Asian American participation in hip-hop takes stronger hold as emcee Ruby Ibarra drops her debut LP, Circa91, on Beatrock Music. Having released her debut mixtape in 2012 (the Kay Slay-hosted Lost in Translation), the Philippines-born, San Lorenzo, California-raised artist has also accumulated a stack of videos, high profile performances and several article-features on prominent publications, for her career catalogue. All things considered however, it is the fall of the traditional emcee in the mainstream mass-media and its continued evolution in the underground that have helped give a platform to this talented young lady from the East and West.
If you are at all familiar with Ruby Ibarra’s work, you’ll know that it is steeped in authentic rap lyricism, finely developed and filtered, and put to good use. Lost in Translation told of that tale and so does Circa91. With her spunky energy and genuine nature, Ibarra reveals the world of a young girl, now young woman coming of age, having grappled with and now working out her conformity and assimilation issues, though not necessarily to the appeasement of everyone in society mind you. This is in many ways the story of her hunt (and that of many others) for acceptance and identity in America as a member of a dark skinned ethnic minority.
Like the gem that she shares her name with, Ruby shines bright but her heart also bleeds as she relates to us the hard, complex feelings behind the immigrant experience in the US. Some anger at the setup of the system is invariably included in her speech. No matter what though, the beauty in her voice and her end-resolve nevertheless find sanctuary in her love for family and her craft. In short, her path heads toward success, simply because she shows us her real self and is more than open with her emotions. In almost exclusively discussing the clash of cultures between the native and foreign born, Circa91 does not get into much else, but as a concept album of sorts, it excels, and as a debut with flavorful guests and production not to mention important themes and sharp lyrics, it no doubt exceeds expectations and then some. (4 out of 5 stars)