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Reflecting on her experiences as an Asian woman in hip-hop, we ask Ramengvrl about leaving her office job to pursue music in a male dominated genre and industry, and the artists who inspired her to embrace and prioritise self expression. With brutally honest lyrics, memorable beats and enjoyable melodies, Ramengvrl doesn’t stick to the rules in her music or her life, tackling and destroying stereotypes at every turn. From her debut album Can’t Speak English to her collaboration with pH-1 on Ain’t No MF, Ramengvrl has an exciting career to discuss, and its only just starting. Her latest single Who Dis? released last Friday.

How would you summarise your music to someone hearing it for the first time? Is there a common influence or sound throughout your work?
Boss B meets Big D energy, but also don’t take it too seriously. My sound always evolves and I love playing with different vibes, but people like to say my lyrics are usually witty and the beat’s always a banger.
You won the Anugerah Musik Indonesia Award for Best Song of the Year, so congratulations! How does it feel to have won not only hip-hop song of the year but the overall song of the year, especially in a conservative country with a smaller hip-hop scene?
Thanks! I feel blessed. Growing up I’ve always vowed to switch things up. A lot of the things I do, I do to challenge the status quo, and to make work that’s like a 180 from what Indonesian musicians in general make, and be awarded for it, is an achievement in itself.
How difficult was it for you to quit your corporate job for music? I imagine you had to work quite hard to get to where you are and were in both fields, so was it difficult to take the plunge and give that up?
Honestly? The most difficult part was when I had to make myself wait another 3 months to quit so I could stash some money if this music thing didn’t work - as a safety blanket. It was a long 3 months, all I could think about was [the impulse to] get the fuck out, make more music and be the me that I always wanted but couldn’t because I was stuck in an environment where individuality wasn’t really celebrated.
In Who Dis? you say that you “wanna be mix of Nicki and Kanye West” – what is it about these two artists which you find so inspirational?
Kanye made me realise that hip hop can literally talk about anything and experimenting with different kinds of melodies and effects which was refreshing for me since I grew up with pop. And Nicki is... she didn’t only kill the (male-dominated) game, but she managed to become a household name. Her name is the business, period. I aspire to be like that.

Hip-hop is quite a male-dominated industry, although it has been getting considerably more diverse in recent years. Did you find this while working a corporate job, did that help you get the confidence to say “I’ve dealt with this before?”
No, hip hop was significantly very male-centric for sure. But for some reason that’s not my biggest issue. I found myself quite indifferent with a group of boys as when I’m with girls. The challenge was probably more that there might be a sort of stigma, like their eyes are always on to me to quickly judge if I can really rap or nah, or some bull shit like that - meanwhile to me, all I care about is just making music, expressing myself and having fun. If people can be empowered with my message that’s great, but really you’ve got to enjoy it first, don’t take it too seriously, this isn’t politics (laughs).
I suppose the last questions tie into Fake Friends; did you have a lot of support from your friends and family making that leap, or was that difficult for you? It must have been a big lifestyle shift that would challenge some relationships.
There was never really anybody who supported me at first, not even my parents (not saying they’re bad, it’s just they’re very conservative and they’re worried I wouldn’t eat if I did this rap thing), not to mention I didn’t know anybody from the scene or the creative industry. I wasn’t cool, I was low-key broke, I was literally a nobody. But that was the challenge for me, I never was the type who like to proclaim I’m going to go big or whatever - I always let my wins do the talking. During the first few months of the shift I even went incognito, until people found out from a news article or something and they were like wait, you’re Ramengvrl?!
Your style is very unique and is reflected in your videos, for example, Ain’t No MF – do you find it important to reflect this style in what you do, and do you get to retain some creative control over music videos to do this?
Yes very. One of the most important aspects I take very great care of is the fashion. My style is an extension of my expression, so if it’s not quite right, I tend to feel uncomfortable in the shoot itself, let alone seeing myself in the outcome (laughs). So I usually work quite closely with the glam team (fashion stylist, MUA, hair stylist) to really achieve a certain look.

With songs like I’m Ugly, and an album called Can’t Speak English, you seem to be very keen to tackle stereotypes, negative comments and barriers head-on. As an Asian woman in rap, do you feel this is necessary to claim these before they are thrown at you?
Oh they have been thrown at me first, that’s why I address those things. Every song I make is a reflection of my IRL experience, or my observation. So all the stereotypes, the negative comments, etc. it’s been there done that, but with my music I’m basically telling my listeners here’re the shitty things that unfortunately will happen in life, but here’s how I win: not giving a fuck (laughs).
Being from somewhere with a small hip-hop scene, did you find a lot of inspiration for your music and style from within or outside of Indonesia? Who would you say has influenced you the most, particularly in the beginning? For example, there seems to be some Hispanic influence in Vaselina.
Everywhere, I really don’t like to be limited by boundaries, or borders, or genres, etc. Of course I looked up to the west initially because it’s hip hop, but especially now I listen to a lot more Asian hip hop, including South East Asia. We’ve got some really dope talents and the tracks are usually very melodic. I grew up with pop music so melodic tunes are something I really fuck with.
Has hyper pop influenced your music? I’ve noticed your more recent songs like Fake Friends and Aint No MF are a lot more melodic than your break out, would you say that is an influence or interest of yours, if so, would you be interested in exploring those sounds more associated with hyper pop and labels like PC Music?
Oh just when we were talking about melody. Well, it’s not just hyperpop, like I said I grew up with pop first before hip hop, and that’s why even in my earlier tracks there’s always that catchiness which is something very important to me. The next tracks that I have in the works will also feature more melodic tunes that are borderline pop, so I’m excited!
You have a considerable following on TikTok and Instagram; do you find a particular pressure to market yourself in ways that fit these social media, or do these bring about more pressure as a musician? Or do they allow you another avenue of self-expression, for example using your songs as TikTok sounds and adding raps to other songs?
I love what social media has done to artists. If not for social media I probably wouldn’t be here, I’m just being honest — it’s just the times. But yes I do feel the pressure and even I was low-key depressed for some time, because trying to keep up is such a mental burden, but I learnt to see it in a different way and see the positives of it, now I kind of love it to be honest. I think the key is just to really see it as social. I find myself engaging the most with the fans if I’m being true to myself and talk my shit rather than some elaborate marketing tactics.
Who do you feel you write you music for? It is often very confident, is it a letter to yourself, to other young women, or a general message?
I think I always put myself first when it comes to whom I’m writing for. Music is my way of expressing myself. But I also want my music to be relatable to people, especially people with the same experiences I’ve had before I became Ramengvrl. I want my listeners to feel like a bad bitch after a stressful day at work, or feel like they can do anything despite the naysayers. There’s a list of musicians that have done that for me and now I want to be that musician to other people that might be struggling.

Your collaboration with pH-1 on Ain’t No MF is quite exciting, do you have any artists you are keen to collaborate with in the future? What can we expect to see soon do you think?
I really want to make some dope stuff with Baby Tate. Rina Sawayama , Charli XCX, Doja Cat, Utada Hikaru, Nicki Minaj, Jessi — the list goes on and on and the fact that they’re all dope women without me even thinking about it says a lot.
Lastly, what is your favourite ramen brand or recipe?
Any ramen with goma (sesame) broth, period.

Katherine Prentice

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