By: Claudia Siregar, Patricia Kusumaningtyas, Ralka S |
ENVY* is a distinct voice in the Indonesian music scene. In a scene dominated by solo rappers, this collective, consisting of five rappers (Anima/Aldo Kusuma, Fat B/Bertrand Madani, Isiiah/Alija David Ibrahim, Hazy Dael/Darryl Hitipeuw, Quest/Parama Surya), one producer (Maliboo/Geovanni Bregas), one manager (Mr. Manager Shiayo/Arif Yosia Pakpahan), and one sound engineer/rapper (Don O’Deelio/Adeelio Kauthar), is a significant player inside the scarcity of Indonesian hip hop collectives.
Their debut album, NO WONDER WE HAVE NO FRIENDS, feels like a collection of odes to the outcasts. “Judging by the looks of it / We’re outlaws / Refusing to go by the ways of the society,” rapper Isiiah mentioned in the title track. The album is a smorgasbord of sounds and styles, marrying classic and contemporary hip-hop—starting from the 90s hip hop feel in “I AIN’T GOING BACK!,” whispers over beats in “FACTS,” and traditional instruments in “SONGOFTHEYEAR.” Full of pop culture references from Donnie Darko to Anthony Fantano, this album respects its influences while, at the same time, building a new idea of their own. ENVY is not afraid to explore the sides of themselves they usually keep private, from financial anxieties in “GET MONEY” to self-doubt and self-hate in “DEAR, MOM.”With their innovation, catchy music, and idiosyncratic message, ENVY* is on their way to becoming a major voice in the Indonesian hip hop scene. The Speedofsoundmag team talked to ENVY* about NO WONDER WE HAVE NO FRIENDS, self-expression, and the t-slur.
Hello, we’re from Speed of Sound mag! Congratulations on your debut album, “No Wonder We Have No Friends”! How does it feel to finally release your debut album?
Maliboo: Let’s give a big round of applause to us all. How did you all feel?
Hazy Dael: Relieved. I was feeling nervous before the album was released. It’s been our work for this past year, so there’s some doubts about whether we’ll be accepted or not. I had some worries about it. I can’t really do anything to alter the album once it’s released; I can only accept anything that listeners say about the album.
Fat B: I myself felt happy; relieved that finally we have something to show other people.
What are the kinds of music you are listening to while creating this album?
All: Different kinds of things.
Quest: Different and constantly changing, I guess? This process takes a year and there are lots of new releases and new discoveries during the year, and we listen to a lot of music. There are different styles to different members of ENVY*.
Is there anything in common? Maybe, one or two artists?
All: [giggles] BROCKHAMPTON lmao.
Quest: There are three in general: Jibs, BROCKHAMPTON, and Odd Future.
Your influences lean mostly to rap group, however, household names in Indonesian rap are mostly solo artists. Do you think there will be an emergence of rap groups in the local music scene?
Quest: When I’m thinking about collectives, Onar is one you should look out for. Besides that, we can only think of small names, something like Mad Cult. Do any of you have any other references? It’ll be great if we’d have more local collectives in the future.
Shiayo: There should be.
All, giving their references: Brockhampton, odd future, JPEGMAFIA, Injury reserve, nas, A$AP, oh don’t forget Wu-Tang, then etc.
Quest: I think there should be more than that but we don’t really know a lot. We’re close to collectives like Madt Cult and Onar.
Compared to ENVY*’s last EP, “WHOCARES,” it seems like this album is more experimental.
Quest: Not really, probably since we have more tracks in this release.
It feels more no chill, I would say. Did you mean for this album to feel more experimental? Is there a lot more sound explorations happening?
Quest: I’ve felt like I’ve evolved through the creation of this album. Before this album I felt like I’m not much of an experimental person, but I kept on growing and learning. This album is not solely based on my skills, but it’s based on my development. So that’s probably the reason why you think this album has a lot of experimentation; I learn every day in the making of every song.
What are the things you’ve learned from your growth process?
Quest: ENVY* consists of five rappers, a producer, a manager and a sound engineer. As rappers, if you’re talking about experimentation and sound exploration, we always refer to our producer since he’s the one who produces the beats.
