The Pioneer

Ruby Ibarra, a female rapper from the Bay Area

Photo courtesy of Ruby Ibarra

Photo courtesy of Ruby Ibarra

Priscila Chavez,
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Bay area native makes a local stop on her Circa91 tour

On Jan. 19, Ruby Ibarra took the stage in Oakland at The New Parish as her first hometown stop on her Crica91 tour. She was wearing a yellow long-sleeved shirt that fit loose on her petite 5 foot frame and a pair of black and white Nikes that read “AIR” in bold letters all across the side of the shoe.

The crowd was already energized from opening acts that included fellow rappers G-Yamazawa, Klassy, Ro3lay and Mister Rey, but went wild as Ibarra stepped up on stage and greeted everyone.

Ibarra was born in the Philippines in the city of Tacloban. She came to the U.S. when she was four years old and settled with her family in San Lorenzo. In 2010, Ibarra released several videos on YouTube that created a stir in the music scene. They were even featured in XXL Magazine and World Star Hip Hop.

In 2015, she signed with Beatrock Music and released her debut album, “Circa91” in 2017. “We were planning to release this project, my debut album, in 2016 but it felt like that year I was spending a lot of time collecting instrumentals and making sure the production was just right,” Ibarra said.

Ibarra said her inspiration for this album was first influenced by albums like Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

“I wanted to create a project where from track one to the very last track, it read like a book or even like a movie. So I think that was the most challenging part for me, when I was writing this album, to make sure that every track had significance.”

Her album consists of 18 tracks — including skits that interlink each rap song to the next — and pays homage to early 1990s rap albums.

“Rap is, I feel, the only way that I can really have a voice,” Ibarra said. “It’s a platform that I fell in love with at an early age. I was four years old when I first heard this Filipino rapper named Frances Magalona, and from then on, I just completely fell in love with it.”

Ibarra attributes her love for hip-hop to be a natural reaction that came from growing up in the Bay Area, where some of her idols like Mac Dre and The Hieroglyphics started out as well. Hip-hop has been a part of her household and the community she grew up in.

The 24-year-old rapper grew up facing the issues that come with being an immigrant in the U.S. and experienced the struggles of being a minority in the Bay Area first hand. Her album opens up with her song “Brown Out,” which dives into the effects of whitewashing and ostracizing people of color.

“I was receiving so many emails, messages and letters from people who listened to the album,” Ibarra said. “I just put my own personal experiences into the songs, and even the skits are all based on real life events. And to know that so many people could identify with the tracks you know made me realize that these stories need to be told and there needs to be more representation and visibility.”

Not only is Ibarra currently on tour promoting her debut album and challenging immigrant prejudices, she also has a degree in biochemistry from UC Davis and currently maintains a second job as a lab-technician at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

“I have to balance my personal life while having a full-time job,” said Ibarra. “And at the same time trying to establish myself as an artist and that’s always been the difficult balance between the two.”

She recently teamed up with MasterCard this year with singer SZA as part of their Start Something Priceless campaign, which has been airing on several channels and was even featured on The Ellen Show. As part of the campaign, Ibarra is featured on two of MasterCard’s billboard ads that are on display in Times Square in New York.

Ibarra plans to continue promoting her first album by continuing a second leg of her tour starting in Honolulu and working her way through Canada.

“After that, it’s all over again,” Ibarra said. “Then it’s time to make a new project, it never stops.”

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Ruby Ibarra, a female rapper from the Bay Area