Indonesian artist Ramengvrl is one of the coolest voices I’ve heard in awhile. The rapper and hip-hop star, whose latest album Can’t Speak English dropped in November, leans on not just her own life for her music but displays it in such a raw and honest way that listeners can’t help but feel like they’re right there beside her the whole time, feeling the same things she’s feeling. She’s amassed a dedicated following, her fans located all around the world. They connect with her on her authenticity and sheer relatability.
The highly lauded album cemented Ramengvrl as not just a hip-hop artist on the rise, but a female hip-hop artist who deserves a place at the table. In this time where women are finally getting their due, Ramengvrl absolutely deserves to be included. I caught up with her as 2020 drew to a close to see how her year went, what it was like making the album, and what’s coming next.
I’d love to start with you sharing your background in music and getting to where you are today.
I started out simply uploading demos on Soundcloud just for fun when i was in college ‘cuz i was fed up with thesis. I kinda left it like that until i got to do 9-to-5 job and got fed up again [haha] so i started doing that again once in a while as a form of a getaway. Apparently it took off with the local hip-hop scene, then i started hanging out with people in the studio (for the first time — I didn’t know anybody from music/creative industry before, I was STRAIGHT), got my official single out (“I’m Da Man”), then it just kinda snowballed from then on.
You’ve already been called “rebellious” because of your art — do you feel like you are? And do you feel like that’s a good thing? I think it could be.
Honestly I never see myself as “rebellious.” I’m quite simple actually, I think that: we’re all different, we’re multifaceted, and there’s nobody else who can tell us how we should live other than ourselves. And I guess in this society (especially the conservative Indonesia) where our parents want us to get into the best university and get the most secure job with insurance and health care perks, and girls shouldn’t say vulgar things and have nice long hair, I guess I am pretty rebellious. Do I think it’s a good thing? Of course. Why wouldn’t I? I’m a living proof that doing what you really believe in (instead of what everybody tells you to) apparently makes you more content and prosperous (in any definition possible) in life.
You’ve made a name for yourself in the Indonesian music scene but are now moving more into worldwide the mainstream — how does it feel to be gaining that traction?
It feels natural. It feels like it’s supposed to be, no matter how self-centric that sounds. I’ve always preferred to be a small fish in a big pond rather than the opposite, so this is all according to plan. And I know i work my ass off for it. Although if you ask me, I’m aiming to be a big fish too, haha.
Your album, Can’t Speak English, is finally out in the world now — how does it feel to have it out there?
Super relieved! The project itself started out end of 2019 but talks about an album coming has already been lurking around since “CA$HMERE” got out (2018). I guess at that time i was just not 100% ready. My fans have been waiting for this and it might be long overdue but it’s out. Finally.
You have some sick collabs on the album, but who else is on your list of people you’d like to work with?
Nicki Minaj? Hahaha, I’ma shoot my shot. I really wanna work with Rina Sawayama, Jessi, Bree Runway, Yunhway, Jay Park, of course.
You have a very strong and dedicated group of fans that you seem to really adore. What’s your relationship like with them?
They’re the most supportive people. Even when I felt like i was at my “down” moments, they always got my back. Weirdly enough during quarantine I feel like we’re actually getting closer and thanks to the Discord server that I just made like a month ago, I see that it’s growing steady into its own community. Like, they would post their own music or art and they would comment on each others’ and I would react to them on Twitch, etc. It’s a very positive environment and I’m happy to have these people as my fans.
And what’s been the response from them on the album?
They love it. I guess it’s pretty obvious, hahaha. They even fuck with “Emo,” which is the type of song that people usually don’t relate to me, but they did, and some of them even DMed me saying thank you and all that and that just hits different.
Women in hip-hop are finally having a moment right now, and it’s about time. What is it like for you to be part of this, in a time when women are actually being appreciated for their talent?
I believe it’s more than a “moment,” it’s like a “movement.” And it’s great to be a part of that movement ‘cuz it shows that genre is not gender-specific. Women don’t always have to sing pop songs about heartbreaks (tell that to Indonesian market in general), we can talk our shit too.
You get very real in your music, but I want to ask about “The Emo Song.” It was a particularly raw one, but seems so important to share with the world. Is it ever hard to draw on these emotions when you’re creating?
To be really honest, it’s one of the easiest song I’ve ever written in terms of getting the idea out. I heard the beat, I started writing my stuff, and that’s it. And that’s all real. That’s exactly what I was feeling at that moment. If you ask me to do that again now, I might not be able to come up with something like “Emo.” I feel like when you’re really in that phase, and you write about it, everything just comes out naturally without you really have to think about it.
What about some of the rest of the messages you’re conveying in this album, whether it’s LGBTQ+ or consumerism, etc.? What do you hope listeners get from these messages and what other stances are important to you?
I got a loooot of messages in all of my songs without me even realizing it, ‘cuz it’s just me talking about what I think/see/feel. But in general, I want my listeners to be confident in themselves, to start listening to themselves instead of anybody else, and just be you. And with that being said, that applies to how we interact with other people too. Respect other people’s choices and opinions. If they wanna be gay then what does have to do with you? If they wanna be “low-paying bartender” (as some people would say) ‘cuz they believe in it, then why you gotta sweat about it?
Releasing this album has obviously been huge for you this past year, but what else have you been up to?
The album is a stepping stone, but I’m on even bigger things now. 2021 is all about getting it all out there and working with some more people that I admire and respect in the industry. Unfortunately I can’t spill it out now :p
And I know the album JUST dropped, but what are you working on next?
Same with above. I got some more dope stuff in the vault and I can’t wait to get it out.