Ramengvrl performs Oct. 12 at Bangkok’s Maho Rasop Experience. Enter the code BLAQLYTE for a 400 baht discount!
Ramengvrl is dressed in an oversized Reservoir Dogs suit, twerking in the middle of the street while a parent and little kid walk by gawking at the strange sight. She’s rapping in English with a smattering of Indonesian slang and Chinese phrases about sticking up for yourself in face of the haters, whether they be some basic local girls or racist buttholes. This is the video for “Ming Ling,” which is a reference to how non-Asian people mock Asian girls with Chinese-sounding nonsense. But she’s not about to suffer any of that—call her king ping instead. It’s typical Ramen, rapping full of bravado and jokes with a meaningful message tucked away in it all. “The stereotype is that we’re meek and submissive,” she says. “I feel like these all dope Asian rappers are really changing that. We say what we wanna say.” Call it something like a more positive sequel to “Yellow Fever,” the cut by Thai artist Pyra that she guested on putting sex tourists on blast.
With this new track, Ramen building on the universally-relatable personality she’s become known for, infused with overt pride in her identity and that of her fellow Southeast Asian peers. Mixing in multiple languages celebrates her home and exposes it to the rest of the world. “Yes, I be salty, you should call me calamari / I am so kawaii and you just an ani ani,” she raps, throwing off some Indonesian shade. “Ani ani means, well… not a exactly a hoe,” she laughs. “But you wouldn’t call classy girls ani ani. Please do not call anyone that in Indonesia!” Then she raps, “Even when I’m little they called me Shen Jing Bing,” a Chinese term for crazy. “I’m part Javanese and part Chinese, but my family doesn’t even speak Chinese. I had to learn Mandarin in school, so I like to throw some into my bars.”
Ramengvrl grew up in East Jakarta, a suburban stretch without much youth culture. “Other kids would look down on us, like we didn’t know anything,” she says over videochat from her childhood bedroom, which she’s visiting for the week to unwind. But music is regular within her Catholic family. “A lot of my family are into music in relation to the church, like choir and stuff.” Ramen was a prolific journal writer and had always played with the notion of expressing herself through words over music. But she used to listen mostly to “disgustingly mainstream pop” music. She still has an affinity to the immediacy of pop but when she found rap in high school, “I was like woah, you can really disclose some shit in rap, they don’t hold back. So I thought maybe I could express myself this way.”
At first she was recording tracks at home and releasing them lowkey on SoundCloud. Her first official track as Ramengvrl was “I’m Da Man.” She dropped an early version of it on SoundCloud in mid-2016 and it slowly gained more and more attention. Its comedic air and subtle but serious jab at gender norms resonated with people. “The way I write is to rap gibberish over the beat while I form words and ‘I’m da man’ just spilled out. But it was an ‘aha’ moment! I realized I could take a poke at the gender discourse in hip hop because it’s very male dominated, especially in Indonesia.” She says that it can still be like that, referring to a recent big event she performed at in Singapore where she was the only girl on stage. The original, now-deleted version was unmixed and stripped back, but eventually the Jakarta hip hop collective Underground Bizniz Club noticed it and convinced her to really push it. They re-recorded it and dropped it on SoundCloud again, then they made the music video for it, cementing her as a new artist to watch.
She says that the performative masculinity of rap makes her feel like an outsider and that she’s leaning towards her pop roots in the near future, with more melodic beats and broader subject matter. “I don’t want to be boxed into a genre where I’m expected to act a certain way. I’m not satisfied with being a ‘female rapper,'” she explains. “There’s a lot I want to express. I identify with the money chase and stuff, but there are a lot more relatable things to talk about, especially in Indonesia where that personality feels out of place to me.”
Ramengvrl says that her fans are half boys and half girls, but she hopes to attract some more girls with the new approach. Over half of these fans are from Indonesia with a big portion tapping in from Singapore and Malaysia. “Apparently there’s a fan account for me in China with like 60,000 members,” she says. “That’s crazy to me.” On TikTok they skew much more locally.
When she first started rapping, Ramen says she had her eyes set outside her borders, which is partially why she chose to rap in English instead of her native Indonesian Bahasa. “It’s also a post-colonial society, so I was guilty of thinking that speaking English made you more upper class like many people here,” she admits. English is not a part of her daily life. “All we had as an example is Rich Brian and he almost exclusively raps in English, but I think now that’s being proven wrong.” She says that she’s planning to include more Bahasa lyrics but that writing in English is more natural to her still, probably because she consumed so much Western media, especially rap.
More and more, however, Ramen finds herself listening to regional rappers who are attracting the spotlight with a diversity of languages and outlooks. “We all have our own twist and mix our own languages,” she beams. “Ming Ling” was a way to tap into that and support it, and she enlisted multilingual rapper Yung Raja for support. “He’s perfect for it because he represents Singapore but also India and Malaysia likes him too. He raps in Tamil and English. With him on board this really represents Southeast Asia.”