Who knew Rich Brian, a fun-loving Indonesian teenager who sounds nothing like he looks, would be one of hip-hop’s hottest new stars of 2017?
Rich Brain’s unlikely come-up in hip-hop is truly a sign of the times. Only in 2017 could a fanny pack-wearing, Rubik’s cube-loving Indonesian teenager be found rapping alongside one of the most menacing rappers from the slums of East Atlanta without a shred of parody to be found.
Oddly enough, just over a year earlier in July 2016, Brian had this to say about said East Atlanta rapper on Twitter: “If I ever came to America, 21 Savage would probably shoot the shit out of me. Just saying.” Fast forward to 2017 and he’s on a song with 21 Savage called “Crisis” that, as of late November, has over 3.5 million streams on Spotify.
That little twist of fate really sums up the strange road to hip-hop stardom for Brian, who became a viral sensation when he released his debut single “Dat Stick” on YouTube in February 2016. The song featured the endearingly nerdy-looking Brian and his crew walking around the streets of Jakarta with guns and liquor.
The kicker? His deep booming voice and shockingly hard rap flow that brought to mind some of hip-hop’s resident boogeymen from the South. It didn’t match his image at all and that was the real beauty of it. This 16-year-old kid had raw talent as a rapper despite not looking the part in any way, shape or form.
The video for “Dat Stick” amassed millions of views on YouTube and quickly became must-see content on the site. So much so that his management company, 88rising, posted a video of famous rappers reacting to “Dat Stick” in July 2016. It featured the likes of Ghostface Killah, Cam’ron, Desiigner, Tory Lanez and 21 Savage, just to name a few. Most of the artists were impressed with Brian’s flow and Ghostface loved the track so much that he even got on the remix released later that year.
Having wrapped up the North American leg of his “Come to My Party” tour, Brian performed in a slew of major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and Chicago. It was his first headlining tour with no debut album on the horizon just yet either. The rapper, whose real name is Bryan Imanuel, seems to be taking his time and building off the hype that has made him one of hip-hop’s most interesting storylines of the year.
So where does he go from here? After establishing a definite demand in the market for his music, Brian has an opportunity to really push the boundaries of traditional hip-hop and create a lane for himself outside of being a funny teenager with ambiguous ambitions of fame. Sure, he could go the Lil Dicky route and make a bunch of goofy songs about his experiences as an outsider in the genre — but that seems like a bit of a copout.
Brian can rap. There’s no denying the kid has technical proficiency behind his bars and wasting that for a few cheap laughs would be the most damaging thing he could do to his career at this point. Everyone knows he’s not a killer or savage, that’s fine. What people don’t know is just how much he can offer musically and that’s something everyone will have to wait to find out.
Words by Patrick Cwiklinski – Article updated to reflect the artist name change from Rich Chigga to Rich Brian.