Brian Imanuel, known formerly as Rich Chigga and currently known as Rich Brian, is by no means a traditional learner. On “Amen,” the opening track of the Indonesian-born rapper’s debut studio album of the same name, Imanuel explains the alternate education that paved the 18-year-old’s already journeyed path from Jakarta to Los Angeles.
“I saw people from my school, they all turned out to be some weirdos,” raps Brian. “I don’t need no education, Internet’s my favorite teacher.”
Though planes and fame brought him to the United States, Rich Brian got here from the internet. In an interview with Alex Wong of GQ, Brian revealed that as an 11-year-old, home-school student in Jakarta he discovered YouTube and learned English from watching videos on the site. Five years later, YouTube would serve as Imanuel’s vehicle to stardom after the viral success of “Dat $tick,” a music video for a rap song featuring a vicious siren of a beat and Imanuel in a pink polo, khakis, and a fanny pack.
Fast forward another two years, and Rich Brian’s Amen is a 14-track, 44-minute pleasant plead for the validation that the artist is proving to deserve. He’s a contradiction to the archetypal rapper image, a truth Imanuel is actively attempting to reshape.
“Do the shit for the people that look like me/ So the girls can see them when they think of me,” explains Brian on “Amen”. “And not that kid that throw that fit/ ‘Cause he didn’t get straight A’s all week”.
Amen‘s highlights are SportsCenter Top 10 material. “Glow like Dat” is an undeniable good-mood-setting hit worthy of radio play. For those doubting Imanuel’s legitimacy as a rapper, Brian holds his own in a toe-to-toe bar dropping with Offset on “Attention,” “D’usse when I got no plans, sipping on it after dinner/ You say you hang with the man, I see him when I’m in the mirror.”
Though Imanuel can tend to venture into the ridiculous, with songs like “Kitty” centering around all-too-graphic recollections of Brian’s sexual experiences, he’s a strong poet of his own reality. On “Cold,” the album’s icy, second track, Imanuel lightly croons a coming-of-age tale of personal truths and vices over his own production.
“Callin’ my dad when I wanna hear some wisdom,” sings Brian as he matches voice to beat. “Callin’ my cab, alcohol up in my system/ Saw a fist fight and that shit don’t make me scared no more/ Man, I never been the one to be alone.”
A feeling of isolation continues throughout the album, and with the gorgeous “Introvert,” the melancholy continues. On the hook, Rich Brian’s 88rising label-mate Joji paints a picture of the exhaustion and complacency of depression.
“Every time I go closer to the road, leavin’ my light/ I just wanna know why I’m feeling so lonely at night,” sings Joji on a track that has a sound that would seamlessly blend into Thundercat’s Drunk. “It’s my fault, it’s my life, I’m so cold, I’m so high, get it right/ I don’t care, but I fight, we don’t lose, we just ride, let it ride.”
Imanuel’s finest syntax lays in a fleeting moment on the album’s closer, “Arizona”. “We’ve been down in Panama, within our Valentino Camouflage,” sings Rich Brian in the outro. “Lookin’ like I’m drafted, drafted/ Drafted in the war games.”
His poetic waxing, featuring words with a Frank Ocean level of potential meaning and intrigue, is immediately followed by a goofy skit in which he jokingly convinces a friend that he cried after seeing the season finale of The Office because Michael Scott dies (an event that any fan of the show knows to be false).
Rappers aren’t supposed to cry watching NBC sitcoms, but Rich Brian does, and that’s okay.