“Our people used to fight invaders… Our people ride motorbikes in the wrong direction… Our people go to the West and bring chili powder.” This is Laze rapping about the Indonesian people in his critical new cut “Orang Kita,” which translates into “our people” in Bahasa. It’s a track that crystallizes many of the themes he gravitates around, like the struggle for money in the big city and its mad traffic. He raps about the chase for fame and clout, unrealistic dreams of making it rich, and the pitfalls of soulless success. He advocates for the need to work hard and be satisfied with what you achieve in the face of vapid wealth and stark inequality.
The track is directed at different parts of the population. The first verse is about the people, the second speaks to those in power like celebrities and politicians, and the third focuses on scholarly types who will carry the torch for the next generation. The video drives home many of these same points, showing pride and criticism of local traditions and tendencies. “This is how we live,” he explains. “Most rappers proudly portray things they don’t even do in real life. Many Indonesian are insecure with what we have and some consider our lifestyle, food, and even language inferior to foreign culture. I want to show our local culture in a good light.” So he’s depicted as leisurely receiving a coin rubbing treatment, eating with bejeweled hands, and plugging his ears to a cacophony of Western instruments.
Laze was born and raised in South Jakarta, often considered the cool part of town. Now 30 years old, his family moved several times around the area due to financial difficulties. He went to public school and earned the nickname Lazy Boy from an elementary school teacher, which eventually morphed into his current name. In high school, he learned English and was part of a school gang. He says they’re not as dangerous as they are in the West, but there were rivals, allies, and hangouts like warung (street food spots). They’d fight over girls and snatched jackets, sometimes with weapons. “For what though? My best advice is to stay out of the brawls and fights, it’s unnecessary and you’ll regret it later.”
Rap music came into Laze’s life when he was 10 years old via MTV, and when it would come on he’d jump up and pretend to spit into a mic. At first, it was mostly Western rappers but soon he became infatuated with Indonesian OGs like Saykoji, Yacko, Oka Antara, and Pesta Rap. “I started writing almost every day—at school, at home. Everywhere I could.” He started entering battles at 15, making his name by winning frequently.
While studying at university in Bandung, Laze hustled mixtapes, sold beats, and did ghostwriting and club emceeing. That’s also when he started the Onar crew with other schoolmates interested in music and fashion. “Hanging out with the right people gave me the energy to keep going,” he says. But he wouldn’t start making money from performing until 2018 when he finally hit a million views with his video for “Mengerti” featuring Ayub Jonn. The video landed him endorsement deals, commercials, and his first AMI, which is basically an Indonesian Grammy.
Through much of his early career, Laze was rapping in English. Around the time he started Onar he switched to Bahasa, with “Budak” being his first cut in the local language to catch people’s attention. At first, he just felt English was what people expected, and still often do. But he also found Bahasa challenging. “It can be really easy to sound norak (cheesy),” he laughs. But when he realized that most of the Indonesian tracks that have lasting power were in Bahasa, he reconsidered. “The majority of people here don’t speak English, after all. I don’t want to just scratch the surface, I want my songs to touch Indonesian listeners’ core and grow with them.”
Laze also tries to connect with his people by elevating their pop culture. “When we talk about integrating music and local culture, people tend to approach it in a traditional context,” he says. “But we also have pop and street cultures that are significant.”