I was sitting in a hidden studio space above one of South Jakarta's many artisan coffee shops. It looked like the kind of place that threw a massive house party the night before. Across from me was an unassuming young woman who arrived with a massive entourage of dudes decked-out in 90s inspired streetwear. This is how I met Ramengvrl, one of the biggest names in Indonesia's new generation of hip-hop
But she doesn't feel comfortable being labeled as a rapper. She tells me that she's just a musicians who is expressing her own worldview. And that expression happens to sound a lot like hip-hop. Ramengvrl came from the world of poetry. She was only messing around when she first set her rhythmic poetry to music. Then she was hailed as the next big thing in Indonesian hip-hop when her song "I'm Da Man," hit the internet. It's all so bizarre, she says.
I wanted to know how it felt to go from Tumblr obscurity to internet fame. And where does Ramengvrl plan to go from here? But first, I had to get the hard questions out the way.
VICE: So what's with the name?
Ramengvrl: Classic. [laughs] First of all, I just wanted a name that's catchy. Two, it had to be nothing serious. Three, I tried the come up with the least hip-hop name possible. From my end, me as Ramengvrl; I don't call myself a rapper. That's one thing, even though people call me that I'd like to think of myself this way: I make music and I use rap as method of self-expression, coincidentally the medium was rap.
So how did you get into rap in the first place?
It all started in 2013. At first, I was just playing around. I've always had a thing with playing with words, but they'd usually end up as something on Tumblr or in my diary, which I kept until around college. At one point, I had enough stress in life: with finals and personal stuff, including some family issues. My way of venting was rap. At first I only made songs as half-jokes, I made them on Audacity, so the sound quality was shit. I only recorded it with a webcam mic. So that's how it started.
Who did you first start listening to?
At first I didn't like hip-hop. I mean I skipped the hype on Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' New York song; I disliked hip-hop to that extent because I thought it was annoying. Then during high school, a friend made me listen to Kanye West, and during that time what I knew of rap were… B.I.G, Eminem, and all the others like that. Although, I know they're good, but I can't relate to them. But after Kanye West, I started listening.
You say you relate more to more current rappers, any reason?
When you talk about Kanye West, I just relate to his music. But one rapper that I'm really liking now is Big Sean. I relate a lot to his lyrics. He talks about the everyday struggle, but not like social struggle ya know? Like class struggles or stuff like that.
But he talks about things like… for example in his new album there's this intro that's a recording of an old guy who's in his forties or fifties, who's been living year-after-year doing the same shit. He's miserable with his life and he's looking at the neighborhood kids. He wants those kids to look up to him, but they don't. Even his own wife doesn't respect him, so this guy is miserable because of how mundane he is. I relate to things like that, I don't want a normal life.
So what kind of message are you putting out?
So far, I haven't really gotten into a phase of getting a message out to the people who listen to my music. I haven't gotten there yet; I'm still in the phase of self-expression. So far, if you listen to my music, which probably for most people is 'I'm Da Man,' it's complete bravado and, well, it's just me putting myself out there. I'm new in the hip-hop scene but people already know me. But on the other hand, my unreleased stuff talks more about those 'struggles.'
You talk about these struggles that you keep using to separate old from new hip-hop. What do you mean by that?
From the music I'm into—in terms of the hip-hop genre—it's usually surrounding something that's talking about emotional struggle, not class struggle, or economics or politics. Because people have other rappers who do that, and you have other artists who do that. For me, emotional struggle is something that might sound pretty trivial, but a lot of people are look for that too.
Do you think that's a big issue now? Mental health and all of that?
Big issue… maybe it has to be more defined. Big is pretty subjective. But from what I experienced and what I saw from friends and the people around me; it's kind of a big issue because this mental health thing is like… what? I see my friends around me who struggle to keep their minds sane, as Millennials, of course you want to keep up with the social life of you and your people, but at the same time you can't find a job and stuff.
Back in 2013, it was something of an experience for me. I was so stressed out about a lot of stuff, my parents put me in hypnotherapy and until that stage I thought mental health issues weren't something that happens to 'normal people.' Mental health problems aren't as a big of an epidemic that it's being discussed everywhere now, but it happens here and there.
What are your thoughts about Indonesian hip-hop? You had some comments about old-school / new-school, what do you think about what's going on now?
I always try to avoid questions like these, because you can piss off a lot of people this way. But what I think of local of hip-hop is now divided into three factions.
First, you have Rich Chigga, one guy who's out there and really making it, but frankly speaking, kind of detached with local hip-hop.
Two, you got people like Young Lex and the gang, very mainstream and really wants to sell out.
The third ones are the veterans, Iwa K, Saykoji, and other people from that generation.
I guess maybe there's a fourth one, which is kind of like a new 'scene' that fits people like me. [laughs] I think I'm in a fourth category, but I don't want to put things in boxes. I want to sell out, I want to be mainstream, I want a global audience, but I want to earn the respect of veterans too. That's asking for too much, but that's just me.
What about the type of people listening to hip-hop here? What do you think of them?
All I want to say about most of the people who listen to local hip-hop is this, don't just listen to Rich Chigga and don't just diss Young Lex. Try to find stuff. Try to dig. Like if you say you like hip-hop. I mean now kids are listening to Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, and other stuff. Dig for the local stuff, dig the local scene.