From Iwa K and Jogja Hiphop Foundation (JHF) to Rich Brian and RAMENGVRL, hip hop in Indonesia has, like its Southeast Asian neighbors, exhibited diverse storytelling, often centered in local culture and expressed through its various regional languages such as Javanese, Betawi, and Sundanese.
Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir noted in his Representing Islam: Hip-Hop of the 9/11 Generation book that Indonesia’s Jogja Hiphop Foundation (JHF), “believes that traditional Javanese wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) and gamelan music provide a solid foundation for hip-hop to build upon.”
Cinere, a city in South Jakarta, was the first hub of the local rap scene, home to Guest Music Productions, a production house founded in 1989 (which eventually rebranded as the Guest Music label in 1998). In the 1990s, they collaborated with Musica Studios to produce groundbreaking Indonesian rap albums, including groundbreaking and best-selling rapper Iwa-K’s The king is back (translation: I Want to Go Back) from 1993, Top money from 1994, Thank you! from 1996 and 1998 Mesin Imajinasi (translation: Imagination Machine), as well as rap compilation album.
While at its core, Indonesian hip hop shares the principles of self-expression and societal commentary with its American counterpart, author Nico Colombant noted in a 1997 article “Iwa-K and His Cinere Posse” to Indonesian observer that early Indonesian hip-hop deals with themes that deviate from sex and violence but, at least for Iwa K, “talks about love, social situations and sports.”
Kamaludeen further stated in his book that JHF “focus their lyrics on the internal problems of their country. They emphasize social issues and rap about poverty and youth. A number of their songs have become anthems to fight corruption” and along with another group has Jahanam (Destruction) countered state censorship of rap by “position[ing] themselves as custodians of their ethnic culture and heritage.”
Artist manager Masaru Riupassa said, “A lot of people think that rap is about violence and sex, but rap is just talk and you can pretty much talk about anything you want… The problem is not getting the good tunes on ties, it’s to make sure they sell. As for our image, we’re not gangsters, but we’re not going to shy away from saying what’s wrong with everyday society.”
Many prominent figures during the 1990s, including former president BJ Habibie criticized rap, saying (via the news magazine Gatra), “The younger generation should not want to be enslaved by an aspect of foreign culture [with] who does not even care about his own country. It’s not even appropriate over there, much less in Indonesia. It is not suitable. . . . I don’t agree with that because it doesn’t help anything, especially for the young generation.” He went on to describe it to Compass as crude and foreign to Indonesian culture and values.
In his 2005 article, Rap in Indonesian Youth Music of the 1990s: “Globalization”, “Outlaw Genres” and Social Protest, writer and professor Michael Bodden argued that while the importation of and “powerful attraction” to hip-hop—a global commercial culture—threatens to erase the attraction to the “rich variety of traditional musical forms” of Indonesian youth, it is a far more complex.
He wrote: “It is a story in which particular aspects of global commercial culture, while certainly displacing elements of earlier traditions, can also be seized upon and deployed in specific local struggles. These genres serve as weapons of social protest and/or as expression of a desire to create a new social space or even identity that shows its difference from or rejection of the kind of social identities and behaviors approved by an authoritarian government and the dominant social groups in society.”
In this video dance-directed by Felix Huang and choreographed by Semmy Blank and Vicky Mahreza, we go down memory lane with just six iconic tracks from Indonesia’s vibrant hip-hop culture.
Tracklist (mix by Leztey):
- Iwa K – Nombok Dong
- Black skin – Cewek Matre
- Sweet Martabak – Tididit
- NEO – Borju
- P Squad – Goyang (ft. Iwa K)
- Saykoji – So what Gitu Loh
Watch Hip Hop Music History Indonesia (Dance Video) below: