Nine out of 10 rap critics agree that newcomer Ruby Ibarra kills—including Random Abiladeze
Inside Davis’ Delta of Venus, emcee Ruby Ibarra is ready to hit the stage. A tiny Filipino who doesn’t exactly fit the mold of traditional emcee (no stage name, no big jeans, no crooked hat, no penis), Ibarra is about to embark on her third performance ever. Behind a simple, bass-driven beat, Ibarra—normally thoughtful, reserved—proceeds to spit provocative lyrics at the crowd like rubber bullets into a mob of rioters.
Although new to the world of rapping in front of audiences, Ibarra’s raw talent is undeniable. Through intelligent lyrics and a commanding performance, Ibarra naturally conveys truths that most emcees only hope to cultivate after years of careful study.
Concertgoers, who occupy nearly every crevice of the DOV’s small, dark room, react energetically, even violently, as Ibarra fills the atmosphere with slightly accented, low-toned verses of love, strife and culture.
Ibarra’s aura envelops the audience.
A week after that intense performance, I met Ibarra at the DOV during the day. Without hip-hop fans packing the eatery, the DOV is a quiet, student-dominated cafe on the UC Davis campus perimeter. And Ibarra is a polite, shy, 21-year-old biological-chemistry major—pretty much the opposite of her verbose, confident onstage persona. She didn’t event dabble in spoken word until college, when she auditioned for the UCD slam-poetry team in 2007.
It was on the team that Ibarra met fellow poet and emcee Random Abiladeze, who said that he noticed something special about Ibarra right away. “I kind of knew before she even got up there that she was going to be hella dope,” he said. “She just killed everybody and flipped [her poem] into Tagalog right in the middle of it. It was so sick.”
Needless to say, Ibarra murdered the audition. Now, not only is she on the team, but she also performs poetry with SickSpits, a Davis based spoken-word collective.
Her struggles with culture, gender, identity—and her willingness to speak about these issues candidly—sets her apart from the braggadocio that defines, and suffocates, a good portion of today’s hip-hop lyricists. Her impulses on self-perception are both wise and honest. Like with her poem Beyoutiful—“I wanna be 5’5” with brown eyes / Big breasts, small waist, and nice thighs / ’Cause I only see myself through your eyes”—she immediately connects with an audience.
“I’m aware that I am a double minority within hip-hop, being that I’m both female and Asian,” she says. “At the end of the day, I sincerely hope that my music speaks for itself, rather than social labels defining my sound.”
As a female emcee, Ibarra notices that most people don’t expect her to be good. “I feel the need to prove myself as a credible artist,” she says, which is something that pushes her to be a more viable emcee. The irony, however, is that humble artists—the ones who constantly question their own credibility—tend to be the most effortlessly legit.
So as the young Ibarra speaks about her career options and her future, it’s difficult to know what’s in store. Whether she’s performing poetry with the collective or emceeing at a show, Ibarra certainly has the raw talent and stage presence to become a full-time musician.
Or she could just be the illest, most verbally eloquent pharmacist to ever sling medicine in the history of pharmacology.
Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.