By Mike A. Bryan
Rich Chigga, born Brian Imanuel, made a name for himself in early 2016 when his breakout hit “Dat $tick” became a viral sensation on YouTube, garnering over 80 million views. Following a popular reaction video featuring a number of famous rappers, a remix with Ghostface Killah helped make “Dat $tick” earn certified gold by the RIAA. With his most recent outing, he has changed his name to Rich Brian, having matured a bit since coming onto the scene two years ago.
A native of Indonesia, but of Chinese heritage, he is not the typical raised-by-the-streets rapper: his father is a lawyer, he was homeschooled, and he taught himself English. Brian is a true DIY creative type, writing and producing dark comedy videos for the now-defunct Vine, promoting himself through Twitter, teaching himself how to produce music and rap, and working in film in Los Angeles, all before deciding to focus on his rap career. This focus produced his debut album, “Amen,” that just dropped at the beginning of February.
Historically, Rich Brian has not been considered a serious rapper, but this new project has a more serious direction. With features by Offset of Migos, Joji, NIKI, and AUGUST 08, Brian produced or co-produced all of the tracks on the new album. In the past year, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and the famous music interviewer Nardwuar have all featured the up-and-coming rapper; he also won “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” in Indonesia in 2017. All that being said, the album should more likely be classified as a mixtape—it has some of the hallmarks of a debut release, namely a guest spot by the famous Migos rapper Offset, but has no noticeable connecting theme between the songs.
Rich Brian has a strangely monotone, deep voice, that lends itself well to rap. The best material on the album is semi-autobiographical. At the same time, other tracks try to maintain the trap upbringing of his breakout single. Straddling the two worlds, he raps about taking Lyfts and using AirBnB’s while other tracks are completely misogynistic and braggadocios. It is obvious that Rich Brian is trying to distance himself from the more problematic “Rich Chigga,” but he seems reluctant to leave his former image behind completely. While it is admirable that he is so involved in the production of his songs, much of it is highly derivative of other producers like Mike WiLL Made-It. Overall, there are some surprising sonic moments, including the xylophone synths on “Occupied” and the dramatic choruses on the last track, “Arizona.”
Rich Brian is not breaking any new ground on his first major release, but it should delight his current fans. Whether or not it will bring him any new fans remains to be seen. Perhaps he will continue to mature and distance himself from the problematic image of “Rich Chigga”—we can hope for that, at least. In the meantime, “Amen” will suffice as a breakout rap star’s first album.