What do you get when you add a dash of Filipino flavour, a taste of the Bay area, and some thought provoking lyrics? You get hip hop emcee, Ruby Ibarra.
Ruby Ibarra is a young rap artist that hails from the Philippines, and who currently resides in California.
Real talk – one of the reasons I wanted to interview her was that I wasn’t aware of any female rap artists from the Philippines, and I wanted to find out more.
After discussing her musical influences and her blossoming musical career, I noticed that her love for hip hop goes deep. She recalled that at a tender age she was completely mesmerized by Frank M’s performance (a Filipino rap pioneer) on a local TV show.
Although Ruby is a millennial, her music has a definite throwback 90s vibe – which I totally love (*at the end of the article, I share some of my fave tracks from the rap artist). What impressed me even more was that she effortlessly raps in English and Tagalog (*Tagalog is one of the national languages of the Philippines) and has ensured that her Filipina roots were heard in her debut album Circa 1991.
Being a person that is pro diversity and learning from others, I was incredibly happy to discover more about this up and coming rap phenom.
Wanna find out more about Ruby’s life as a rapper? Keep reading!
Hometown: Born in Tacloban City, Philippines, and moved to San Lorenzo, California, at age 4
Astrological Sign: Pisces
Fun Fact: Ruby is featured in a MasterCard commercial with SZA
Fave artist (old school): Lauryn Hill
Fave artist (new school): Kendrick Lamar
When did you know you wanted to pursue hip hop?
I can’t pinpoint an exact moment where I thought, “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I think it was a series of events and one of them being when I was a kid in the Philippines and hearing Frank Magalona– one of the pioneers of hip hop in the Philippines. I don’t even think that I was capable of speaking yet, but I just remember seeing him on television. I was completely captivated by the way he was using his voice and his mouth as an instrument. That introduced me to hip hop.
What solidified my love for hip hop was growing up in the Bay area – it was such a melting pot of cultures. I was introduced to a lot of hip hop artists – Tupac, Eminem and underground legends, Hieroglyphics.
When I found out about artists like Eminem and Lauryn Hill…they showed me that you can tell a story and you can use your music to bend words . I think that’s what initially got me interested in writing my own lyrics.
When was the first time you ever performed?
It was actually in high school and I randomly chose drama as my elective. My drama teacher encouraged the class to express ourselves in an honest way. She would encourage us to write our own material. At that point in my life I was already writing raps.
At the end of the school year, we had a poetry slam and she encouraged all the students to perform. I remember being so nervous and completely afraid…feeling vulnerable. I had no experience performing prior to that. It was the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had in my life! I just remember being completely vulnerable on stage, but at the same time feeling this adrenaline rush. I felt I was at my most honest and raw in terms of expression. After that, I got addicted to it and definitely wanted to continue performing and continuing writing.
What has your experience been like being a Filipina hip hop artist?
I was lucky that I grew up in the Bay area, and there are tons of women of colour hip hop artists. So having a camaraderie, community, and safety net of peers that are experiencing the same thing and being able to talk with them and using them as a resource – we learn from each other. It has helped me grow a lot as an artist. I am thankful for the opportunity.
I wouldn’t say that I received any backlash – if anything I’m very grateful that I have been allowed to participate in a space and artform that I know was created by the black community, and it’s something that I always want to honour, and respect that in my work.
If anything, my gender, and my race has had me stand out. People often ask, “Who’s that little Filipino girl on the stage right now?’ It made me realize that it is a privilege. I don’t fit the normal perception of a rapper.
How difficult is it to rap in English and Tagalog?
It comes naturally. The first language I ever spoke was a dialect from the Philippines. One day I was just bored when I was writing and I thought to throw in a few words. After that, it’s been something that I throw in all my tracks.
It worked out for my last album – because it was all about emigrating from the Philippines to the US and being a first generation immigrant. I think language is a big part of being an immigrant; it helps make the story stronger – weaving in the two languages.
RUBY’S DAY JOB
So if being a trailblazing hip hop artist weren’t enough, Ruby spends her day as a scientist. Yes, a SCIENTIST! I couldn’t see how this FIERCE emcee had a normal day job. Somehow she makes it work!
How do you juggle being a scientist by day and a rapper by night?
I ask myself that question every single day! I went to school and I majored in Biochemistry and I landed a job in the Biotech field.
I’m constantly tiptoeing between both worlds and trying to find a balance. The most challenging part is time and availability. Especially having 2-3 shows each week, I’ve had to ask for time off at work….and I’m running out of paid time off.
Do your co-workers know about your other “job?”
I tried to keep it a secret in the beginning, but I was featured in a MasterCard commercial earlier this year. From then on, everyone from my job knew I did music!
What’s next for Ruby?
I plan on releasing 3 more music videos from my last album. I’m hoping to release all by he end of October.
Also, I am working on a short film to go with the album –I’m hoping to make it very artistic and beautiful similar to Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Beyonce’s “Lemonade.” I’m going to start filming it by the end of this month. I will continue to make videos and tour, and I will be in Toronto at the end of the month.
After I ended the phone interview with Ruby, I actually felt proud that I was able to speak with such a trailblazing (and down-to-earth) female rapper who opened my eyes to diversity in the music industry.
Thanks for talking with me Ruby, and enjoy your time in #the6ix!
To find out more about Ruby Ibarra, please visit the following sites. *If you’re in Toronto, Ruby will be performing at Geary Lane on Fri. Sept. 28th and speaking at TFCU Talks at York U on Sat. Sept. 29th. Please check her social media for more deets.
Facebook: click here
Click the links to hear my fave tracks from Ruby Ibarra:
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