Ruby Ibarra is a rapper you’ve probably heard, but haven’t heard of—at least not yet. The Filipina-American recently made the rounds in a nationwide Mastercard commercial that also featured musicians like SZA, Radkey, and Victoria Canal. Each artist performed their take of the 1962 Bo Diddley song “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover.”
For Ibarra, the commercial was an opportunity that almost never was. She was en route to the Philippines when she got word of the project, which was moving quickly. “They tell me that they’re on a very, very tight deadline, and I need to submit an audio demo by the end of the night,” Ibarra tells Broadly. “And I think, ‘What the hell, I’m about to board my flight!'”
But she downloaded the beat, found a semi-isolated space near her gate, and got to work. “I write something as quickly as I can, and I record it on my iPhone using the voice recorder,” Ibarra described. “I email it to them, and I think, ‘Oh my god, the quality sucks, I probably didn’t get it.'”
But she did, and the final track featured in the commercial is exactly what Ibarra threw together before hopping on that transpacific flight to Manila. Between the major TV campaign, her debut album Circa91, and an epic music video for “Us”—her song being hailed as an anthem for Filipinas everywhere—Ibarra’s star is undoubtedly on the rise.
Broadly caught up with the musician, who opened up about being a first-generation immigrant, discovering hip-hop, and making a name for herself in the male-dominated rap game.
BROADLY: Tell me about your upbringing and your journey from the Philippines to the United States.
RUBY IBARRA: My story aligns pretty much perfectly with Circa91. [We] migrated from the Philippines to the United States in 1991. I was just a baby, and we settled in the Bay Area. It was mostly my parents who were really affected by the change in location. It was such a vast difference in, you know, not just food and language but culturally, too. I remember being a kid and seeing those adversities and changes really affect my father’s and my mother’s lives. Eventually it led to their divorce and split. I think it took a toll on them mentally, and thankfully I had music to cope.
How did hip-hop come into the picture?
I was introduced to hip-hop at a very early age, around four years old at the time. One of the albums—or probably the only album, actually—that my mom packed in her suitcase was Yo! by Francis Magalona, who’s a pioneer of hip-hop in the Philippines. He was also known for being very socially and politically forward with the themes in his music. He addressed a lot of what I address in my poetry and music, like colorism—which is very prevalent in the Filipino-American community—and things like combating social and political injustice.
Read the complete profile by Mekita Rivas on Broadly.
ArtsEquator Radar features articles and posts drawn from local and regional websites and publications – aggregated content from outside sources, so we are exposed to a multitude of voices in the region.