RAMENGVRL conquered a rap scene that was far from welcoming towards female MCs. And now, she’s set her sights on conquering the world.
When Putri Estiani imagined what she wanted to be when she grew up, like many Asian kids who grew up in a conservative household, financial security was the top of the mind of her, not being a global rap star. But after discovering pop music in her childhood and later rap through icons like Kanye West in high school, her career path started to change. After spending a few years at a corporate job she admits she hated, she quite, took up the stage name of RAMENGVRL, which is inspired by her love of ramen and Japanese culture, pursued her rap career full time. Making a name for herself in the Indonesian hip-hop scene wasn’t easy as she had to battle double standards and gender stereotypes.
But thanks to her unapologetic yet fun personality and banging music that’s both playful and serious, she low-key turned Indonesian hip-hop on its head. Her debut single in 2016, I’m Da Man, proved she had what it takes with her debut mixtape no bethany and debut album Can’t Speak English taking her star even higher. These days, Ramengvrl is one of the hottest acts of her native Indonesia and up there with the likes Rich Brian and Warren Hue. And she did all of this while breaking down doors and gender stereotypes with her supportive parents behind her.
NYLON Manila recently caught up with the rap star to talk about her music, making it in the global stage, and her secret to good ramen. Read our full conversation with her below.
How did music enter your life?
I remember watching cable TV from a hotel room (coz we didn’t have that in our household–couldn’t afford it) and just let MTV run through the whole day. That made me obsessed with pop / rock songs and MV, and after that I became a fan of Britney and bought all her cassettes and live DVDs haha. So you can also see that I grew up more with pop rather than hip hop actually, but at that time hip hop has started to merge with pop on its own.
Could you describe what it was like working your 9-to-5 job? What did you do?
It was either in the media or e-commerce industry. I moved from one office to another (gotta look for the highest paying one, sorry! Loyalty to family not companies :p) and basically did marketing. …….Let’s just say I wasn’t really the best at it but I played my part haha!
Was there a specific moment in your life that made you decide that you wanted to become a musician full time?
I just know during that period when I liked to upload demos on SoundCloud that this is what brings me joy, but only until it started gaining enough traction and I was getting a few gigs did I think, “huh maybe I can actually do this for life”. But what if I fail and I end up broke and I can’t provide for my parents (I’m an only child) and I have to go back to working a day job–the thing I hate the most? But I was like f*ck it, I love doing this, and if I end up broke or whatever I’ll find a way, I always do, least I gotta do is TRY coz I don’t wanna end up on my dying bed thinking “what if..”
How did you land on your style of music and rap?
Of course you develop your style from what you consume. I’d say I haven’t like “landed” on a specific style–coz I always like to experiment with different sounds and genres actually, but I’d say… I love a mix of pop in everything, so I guess that’s why people say my songs are always so catchy.
Your music often straddles being fun and playful to being serious and discussing social issues. How do you balance those two sides?
Hm, good question. I’m always very observative and a thinker (although people do not see this usually), but at the same time, I feel like people take everything too seriously! Y’all not joking enough! I think important messages are best conveyed through the most fun and casual way possible, which is why a lot of times we understand what’s happening in the world better through.. Let’s say, standup comedy rather than a politician in some forum. Orrrrr.. I might just been reading a little too much Chuck Palahniuk lol
Your song FACTS serves as the lead single for asiatic.wav Vol.1 which features different acts from Asia. How did it feel to be included in the EP?
Represented! Asia has been killing it in a lot of things but especially music these days and I’m very happy to be in the forefront of one of the movements. Not to mention with a BDE track like that haha.
You’ve worked with quite a few musicians from around the world. Has there been a collaboration that has stood out to you the most?
Ain’t No MF with pH-1. I knew it’s a hit from the start but the impact it had was beyond what I had in mind. People really f*ck with the song and especially with the KHH and K-pop fans (which lowkey are one of the best crowd ever), and at the same time the MV looks super dope, people are talking about it still, and it’s directed by a female director and a good friend of mine, Drea! Love everything about this project.
Do you think that the Indonesian music scene is more welcoming of female rappers now as compared during your debut?
Oh definitely! To be honest I feel like it’s never been “against” female rappers but it’s more like, now the platforms are more present than ever. We can go on TikTok and spit some bars and reach millions of people right away and that’s something to be grateful for. But the issue has always been that people put more pressure to female rappers (or anything female, let’s be real), like you not only gotta spit but you also gotta look cute and dope but not too dope or else they tell you you’re vulgar yada yada yada–which I’m like f*ck that, again y’all too serious with this and forget to see the bigger picture: girls are spitting.
How does it feel to be seen as a rising star in the global music scene?
Happy of course, but also a bit pressured? Haha. Coz even from the start all I wanna do is express myself through music, but I guess now people feel represented as well and I think it’s kind of a responsibility almost for me to actually deliver that! Well I’m not gonna be complacent that’s for sure! Aim big.
Do you feel that your continued global success is helping push Indonesian hip-hop into a more mainstream space?
I do think so. Not only Indonesia, but also Asia I feel. Coz even though I said Asia has been killing it, people still don’t care enough for Asian hip hop and I think the joint effort of–not just me obviously–all Asian rappers keep on promoting that and showing to the world that ‘yo we out here and we lit.’
What do you think it is about you that makes you stand out from the crowd?
My IDGAF attitude? Hahaha. WHICH, coming from a conservative society speaks a lot. Some say my lyrics are too vulgar, but it’s just regular talk. People need to be ‘shocked’ to be open to new ideas. PLUS… these guys are ok with male rappers talking bout the same thing but not me? Pleasssse.
Where do you think your unapologetic personality comes from?
Honestly? Never sure about that myself. Every time someone meets my parents they always go like “Wow, you guys are like from different worlds”, coz they’re pretty conservative. I guess I always had that in me, and I guess mama Britney, Rihanna and Nicki taught me a lot about being independent and just being myself.
Is there a difference between the persona of RAMENGVRL as compared to Putri?
Hell yeah haha. Putri–or Putche, as I like to be called among friends (coz Putri means “princess” literally in Bahasa and it can be….. weird to me)–gets the most joy being lowkey with friends, practices the most uncool jokes, plays badminton and tennis (badly), writes diary like a 15-yo. RAMENGVRL is that unapologetic cool girl you wanna dance with in the club. I guess the only similarity is both talks about sex casually most of the time haha!
You often speak your mind in your music. Do you ever worry though that you’re maybe too honest in your music?
I do worry about that when I mention a bit of my family or uhm, a fling. Coz I can be VERY specific if I want to, but I guess it’s all about the balance. Also, sometimes I talk about something that’s very casual to me and don’t mean any malicious intent, but people took it the wrong way to the point where people were fighting in the comments while I’m just like… eating cereal on a Wednesday.
What advice would you give to young girls trying to follow their dreams?
Just do it! People care too much about what others think about them and a lot of times it can hinder you from greatness or from joy, so f*ck them and do it, coz you’ll never know!
For would-be fans, what songs of yours would you suggest they listen to first if they want to get into your music?
Your stage name is partially inspired by your enthusiasm for ramen. What’s the secret to a good bowl of ramen?
I’d say GOMA GOMA GOMA SAUCEEE! Period!
Continue Reading: Denise Julia Is So Much More Than An Ariana Grande Soundalike