Despite the growing number of Asian Americans in the rap and hip-hop landscape today, it’s still difficult to come by a female API artist in the industry. But if you do, you’ll undoubtedly come across the name Ruby Ibarra.
Ruby is an up-and-coming Filipina rapper and spoken word artist whose rhymes and rhythm have inspired hundreds of thousands of people, especially those in underrepresented communities. In fact, Ruby often raps in Tagalog, bringing her identity as a Filipina to her artistry. She has performed at venues across the world, from the Philippines to the Midwest to California, and her lyrics have generated essential thoughts and discussion on media, race, and gender.
Luckily, I got the chance to sit down with Ruby and ask her a few questions about her past, her music, and her thoughts on present-day API representation in media.
1. Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, and how did you get into rap?
First off, I’m from San Lorenzo – I’ve lived there almost my whole life. I started listening to rap when I was 4 years old, back when I was in the Philippines. The first time I heard [rap music], my family was watching one of those Filipino variety shows, and I discovered Francis M [Francis Magalona] – my first inspiration. I naturally gravitated towards his rhythm, poetry, and music. I listened to his cassette tape everyday, and I was able to recite his lyrics verbatim. He also helped around the time my family was migrating to California – moving was a huge culture shock.
I find that a lot of [FrancisM’s] lyrics are reflective of what I talk about now. Maybe, he just subconsciously influenced me because he was really known for a lot of social and political lyrics.
2. How would you describe the present-day hip-hop community in the Philippines?
Hip-hop has definitely been growing in the Philippines not only as a genre, but also as a culture. The battle rap scene there is tremendous – one of the biggest forms of entertainment. There’s an organization there called “FlipTop” created for Tagalog battle rap. The U.S. had its golden era of hip-hop in the 90s, and that’s happening right now in the Philippines. Rappers there are more focused on the lyrics rather than the dance aspect of it.
3. Are there other API artists in the rap/hip-hop community that you’re acquainted with or who inspire you?
Bambu, Blue Scholars, Rocky Rivera… Every time I see them perform, I want to master my craft even more. They really opened the doors for me, and specifically artists of color, to branch out and have a platform to share their art. They’re also really great people.
4. Many members of the API community and beyond see you as a powerful presence and a driving force in the rap/hip-hop community today. What gives you the confidence or the drive to speak your truths?
Just knowing that there’s a lack of minority and female representation in hip-hop further makes me want to be on stage. I wanna show people that you don’t have to be a certain color or a certain gender to be on the stage to show your story.
5. What are your thoughts on the representation of minorities in media? Do you think that there needs to be a change that should happen? If so, what do you think could foster this change?
There’s still underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Asian Americans in mainstream media, which is sad to see because it’s 2014. We barely see people who are like us on TV, and our voices aren’t even heard on the radio as well. My sister brought it to my attention that there was recently an Avril Lavigne video that showed a lot of Asian American cultural exploitation, portraying the culture in a negative way. From when I saw it initially to now, not many people have really voiced out against it. But, seeing as a lot of the stuff shown in the media discriminates towards the Asian American community, people need to come together as a community. If we always let it go, we will never see change.
What would foster this change? If more Asian Americans interested in the arts continued to pursue them. It’s about visibility, power in numbers.
6. Have you ever experienced any negativity from people in regards to your performing career?
None of it has ever happened to my face, but a lot of it has been from behind a laptop. When my video first got posted on WorldStar Hip Hop, a lot of the comments I got had things regarding my gender and my race. They called me “Ching-Chong” because I was Asian; there were comments that said, “What is she doing trying to rap, she’s supposed to be in the kitchen.” Reading those comments, it was just a reminder to me that I’m not gonna be able to please everyone. It just showed me that racism is still alive. It definitely does not stop me from doing music.
7. In “Who I Am”, a piece which you wrote for UC Davis’s 2010 Pilipino Cultural Night, you talk about a “colonized mind, blind folded, so I’m hypnotized; compromised pride, bind hands, never reach the skies.” What inspired you to write such a powerful and political piece? [Note: Ruby studied undergrad at UC Davis as a Biochemistry major.]
During your college years, it’s definitely a time where you try to find your identity and the community you belong in. Being exposed in college to courses like Asian-American studies made me want to be more in tune with my roots and learn about my Filipino history. Before [college], Asian-American history was never touched upon in [history] courses. Where were [Asian-Americans] in the 1700s? Did we not exist in those times? I’ve always wanted to learn about that kind of stuff.
8. Any closing words of advice?
Follow your passion because that’s where you’ll excel and find your true potential. Too many of us find ourselves stuck in what we think we should do instead of doing what we want to do. Find what you love and put your whole heart and time into it – apply that not only professionally, but to every aspect of your life and trust me, life will be better!
– Interview conducted by Nicole Arca, April 26th, 2014.