Hazy Dael: Maliboo is the music’s architect—I think he’s more qualified to answer this question.
Maliboo: Yes, we have five rappers with different backgrounds, different tastes in music. Thus, I have to find that middle point of their differ references.
Quest: Yea, He sets the adjustments to us all.
Maliboo: If everyone in this group follows the same references, I’ll just say “here’s the beat we’re working on, it’s simple,” and everyone would agree. That’s not the case. I usually would make one beat, and even though one member would jump into it, the other would be like, “I’m not really feeling this.” I try my best to find the best compromise for all the members.
Hazy Dael: Also, if we’re not experimenting with the beats and the music, we’re just going to be the same like others i guess. It’s going to be the same music all over again.
Do you discuss your ideas before you record or do you discuss during recording? How long is the discussion process, usually?
Quest: I think it’s both. It depends. In this album, we have twelve songs, and the treatment for each song differs. Some of them only came into shape in the studio. Say, our skits: we only wrote the scripts for them in the studio, while recording and editing it. And there are some songs like “DEAR, MOM.” where Maliboo would bring the beat and we would discuss what we want to talk about in the song. Even though the end result might differ from what we planned and some of us would bring our spontaneity to the track, there’s a discussion process beforehand.
Anima: There’s no set time for planning, it’s more like small discussions before execution. The longer process is the post-process; we experiment more in the pre-recording process. We do a lot more discussion post-recording—things like which one should we stick with and which one should we scrap.Are there any songs that didn’t make the cut?
All: [looking to each other] Well, there is haha.
Hazy Dael: It’s actually my favorite song, dammit.
Quest: There’s another one that didn’t make the cut—he wrote and recorded it, but for some reason the rest of us can’t really dive into the beat, so, yeah, oh well.Is there a subliminal message you want to deliver in your album?
Isiiah: Not really. We’re an open book.
Therefore, the title? “No Wonder We Have No Friends”? [laughs]
Quest: [laughs] True! You definitely can feel the vibes.
Something that I’m curious about while listening to your music is your use of the slur “tiko.” It’s a word that’s rarely discussed in the mainstream; all I know is that word exists and it’s a slur. Why did you guys choose this word especially and what’s the relevance here?
Quest: Maybe someone who uses this word most often could explain? Dael?
Hazy Dael: Tiko is a slur from more privileged people, I guess. From non-Indonesians. From my understanding. It stands for “tikus kota” (city rat). By using that word, I’m expressing my pride for being Indonesian, and I think the word is vulgar enough to be used in our songs, I know that not a lot of people use that word. For me, using the word is to give a little bit of exposure towards myself and my own identity.
Is there a reclaiming of the word when you guys are using it?
Hazy Dael: Well, it only comes down to the fact that we’re tikos.
Fat B: And the word is not necessarily negative.
Isiiah: As long as you don’t give any power to the word.
Quest: I think what’s not okay is when you use the word to degrade others. Personally, I don’t give power to the word ‘tiko’ whenever I say it in songs, it’s just that I’m crafting something and using the word to add a wholeness to my craft.
Hazy Dael: And we can’t say the n-word, so.
And maybe when you say you’re proud of being Indonesian, maybe we can relate that to cultural identity. Have you ever thought of promoting your culture through the album?
Quest: I don’t think so, personally. I grew up listening to BAP. I think, without him, we’ll be the only people using the t-word. I’m truly inspired by him, that’s why I’m also using that word. But if you’re asking about intrinsic meanings, I don’t think there is.
Isiiah: PSA. Public service announcement. Local artists mainly need to stop using the n-word. It’s not cool.
Quest: It’s not cool, even though you get an n-word pass, whatever that is.
Hazy Dael: Rappers from the United States use the n-word since, I think, they’re turning something negative into power; they’re reclaiming it. And the influence reaches the local hip hop scene, however, we can’t say the n-word because we have different contexts. Personally, I’m changing ‘tiko’ into something empowering for me.
