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Meet BAP., the Most Famous South Jakarta Rapper You Probably Haven't Heard of Yet

If you live somewhere other than Jakarta, you might know little about Kareem Soenharjo, AKA BAP., but his latest album "monkshood" might change all of that.
Photo by Nugie Rian. Collage by author

It was torture to be outside on that scorching day in South Jakarta. Inside the air-conditioned smoking room of Woodpecker Coffee, I found Kareem Soenharjo in his usual state: writing rhymes and making beats with a cigarette in his mouth. Kareem saw me and nodded, sporting a bushy caterpillar mustache that compliments his detached expression. He offered me a firm handshake that slides into a slow dap.


The 22-year-old is a rapper and producer who makes music under the monikers Yosugi and BAP. Kareem dropped his first full-length project monkshood earlier this month, but he started releasing music back in 2014 and, at this point, he's no stranger within the relatively small hip-hop scene in South Jakarta.

During our conversation, two teenage boys walked up to our table and politely asked for a picture. They thanked him, congratulated him on the album, and left.

“I swear this doesn’t happen often," Kareem said.

Five minutes later, a young couple pulled up in a black Toyota and asked him for another picture. After they left, I raised him a skeptical eyebrow.

“I swear," he said.

His feet have never touched US soil and yet, like fellow Indonesian rapper Brian Immanuel, he spits a heavy stateside slang acquired from consuming decades worth of cultural imports. His bio on Bandcamp read, "I wanna go around the world but I'm afraid to leave Jakarta"— and, in reality, he doesn't actually have to leave. Like everyone else, he gets his culture from the internet. But plenty of his influences were introduced to him by his family.

“[My family] wasn't so keen about academics but my mom, dad, and sister took care of me in terms of art, literature, and movies," he said. "I think half of the songs I sampled on monkshood were from my sister; half from my father, and the references I pulled onto the album I learned from my parents.”


Little Kareem.

monkshood is essentially a story about South Jakarta. Like the deadly flower the album is named after, monkshood is a bitter poison that seeps deep into the gut. The debut album has the sort of dark stream-of-consciousness flow critics associate with Flying Lotus or MF Doom, peppered with apocalyptic allusions to Dark Horse Comics and Abrahamic mythology. Even the titles of his songs are references to Hindu cosmology— "yuga" means “era” in Sanskrit, and "samsara" refers to the karmic cycle of rebirth. But beyond the vague, grandiose titles of his songs are deep references to life in this part of the city. His bars are at times so painfully self-referential that they would be lost to outsiders. He doesn't mind this, he told me. He's not trying to relate.

“If these other rappers can reference things from their hometowns why can’t I do it?" he said. "It’s much more rewarding when people recognize these cryptic references for what they are. On the album you’ll never hear me mention Indonesia, but you always hear me reference things in Jakarta. I’m obviously not trying to be patriotic or anything, it’s just the lifestyle.”

The 11-track album is equal parts personal monologue and social commentary on the toxic social environment that shaped its creator. Topics considered taboo are unapologetically tackled —substance use, mental health, and religion are all given equal thrashing.

"It’s not based entirely off of my experiences," he said. "But I know a lot of friends that have gone through all of the shit on the album. The drugs, the partying, the loneliness, the depression, these are real issues that aren’t talked about here in Indonesia.”


As personal as it is, Kareem wants to make sure you know he doesn't care all that much about anything. I mean, how can anybody begin to give a shit when everyone only tries to get by? The first and last tracks of the album are a reflection of this.

“For 'pagi' it’s how the mornings start really hectic and short, which is why you have those chaotic drums and saxophones," he said. "'malam' on the other hand is how the nights end really meditative and serene.”

But what about all the crazy shit in between? I asked him.

“Shit like that can happen in a day bro.” Kareem replied. “Maybe it sounds a little bit dense, but I know some people who’ve had shit happen to them high and low in just one day. It’s a part of reality in this city.”

And to a degree, he’s right. Between navigating the smog, endless traffic, and intricate maze of social obligations native to Jakarta, your day-to-day in this city only ends when you sleep or die. It’s an extraordinarily ordinary cycle of suffering. It's Samsara.

There’s a noticeable strain in Kareem’s voice when he speaks about mental health. He's seen what depression and desperation have done to the people around him.

“I think it’s a certain type of survivor mentality that’s prevalent here in Asia because we didn’t have a 'good' history," he said. "We don’t want to be viewed as weak people, and this includes showing depression or anxiety. I just want to address these things in a way that people can find relevance.”


Kareem considers his hometown hero status a part of the Jakarta trend cycle, but savors it nonetheless. So far, he's opened for LA-based producer MNDSGN and Parisian Kartell, and has an upcoming show with Cuco, the 19 year-old Mexican-American artist whose mellow bedroom beats launched him to viral stardom last year. The further I looked into his musical persona, the clearer it became that Kareem isn’t as much a fixture in the local hip-hop scene as he is a member of a global community of underground artists carving their own paths in today’s digital soundscape.

Despite his achievements and obvious potential, leaving Jakarta in exchange of a worldwide fame isn't on his mind yet.

“This was my first tattoo man," Kareem said. "ODB was one of the first artists who really inspired me to make music as a kid.”

“I’ve basically come to terms with the possibility of not blowing up," he told me as we walked to the cashier to pay for our drinks. “To be real I just want to be OK, man. I just want to do what I love without worrying about money. That’s the main issue here. You ask a lot of millennials and you’ll hear the same story. it’s a constant battle between chasing what you want and having to sustain your livelihood.”

At the end of the day, it seems, Kareem remains a man with many demons to conquer. His debut album is a soul baring exercise in existential nihilism. It runs much darker than its predecessor Belladonna, paired with the same experimental streak that has colored his music from his Soundcloud days. For now though, it seems that he has staved off the void by pushing out a story others can learn from rather than chasing after mainstream success.

“I don’t pride myself in being a nihilist," he said. "I just view everything as lacking a higher meaning. You’re the one who ascribes meaning to things.”