Before he became Rich Brian, Brian Imanuel was just a 16-year-old Indonesian boy who had gained internet fame for his comedic Vines and tweets.
He later entered the hip-hop scene as Rich Chigga, and went viral. His controversial music video, “Dat $tick,” features Imanuel and his friends with alcohol and guns while he casually says, “n***a.” Some saw it as a mockery of hip-hop and black culture. His stage name, a mashup of “Chinese” and “n***a,” didn’t help.
With the start of the new year, Imanuel announced via Twitter that he changed his name from Rich Chigga to Rich Brian, admitting that it was a mistake and promising to more culturally sensitive. “I was naive and I made a mistake,” Imanuel said. “I now go by ‘Brian.’”
He released his first album, “Amen,” on Feb. 2, and it immediately hit number one on the iTunes Hip Hop Chart, making him the first Asian artist ever to do so. The album as a whole focuses on Imanuel’s transition from living in Indonesia to becoming an icon in the U.S.
The title and opening track is especially representative of this theme. “Amen” discusses his career and how his life has changed with it. My first impression of the song was that it was just another superficial rap song, but the lyrics were unexpectedly personal, a nice twist. His verses are genuine and unforced, making him seem much more real, all while the bass goes hard in the background. In the song, Imanuel refers to how he taught himself English by watching YouTube videos and listening to hip hop. He also reflects on the hate he’s gotten for moving away from home.
Overall, the songs in this album can be divided into two general categories – quick-paced rap songs and slower, Tyler the Creator-esque songs. “Introvert,” the fourth track, fits the second category. It features Joji, a relatively unknown artist who gained fame after coining the Harlem Shake, singing the calm, but depressing, chorus about feeling lonely and isolated. “Yeah, hole in my soul, don’t know how to fill it up/Cannot let nobody in, hopin’ that they understand.” Rich Brian sings in a slightly monotone, yet calming voice. He isn’t a very talented singer, but it works in this song. The lyrical skill that sets him apart from other rappers is showcased on this track. He effortlessly delivers his verses and even as the verses get faster, he doesn’t get too hyped.
The best song on the album is definitely “Occupied.” From the very beginning, it’s a banger. Very catchy and infectious, I caught myself nodding along without even realizing. It’s a great party song, standing out from all the other tracks, especially without a featured artist.
Next up was “Attention” featuring Offset, a low point in the album. It wasn’t horrible, but a Migos member feature calls for a certain level of expected quality, which the song just doesn’t deliver. It wasn’t special in any way and opened with a bad hook, Offset’s verse was the only even slightly enjoyable part. Rich Brian and Offset really missed the mark with this song.
I wasn’t expecting any great vocals on the album, but “Arizona,” featuring AUGUST 08, the newest addition to the 88 Rising team, proved me wrong. AUGUST’s vocals were outstanding and soothing, accompanied by Rich Brian’s smooth, flowing verse. SZA seems to have strongly influenced the song, delivering one of her more typical, relaxed feels, which is a nice conclusion to the album.
Rich Brian is able to showcase his comedic personality and skilled lyricism while still keeping “Amen” as fun and youthful as he is. Through his debut project, Imanuel proves himself to be a serious hip-hop artist, not just a basic SoundCloud rapper.