When you’re talking about racism and empowerment, do you believe in sympathetic racism—when people say “I’m not racist, I have black friends” and something similar to that? The most recent case is Agnes Monica and her appropriation of Papuan culture; it’s taking a culture that is less dominant and more oppressed and using it to be recognized as cool. What is your stance on cultural appropriation and sympathetic racism? And do you think it’s a subliminal message in your album?
Quest: Hmm, for me personally, I don’t see it as a subliminal message. We’re just about creating stuff. If you ask me something like that, I don’t really relate to that and I don’t really explore that. We try to stay away from these kinds of politics and issues because this is something very serious. We’re not that smart [laughs] so we don’t want to run our mouths on something we don’t know. This topic is not really something we want to dig in our music.
Hazy Dael: Not necessarily from the album, but personally, I just use ‘tiko’ as empowerment.
Do you feel like you want to crush the power relations/imbalance between racial differences?
Hazy Dael: A little bit, but I want myself to feel like, “This word isn’t gonna hurt me,” you know? It’s more like, “I’m not scared to say it as well.”
Quest: When people throw that word jokingly, I completely understand. It’s all based on the context in which that word is used. When it’s used jokingly, I just laugh; it’s all cool.
Hazy Dael: It’s okay for me personally, as long as you don’t use it for…
Hazy Dael: If the person uses it to degrade me, I’ll be like, “What the fuck do you mean?” But if it’s for fun, something like “Y’all tikos are crazy,” it’s fine for me.
Quest: The thing is, it’s empowerment. There are no boundaries as long as you’re filled with positivity. If you use it to degrade others, it’s not cool. It’s outdated.
It’s all a matter of interpretation.
How do you feel in this album exposing your weird side? Usually, when you think about rap music, you think about lyrics like, “I’m rich, I have a lot of girls”…
Don O’Deelio: …flexing.
Yes, flexing! And on the other hand, in your music, you’re portraying the fact that you’re…
Something like that. So, how does it feel to expose that side of yours, and how did you make the decision to expose that side of yourselves? Did you have any insecurities regarding to that choice?
Quest: Yes. So much. Did any of you come to our release party at Three Buns? We made a listening party in the middle of the city, in SCBD, and we’re thinking, “Who the fuck are you?” We’ve only been rapping for a year with only one album, and suddenly we’re having a release party in the middle of the city with lots of attendees. Meanwhile, we’re telling them all that we’re broke as fuck. We’re exposing all these sides of us and to be honest, I felt very nervous. It’s one thing that we try so hard to conquer and maybe that’s why we mostly answered “relief” to your question on how we felt after releasing the album—the fact that there’s people out there who can accept our weirdness, our imperfections.
Hazy Dael: Well, from me, I listen to a lot of rap music that emphasizes flexing, but it’s easier to listen to relatable music, which goes like, you know, most people have to work and grind for what they have to earn, or music from someone showing off what they’ve earned from long days of working, something like that. I think most people would relate to music that goes like “So, yeah, I was broke,” and tells a story of their struggles and hardships. People would relate more towards that area, compared to music that goes like, “I got money, I got bitches.”
Fat B: When we’re making songs, we usually think together what topics we want to bring to the table. The magic does not only lie in the spontaneity; there’s always a topic we would agree on.
So you guys view your music as a form of…
Quest: …self expression.
Yes, but have you ever thought of you music as a form of evangelism for people who’ve walked the same path as you did?
Quest: I would love our music to be a form of evangelism. But, at the same time, you can’t force that.
Hazy Dael: I would say yes to self expression, but for evangelism, it all depends on our listeners and their experiences.
Quest: If we ever make it as evangelists, I would be very happy.
Anima: There are some people who remember the lyrics we write, which means they pay attention to our writing.
Hazy Dael: That’s evangelism. Forreal.
Anima: Maybe people will know our lyrics through, for instance, catchy hooks, but sometimes it’s a gateway for them to look deeper into the lyrics.
Do you think that making relatable music is one of your goals, or do you lean more on self expression?
Fat B: Depends, based on our goals. Are our goals different?
