RAMENGVRL is not the girl next door
"I channeled that big D energy and kinda winged it. I may be a girl, but I can be THE man, too!"
RAMENGVRL AKA Putri Estiani burst onto the Indonesian Hip Hop scene in 2016 when she finally moved out of the bedroom and into the studio to drop her breakthrough single, ‘I’m Da Man.’ That track, with its sparse Trap beat and stream of consciousness lyrics, proved she had skills – a knack for funny, disconnected wordplay, and more importantly, a super tight flow.
After that she gained Asia-wide attention with two singles that had funny and clever videos – ‘I AM ME’ and ‘CA$HMERE’ - the latter of which landed on b2 Music’s VIBE Presents: Urban Asia Volume 2 and even got props across the water in the US. Since then, she’s been nominated for some of Indonesia’s biggest music awards, dropped two albums – 2019’s No Bethany and last year’s Can’t Speak English, and basically become one of Asia’s top rappers, period.
She’s just dropped a brand new single, ‘I’m Ugly’ on Warner Music’s new ASIATIC label. It’s FIRE and further establishes RAMENGVRL as an artist unafraid to tackle any subject or give a f**k what anyone thinks about it.
We caught up with LiFTED’s seventh cover star as she was getting ready to unleash the new single and video on the world.
Yo RAMEN! What’s really good? We’ve been watching you for a minute now, ever since you blew up the VIBE Urban Asia compilation back in 2018. That track ‘CA$HMERE’ was so sick, and the video was crazy, too. You really are unique for Indonesia, and so refreshing for Asia generally. I know you used to work a 9-to-5 and made Rap demos in your spare time before deciding to make a go of it, which we’re glad you did. Can you give those LiFTED readers who may not know a bit of your back story?
Thanks! Well, you kinda did the background check already, what with the 9-to-5 intro and all, but I guess I can spill a bit more. I was basically raised by a conservative society - my parents both worked in an office, my family goes to church every Sunday [or Saturday... see I don’t even know], and my friends and their uncles were always trying to follow the norms.
I knew ever since I was little that I’m not like that, but it was only when I got pretty fed up with my office job that I realized what I always wanted was just to express myself, and that’s through music. Mind you, I didn’t even know anybody in the industry, let alone the ‘community’ back then. But I knew that the ‘past life’ wasn’t for me, so I pulled the switch and just kept posting my amateur demos on Soundcloud.
I didn’t care about anything other than getting it out there since that was the only thing that kept me sane back then. It gained traction from the local community, and everything just kinda snowballed until I pulled the switch, resigned, and became…RAMENGVRL.
Your first single ‘I’m Da Man’ has the illest lyrics, like random words and ideas thrown together but somehow it all makes sense. Were you just riffing on wordplay? What was the song about?
Riffing on wordplay is definitely one way to put it, but it also was during a time when I was really new in the game, and I saw all these rappers [who were 99% male] that were killin’ it, but I felt like, ‘Hey I can do that too, probably even better…so what am I afraid of?’ So, I just channeled that big D energy and kinda winged it. Like, I may be a girl, but I can be THE man, too, you know. This was a concept that a lot of Asians - especially Indonesians - might have a hard time grasping.
2018 was a big year for you. You had two really big tracks that both have racked up millions of views on YouTube – was that the year you finally thought you could make it big?
I mean I always knew I could make it big, but the response around ‘CA$HMERE’ and ‘I AM ME’ definitely set the tone. Coming from a rather conservative country like Indonesia I didn’t realize that the songs would resonate with people, and the fact that it reached other countries as well [‘I AM ME’ was one of the official tracks for the video game Need For Speed: Heat] got my confidence through the roof, not gonna lie.
You were born and raised in Jakarta, but you rhyme almost exclusively in English. Any reason for that? Do you have plans to do any Bahasa tracks?
