Born in Jakarta, Ramengvrl started rapping in 2013 as an escape from her 9-to-5 job. Her music career took off in 2016 with her first single I’m Da Man followed by CA$HMERE, which brought her name to the next level. Also a strong LGBTQIA ally, the artist told us about her new album Can’t Speak English, her feminism and her will to shake up the traditional representations of women in Indonesia.
How and when were you introduced to hip hop?
I was actually more into pop that kinda overlaps with hip hop, like The Black Eyed Peas. Back then, I didn’t really understand hip hop – I thought it was “just rap” and the topics didn’t really vibe with me. It was only in high school that I started to discover more of it because my boyfriend at the time got me into Kanye and I was like “oh so you can do this in hip hop too?”. Like he was talking about heartbreaks and middle-class struggle with beats that were usually unheard of in the hip hop songs I heard, like he really broke the limit.
From then, I started listening to other artists like Drake, ASAP Rocky, and so on, including Nicki Minaj, whom I still look up to tlil now.
How did you start rapping?
I started playing around with it since then but only partially. I realized I always came back to it when I got stressed out, like when I was writing my thesis, when I had a hard day at work, and so on. But I REALLY really started doing it when I was still in the last company I worked for. I kinda had enough of the 9-to-5 life and I was like “fuck it, I got like 50 people listening to my demos on Soundcloud saying my shit is good”. So after gaining enough money for this “plan B”, I resigned and everything just snowballed from then on haha.
Which artists did you listen to while growing up?
A lot of Avril Lavigne, Blink-182, Britney Spears, Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani… A lot of rock and pop like I said yeah, but since high school I leaned more to Nicki (of course), Kanye, Drake, and Tyler. I also grew up with Utada Hikaru and L’Arc~en~Ciel and Gackt, so yeah, J-pop/rock influence too.
If someone doesn’t know your music and wants to discover it, which track would you advise them to listen to first and why?
CA$HMERE. It’s a track that I feel like embodies what I think and who I am without blatantly saying “this is what I think and this is who I am”. Even though it seems stupid at first, when you really listen to the verses, it actually talks about how I view society like, how come people be having the hottest shoes but can’t pay their rent? Or like why you posting your selfies with a Lang Leav poem? Like what’s your point?
Plus it’s stupidly catchy and there’s not much pressure in the process, I was just having fun with it.
You recently released the album “Can’t Speak English”. The title seems a bit ironic, as you can definitely speak English! Can you explain what it means?
Haha, good to know! Well, it’s actually kind of like a metaphor. When I was recording everything for the album in the States last year, one of the things that I said quite a lot was “sorry guys I can’t speak English lol” and they’re always like “whatcha talkin bout your English is just fine!”. I realized me doing that is actually a way to “justify” my shortcomings so people don’t expect too much of me. I like self-deprecating humor, but this time, I feel like I’m more of disrespecting myself rather than simply making a joke! Like why do I keep selling myself short, why can’t I switch to saying something like “yeah maybe I do deserve to be here”? Hence the name.
It reminds me (and my fans) that whatever your background is, or your lackings, or whatever, if you keep doing it, and keep honing it, you’ll eventually get somewhere. And when you do, you just gotta f*cking own it.
How did you work on this album and how would you present it?
I did the whole recording in EMPIRE studio in San Francisco. About 2 songs I already got the demo laid out, but the rest, it’s all organically done from start to finish in SF. Some features – like Euro and Inayah – I met there right in the studio, which was dope coz our collabs were made the same day that we met. The rest, like Ted Park and Pyra, came later (when everyone was already in lockdown), but not less dope.
I’d say this album is about “me and my journey”. You wanna know how Ramengvrl is doing after CA$HMERE and how I got here? This is it.
What is the female hip hop scene like in Indonesia?
Not a lot of females in the hip hop scene here, it’s a very male-dominated “genre” (I hate genres). So that’s why when I first popped up, people went kinda batshit crazy like “omg a female rapper??? omg did she say ‘pussy’ and ‘titties’ and ‘fuck’?” like they never heard any other female saying that.
In Indo, people are mostly still conservative, and music-wise the market is still leaning heavily towards pop. As in pop BALLADS. If there’s a female musician, it’s almost always the “goodie goodie” type – nothing wrong with that, but just shows how narrow the female representation is in Indo.
You use the term “queer” in your lyrics. What does this word mean to you and why do you think it is important to support this community?
Not constrained by the so-called conservative “gender values”. It’s important because… like why is it NOT important? I feel the same with racial equality. There shouldn’t be any issue/question/debate about people doing what they think is THEM (as long as they’re not stealing or killing anybody… that is different). We always say “everybody is different!” but then we go “why is he wearing a skirt?” like dude, do you see how contradictive you’re making yourself? Also skirt has no gender, it’s just a thing.
I’m not like the “poster girl” for LGBTQ or feminism advocacy coz I just feel like there’s a lot more people out there who have done more things supporting the cause than me, but I just wanna put it out there in my music since that’s just what I believe in. I don’t believe in social conformity coz I know for a fact that shit ain’t bring me nowhere.
Do you define yourself as a feminist? If so, how do you define your own feminism?
Like I said before, I never say “I’m a feminist” or anything like that because of the same reason I mentioned. I just do what I think is right, and I’m just here expressing myself. And if expressing myself turns out to be empowering for the cause, if feminists think my work represents them, then that’s awesome.
By definition, I guess I am a feminist. I believe in equality and I’m not even talking about gender. I’m talking about equality for everyone. I don’t even understand how people differentiate paychecks, or positions, or social hierarchy or even basic rights based on trivial things like sex, skin color, eye shape, whatever. That sounds like bullshit, why does the world work the other way around? Are humans dumb? Hahahaha. I guess that’s my feminism.
Who are your female role models?
Nicki Minaj. Always.
What are your upcoming projects? How does the coronavirus pandemic impact on your activities?
I can’t really speak on it now but best believe I got lots in store this year !
Honestly the only thing the pandemic affects is that I can’t really tour, and I can’t go back to Japan, which I’ve been wanting for since last year… But hey, I can still make music.