on loop just waiting for it to come out,” he says.
Released on March 10, ‘Maan Meri Jaan (Afterlife)’ marks another high in King’s remarkable journey to the upper reaches of the Indian pop music landscape. Early in 2019, soon after he embarked on a project to release a new track every week, King was asked to audition for the inaugural edition of MTV’s hip-hop competition show Hustle. He ended up making it to the show’s final top five, becoming a household name with a massive launchpad for future success.
“I felt like this was a God-given opportunity for me, and I could not ignore it,” he says of the visibility and confidence that he got from his run on the show, to which he would return as a mentor in 2022. “So I had to give it my all. I had also lost my job when I went to Hustle, so I had no option but to do music full-time.”
That commitment to making music has paid off with three increasingly successful albums—The Carnival (2020), The Gorilla Bounce (2021) and last year’s smash hit Champagne Talk—as well as a couple of cuts on Bollywood soundtracks. As his audience has grown, his music has also evolved in response, shifting from a more raw, bars-heavy approach to a more accessible pop sound. It’s a trajectory that may not sit well with hip-hop purists, but King has no time for hand-wringing about genre. He makes no bones about the fact that he’s been a massive pop fan since he was four years old, listening to Backstreet Boys and Vengaboys on a neighbour’s radio set.
“The first three songs I ever wrote were a rap song, a pop song and an R&B song,” he says. “My approach to making music is that a song is basically like khichdi: you can make it however you want, it just needs to taste good.”
With his first international collaboration out of the way, King is now setting his aims even higher. “My immediate goal is a Grammy in 2024,” he says with conviction. “I’ve always had global ambitions because I’ve always been a huge fan of guys like Justin Timberlake, Lil Wayne, Drake. These guys went from the streets to being global stars, so why can’t I?”