Indonesian rapper Basboi on his witty yet vulnerable debut album: “My music needs to present reality”

The Medan-born, Jakarta-based rapper on new album ‘Adulting For Dummies’, which was inspired by Dave Chappelle and Kunto Aji

Coming of age in the 21st century is confusing as hell – and sometimes, all you can do is laugh about it. Just ask Basboi, the Indonesian rapper whose debut album is titled ‘Adulting For Dummies’ and opens with a rendition of the happy birthday song, delivered – tongue fully in cheek – to himself.

Baskara Rizqullah has reason to celebrate. Since its digital release on June 18, ‘Adulting’ has racked up thousands of streams, and one of its songs ‘Bismillah’ has reached the summit of Spotify Asia’s Radar Indonesia hub. The album – about Basboi’s experience as a rising rapper navigating his early 20s in Jakarta, told with levity and pathos – has also gotten support from veteran rappers Yacko, Rjay Ty and Asep Balon.

This debut has been years in the making. The conception of the album – and Basboi’s career altogether – can be traced back to his beginnings in Medan, North Sumatra in the noughties – a time when hip-hop music started gaining traction among the local youth. “Back then kids my age wanted to be a rapper as opposed to being in a band. I was specifically inspired by the local hip hop icons such as Ucok Munthe and Jere Fundamental,” he recalls to NME.

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As he relocated to Bandung, West Java in 2014 to pursue his bachelor’s degree, Basboi was exposed to international rappers, which further cultivated his interest in the genre. “I remember they released a film called Mac & Devin Go To High School and I was really into the film’s soundtrack,” he remarks of the Snoop Dogg- and Wiz Khalifa-starring movie. Basboi then dove into the Jakarta hip hop scene, finding brothers in A. Nayaka and Matter Mos – both of whom are featured on ‘Adulting For Dummies’.

In February 2019, right after he completed his higher education, Basboi decided to relocate to Jakarta and start pursuing music professionally. The first song he ever recorded, ‘Night Drive’, gave him the confidence to build a career in hip-hop music. “Once I dropped that song, I was invited to perform at a gig at this very well-established bar with Nayaka. I looked at my fellow performer and I looked at my audience, then I thought, ‘This is it. This is where I’m meant to be!’”

After the self-released EP ‘Fresh Graduate’, Dominion Records took notice of Basboi and offered him a recording contract. By that time, Basboi had already known what kind of album he wanted to make.

“When I dropped ‘Fresh Graduate’, I was still what I’d like to call ‘my development phase’,” he explains. “I was still figuring out my MC character and my rap style and the whole EP was basically a mixtape. My only purpose back then was to simply put myself out there. Cut to several months later, when I started working on ‘Adulting For Dummies’, I had figured out what kind of rapper I wanted to be.”

‘Adulting For Dummies’ is a hip-hop and rap album with a singular narrative concept: “the realities of coming-of-age”, as Basboi puts it. He even goes a step further, dismantling “the glitz and glamour of hip-hop” on tracks like ‘Make Me Doubt’, ‘i 2 i’, and ‘Make Me Proud – Remastered’ – all of which were inspired by his real-life struggle with self-loathing as he entered his 20s. “Once I got older, all I could see was my flaws and nothing else,” he explains.

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Indonesia rapper Basboi album Adulting For Dummies 2021 interview
Credit: Press

While early on Basboi was inspired by the “larger-than-life” rappers such as Wiz Khalifa, he is also fond of “emotionally naked” records such as Kunto Aji’s 2018 album ‘Mantra Mantra’. The latter even helped mould his credo as a rapper.

“I think rap is a medium – not a universal system,” he muses. “Every rapper’s life and reality are different. The concept of ‘streets’ according to Wiz Khalifa is heaven and earth compared to my concept of ‘streets’. In Indonesia, ‘streets’ means back alleys and shit – not bling-bling and gunfights.

“That’s why I fucking hate it when rappers are being pretentious and not being real,” he continues. “When I first listened to Kunto Aji’s ‘Mantra Mantra’, I was blown away by how authentic it was. That album was so emotionally naked and so vulnerable and so real. I want my music to be real, too. I want my music to completely depict who I really am: a Jakarta migrant who is still struggling in life. My music needs to present reality.”

“I looked at my fellow performer and I looked at my audience, then I thought, ‘This is it. This is where I’m meant to be!’”

The mid-tempo ‘CHING’ was the first track Basboi recorded for the album – a song that he had kept in his back pocket since his early days in Jakarta. “I believe no one in this entire world can write this song but me! And I only wanted to put this song out there once I had earned my clout.” The song was co-written and co-produced by his old friend Panji Wisnu, who performs under the stage name Mildwaves.

Basboi credits Mildwaves, who co-wrote and co-produced Basboi’s previous EP, with helping him find his sound. “He’s my homie from day one, from when I was starting out. I’d fucking die for him, man! Also, he’s a mad genius. I bet if I dragged him to a cockfight against the veteran producers out there, he would come out on top! He’s a guy from nowhere, from the dust. But none of those flashy producers can stand a chance against him.”

Mildwaves’ distinctive production can also be found on the album’s final track ‘Bismillah’, which contains elements of soul and gospel. The recording process was one of Basboi’s most treasured experiences due to the presence of Kamga – a member of Indonesian R&B group Tangga who is featured on the track. “That was my first time working with someone outside hip-hop. Also, I have watched him perform on TV ever since I was a kid, so having him in the studio was like, ‘What the fuuuuuck?!’” Basboi exclaims.

Out of the 10 tracks on ‘Adulting For Dummies’, the angry banger ‘FYI’, produced by HNATA, captures Basboi at his most inventive, evidenced by the sudden “genre switch” on the third verse from rap to jazz-pop. “The whole story is, like, ‘I respect you, but I don’t care about you!’” Basboi says. “I wanted the track to sound gritty at first, then once it enters the finale, the whole thing goes comfy. I think the production echoes what Indonesians are like: usually the crueller our words, the more polite we sound.”

“I think rap is a medium – not a universal system. Every rapper’s life and reality are different”

With ‘Adulting For Dummies’, Basboi has established what he deems his rap personality: a witty MC who can switch between English and Bahasa Indonesia with ease. The wittiness is inspired by American stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle – “comedians are usually brilliant writers, and they have rhythm too” – while the bilingual rap comes from a desire to maximise comprehension. “Most Indonesians are still far from being fluent in English,” Basboi says – so he raps in Indonesian as well, to make sure he’s understood by as many people as possible.

‘Adulting For Dummies’ was released digitally last week, but Basboi and Dominion Records are also planning to release it as an actual picture book – consisting of lyrics, a visual illustration for each track, and a QR code to access the album on selected digital streaming platforms. This decision stemmed from Basboi’s ambivalence towards traditional physical formats.

“I think CDs are stuck in between – they’re not old enough to be considered ‘vintage’, but too outdated to be considered ‘modern’. That’s why I wanted to do something very different. I think it’s a very fun campaign [to do] while God is still robbing our opportunities to perform live shows,” he quips cheekily.

‘Adulting For Dummies’ may soon become an actual book, but Basboi doesn’t ultimately see himself as a grand authority on the chaotic process that is growing up. “Nah, I just wanted to share my life experiences. Besides, what’s the harm? At least I could be of use for the world, even if it’s just a little.”

Basboi’s ‘Adulting For Dummies’ is out now via Dominion Records

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