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Step aside for Indonesia’s Tuan Tigabelas in 2024

“In 2023, I learned a lot, made connections and friends from other countries, and had a chance to introduce Indonesian Hip Hop to other countries.”

LiFTED | Sean D | 15 Jan 2024

When outsiders think of Indonesian Hip Hop, they might know names like Rich Brian, Warren Hue, or even RAMENGVRL. But if you ask Indonesian Hip Hop kids who’s got the most props, Tuan Tigabelas will definitely be in the conversation. The Jakarta rapper, also known as ‘Mr. Thirteen,’ has been a leading figure in the culture since 2009 when he first appeared with his original group REP. He’s also been dropping big tracks and featuring on some big hits – along the way winning 3 Indonesian Music Awards. But his main body of work has been since 2017 as a solo artist, so he’s very much in the mix currently, often touring with rapper-artist Yacko. This year they performed at the SXSW Tiger Den and Thailand’s Wonderfruit festival.

With hits like ‘Move’, ‘Westside’, ‘Last Roar’ and his recent single ‘King,’ Tuan Tigabelas often creates multiple videos for each track, incorporates Hip Hop elements like graffiti, and always keeps the productions funky while rooted in Boom Bap sensibilities. It’s fair to say that Tuan Tigabelas is an OG, and his music is firmly connected to the roots of Hip Hop, but his tracks still sound fresh and up-to-date. He’s an artist who gets behind causes – like women’s rights or saving the Sumatran tigers – and creates music about it, helping those causes along the way. In short, he’s a true Hip Hop artist in the original mold, which is why he’s the cover star for January 2024.

Tuan Tigabelas! So good to finally catch up with you brother. What’s really good?

Good, man. Life’s good. Music took me to a lot of places in 2023. I learned a lot, made connections and friends from other countries, and had a chance to introduce Indonesian Hip Hop to festivals in other countries, which is such a blessing.

In 2024, Indonesia is entering the election phase, but there aren't many local music festivals, so I think this is the right time to get back into the studio and work on a new album.

Tell us how you got the nickname Mr. Thirteen.

I just think I needed a stage name. The first time I went with “Satu Tiga” [one three], but it turns out that name was already used by another rapper, so I thought of another option and came up with Tuan Tigabelas [Mr. Thirteen.] I use the name Tuan because I am a man, and 13 is my birth date, so it's as simple as that.

You began with a crew called R.E.P. [Rebel Education Project]. How did that get started, and when did you go solo?

When I started, I didn't know anyone in this game, so my friends and I would jam at the place where I usually hung out with my boys with acoustic guitars, percussion, and so on, or rent a studio just to jam. We did that all the time and built chemistry, so we decided to form a Hip Hop band called R.E.P. and released an album called Letter To in 2014. The problem was that R.E.P couldn’t infiltrate local Hip Hop events because of technical problems. Back in the day, for us to be able to play at Hip Hop events, we had to bring our own drum set, amplifiers, and other instruments, because at that time local Hip Hop events only provided DJ setups.

In 2017, I created a solo project named TuanTigabelas, after releasing many singles and collaborations, I finally released my first album Harimau Soematra in 2019, and in 2021 I released a collaboration EP called Blunt Brothers with a producer named SicknessMP and visual artist named Crack.

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What was the Hip Hop scene like in Jakarta back in 2009 when you got started?

There was a lot of beef in the past and the competition was very strong. It was as if everyone had to lean towards a certain side to be able to participate in the scene at that time. That's why me and the homies created a collective called Westwew, which is my label to this day.

That was a beautiful time, as the YouTube era was just starting to boom in Indonesia and it opened up opportunities for everyone. We could learn anything, and Indonesian Hip Hop developed so fast and produced lots of promising new names, which added many new colors to the Indonesia Hip Hop scene.

Who are some of your favorite Indonesian Rap artists?

Blakumuh, Iwa K, Oka Antara, Batik Tribe, and many back in the day. In this era, Mukarakat, Hollandia 98, Nartok, Sonjah, Zein Panzer, and many more.

Your single ‘Move’ has over eight million YouTube views. Is that your biggest hit, and why do you think it blew up so big?

I don't even know. Haha.

The single and video for ‘Rumah’ is so moving. Is that your wife sitting there watching your home movies? It’s a great concept!

Thanks. Yeah, that’s my wife and the video was my wedding anniversary gift for her. Since I’m always on the road, in the studio, or touring, I wanted to give her something to show her how lucky I am to have her because she is always there for me and has supported me since day one.

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You have a lot of official lyric videos, and they often feature some graff kids writing and doing pieces. Is that a big part of your background, too?

Westwew and I grew up in the slums of West Jakarta, where graffiti and other elements were the only art we knew at that time. We were close to a graffiti collective called Gardu House, so we learned a lot from them. I like to make graffiti and other elements of Hip Hop close to whatever we do. We like the spirit and messages contained in each piece. The funny thing is, I can't even draw at all.

2023 was a big year for you and Yacko. You played SXSW and Wonderfruit with a live band. How did you two connect, and what were those shows like?

Yacko and I are very close because we have the same passion. We like the diversity of the Hip Hop scene in Indonesia and even ran a local Hip Hop media outlet called Hip Hop Hore before together.

Yacko has taught me a lot of things, and as far as I know, she’s the first Indonesian MC who succeeded in combining electronic music like Drum & Bass with her Rap style. When she dominates the stage and communicates with the crowd, I feel like she never runs out of energy.

So we started collaborating on several songs and I felt great chemistry with her. Once we finally started performing together, it was crazy, and to this day I still learn a lot from her.

SXSW, BABEL Music XP in France, and Wonderfruit. These are places I really felt blessed to be able to play with her. It’s been dope, and we met a lot of new people, made connections, got appreciated, and learned so many new things along the way. Thank you to Yacko who gave me this opportunity because none of these things would have happened if I hadn't met her and collaborated with her. She opened so many doors and I am grateful for that.

Have you ever played in Hong Kong or China?

Not yet, but I’d love to play there soon.

Thanks for sitting down with us. Can you tell our readers what 2024 has in store for you?

Anytime! it's always a pleasure talking to y'all. In 2024 I got a lot of new shit, a couple of collab EPs, my second album, and my band R.E.P. is back in the studio again and we are working on our second album. So tell others to step aside because this year is fuckin’ mine.