Weirdly enough, writing lyrics in English just feels natural to me. There’s something in the language system that just lets me get across my message better than if I’m using Bahasa. I do like to put a few Bahasa terms here and there though if you noticed. In fact, a bit of other languages too, like Korean, Japanese, and Arabic. I feel like language is a fascinating thing. You can really play around with it.
Can you talk a bit about 2019’s No Bethany album? What’s the title about?
‘No Bethany’ is something I blurted out in ‘I’m Da Man,’ which was not only my very first single but also like a ribbon-cutting moment in my journey as an artist. No Bethany to me at that time was an obviously feminine name and it’s a name I give to a character trope [I like to imagine I’m talking to a specific character in my songs sometimes] where she’s like this common portrayal of how a girl should be - girly, pretty, nice attitude, long sleek hair probably, dressed normally, and always tries to follow the rules. Basically, the stereotypical girl next door. I’m definitely not that! That’s what I wanted to really highlight during that phase in my journey like, “Yo, by now y’all should already know that whatever normal-society-backed opinions you have about me, that’s not working cuz I’m not playing by your so-called rules. I mean…have y’all listened to my songs?”
Last year you dropped Can’t Speak English through Empire. Clearly you can speak English, so what was that all about?
That’s literally what everybody tells me! It was a spur-of-the-moment thing cuz I did the whole album at Empire’s studio in San Francisco. Low-key my heart was like oki-doki everytime coz like A - the US is where we look up to when it comes to Hip Hop and B - yeah, I do speak English but this is where EVERYBODY really really speaks English and I was afraid I’d say something weird or feel like I didn’t belong.
So, I found my insecure Indonesian ass automatically saying “Sorry I can’t speak English that well” in conversations as a way to kinda buffer their expectations you know what I mean [and they always replied “WTF are you saying? Your English is good!’]. And I mentioned Indonesian because, what’s happening there is that people see everything from the West as always better than local, so the young kids [especially in my hometown Jakarta constantly insert these English phrases like ‘literally,’ ‘like,’ and ‘basically’ to try to mix these two languages randomly even though they don’t need to – thinking this makes them look smarter or cooler.] Funnily enough, when the opportunity arises for them to speak to a legit English-speaking person, they suddenly go mute and say “Sorry I can’t speak English.” Huh? So, I’m trying to poke fun at the fact that despite what you see on the screen or hear on the radio, I do have my own insecurities—while also poking fun at our own xenophobia.
Your whole persona from day one seems to be about blowing up traditional Indonesian and Asian conventions and norms. Your lyrics scream IDGAF and it has worked for you big time. Is that the real you or more your alter-ego?
Kinda both. That’s the real me for sure, but you won’t find me pulling up a middle finger and screaming “I am me and you can’t tell me what to do, bitch” at family gatherings. RAMENGVRL is like the real subconscious me projected in 4K - a platform for me to say what I want and do what I want.
Recently you signed a deal with Warner Music’s brand-new ASIATIC label. Can you talk about that and what it means to sign with a major? Is there a new album coming?
First of all, I’d like to clarify—especially for any new aspiring artists reading this—that being ‘signed to a label’ is a partnership. Way before we even started conversations with Warner Music Asia I had been writing new demos and really thinking about what type of artist I want to be. So, when we actually started talking I already knew what team, what resources, and what connections I wanted and needed, and WMA with its new Asiatic venture fits the bill.
While there are the obvious advantages of working with a major global label, a lot of the things we’ve been working on wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t share the same vision, and I really can’t wait to show you guys what we’re about to put out. As to what to expect - BIG THINGS!
Finally, we’ve all had a couple of tough years in terms of travel and live events, but hopefully things will get better next year. What can we expect from RAMENGVRL in 2022?
Oh, it WILL get better. I’m actually planning to spend some time in Japan next year to expose myself to new ideas, connect with the people there, and basically create a lot of dope tracks. I realize I’m not the type to stay in one place all my life. RAMENGVRL right now is not cooped up by being ‘just a rapper’ either, so expect some experimentation with different sounds, crazy features, and of course, lots of bangers!