Quest: Overall, if you were to ask whether ENVY*’s music is self-expression or relatability, we’re leaning more on self-expression. I wouldn’t think of our music to be easily relatable. For instance, if you’re listening to a more relatable band, like Tuan Tiga Belas, who just released a song about Sumatran tigers and their decreasing population—that’s definitely relatable to Indonesians. We’re writing about stuff far from people’s consciousness, what do you guys think? What are some lyrics with less relatability?
Maliboo: “We don’t like your clothes,” something like that.
Quest: We write songs that go like, “What the fuck are you doing?”
Including “BRONCCO,” right? “Don’t like me, you’re free to go.”
Fat B: Yes! Haha definitely.
Hazy Dael: When we’re doing recording in the studio and Bregas is making his beats, we would listen to him and some of us would write on the spot. We decide on a topic and we all write whatever we’re feeling at the moment. Sometimes it takes more time to write but most of the time, that’s how it goes.
In “GET MONEY,” you all refer to pesos as money. Why are you using this currency for this song, rather than rupiahs or dollars?
Quest: Just a slang for money, I guess.
Isiiah: Sometimes it’s also a slang in hip hop used for money, isn’t it?
Fat B: Pesos sounds cool instead of dollars.
Quest: I’m pretty sure not a lot of people know pesos too, right?
Shiayo: It’s probably subliminal too, maybe we want to… go… international… hahaha!
There’s a song in your album, “ENVY* 2099,” which is a skit describing the current generation and their mental health; are you expressing yourself or is it satire?
Anima: Yes, it’s satire. We made it on the spot too.
Isiaah: It’s one of the scripts we made on the spot; we’ve made almost all of the songs and we realized that we don’t have a skit, we don’t have an interlude.
Quest: We love listening to cinematic albums.
Maybe like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”?
Quest: Maybe, but for us is more like Tyler, the Creator’s stuff. In Tyler’s albums you can hear a lot of skits where he just talks to himself or crafts conversations. It raises curiosity to his listeners.
Isiaah: We reference a vintage advertisement for “ENVY* 2099.” I think it was an advert for an Indian painkiller.
Quest: It’s more like, “If you don’t have friends, just listen to our album.”
[We asked a few followup questions to the collective, below.]
You referenced Anthony Fantano in “FUEGO,” who just gave a Strong 0 to Chance the Rapper’s new album. How influential is music criticism to the local hip hop scene?
Shiayo: We think it’s pretty influential, since a lot of people spend a lot of time on websites like YouTube and Instagram, and if you’re a hip hop head and your favorite hip hop artist is reviewed somewhere, you’ll be interested for sure and you’ll follow the link. Maybe the real influence we can see is when people judge first based on the review without listening to the album, so it’s a bad thing. But on the other hand, these reaction videos can be a trigger to listen to the album, and the amount of streams is a great metric to figure out our exposure.
In a few songs, you incorporate a mix of classic hip hop (especially in “GET MONEY” and “I AIN’T GOING BACK!”) and modern hip hop. Is this a challenge, since you mentioned that you’re reconciling your differences in music taste?
Shiayo: Bregas didn’t mean to incorporate classic hip hop and modern hip hop, he’s just producing whatever that’s good and original. And I think, and so does the others, it’s a great thing. Maybe to reconcile our differences, we’re all united by hip hop. Whenever we listen to any hip hop song, we all bang our heads.
When you guys go international, do you have an obligation to represent Indonesia in the international music scene?
Shiayo: There are lots of great hip hop artists who went international, including people like Rich Brian. I don’t think there’s an obligation for us. But it’ll be great to represent Indonesia in the international music scene.
In “SEE YOU IN OUR NEXT LIFE,” you incorporate verses degrading each of your members, but you fight that off with verses of empowerment. How do you guys find empowerment in your lives, especially in music?
Shiayo: There’s a lot on that since there are eight of us, but from what I notice, the greatest empowerment is when the eight of us all hang out together, since we can talk about everything and, yea basically we’re all on the same energy and vibe altogether, then if we have worries we just talk it out and some of us would tell what they think or feel, to get us back on our feets again. We’re all outcasts, and when we meet each other, we’ll feel good to go, you know.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity and translated from Indonesian.