When her parents left Tacloban for California in 1991, Ruby Ibarra‘s mom had only one album packed in their suitcase. It was Yo!, the seminal record of the late rapper Francis Magalona, which included “Mga Kababayan”, a song about being Filipino and brown.
Almost three decades later, rapper and spoken word artist Ibarra can be seen – and heard – similarly singing about cultural identity and bolstering the pride of the Filipino community.
“I also have songs about dismantling the patriarchy and celebrating feminism and sisterhood,” she says.
Following her 2017 debut album, Circa91, Ibarra recently collaborated with Philippine actress and musician Nadine Lustre on the single “No 32”, a song about being the only number one “whether that’s in your relationship, in your artistry, or in other situations.
“It’s about being confident, claiming your space, all while celebrating your womanhood,” Ibarra explains.
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“After the release of my album, one response that always stood out was, ‘I wish I’d seen this growing up. My life would’ve been different,’” says the 28-year-old Filipino-American musician.
“It made me realize how important it is to be an artist and use my platform to make people feel represented,” Ibarra adds.
How did you get into hip-hop music?
We migrated to the US in 1991 when I was two years old and I was introduced to the rapper Francis Magalona when I was five.
We moved to the Bay Area, where hip-hop is a big part of the community’s culture, so it was natural for me to gravitate towards the genre – Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and the rest of West Coast hip-hop.
What attracted me were the melody and the tone of resistance. It’s really the voice of the youth and the unheard. It’s an expression that empowers people.