Close your eyes and listen to a Rich Brian track. Open them and it’s a surprise to see a young Asian guy rapping in a neat polo shirt and bumbag. With rare Asian representation in rap, it’s a case of ‘he looks nothing like he sounds’.
Rich Brian, a.k.a Rich Chigga, ak.a. Brian Imanuel is a kid wonder. The 18 year old from Jakarta, Indonesia, is of Chinese descent and taught himself English from Youtube as little as 8 years ago. He started out doing comedy rap videos and got his big break with the music video Dat $tick (94 million views). He is now so big he’s performed on The Late Late Show with James Corden, has 1 million Instagram followers and even recorded with Pharell and got a Ghostface Killa remix.
Dat $tick was released under the name ‘Rich Chigga’, a name Brian now wants to distance himself from. “And you don’t wanna f**k with a chigga like me, When I pull up in that Maserati.” – Dat $tick. A Chigga is slang for a person of Chinese descent who embraces black urban culture. Rap to Brian is now no joke, and he wants to take the rap game seriously.
With the release of his debut album ‘Amen’, he has certainly moved from playacting to the real deal. He has great lyrical flow and a smooth, relaxing timbre. He even got cameos on his album from heavyhitters like Migo’s Offset and 21 Savage. He raps about Jakarta life, his own ‘Jakarta State of Mind’ as such. In an interview with JAM’N 95.7FM, Brian said he celebrated the album release with a glass of water and wants to work with Childish Gambino. You won’t see him doing a cringe parody of ‘This is America’ anytime soon though!
Flying sushi with 80s computer graphics on the big screen greeted me at The Powerstation when I came to see young Brian himself. Not sure if the graphics were trying to play on the Asian theme? Sushi is Japanese!
R&B singer NIKI had just played and DJ Don Krez was on decks hyping up the crowd. Brian then emerged rapping ‘Seventeen’ to his screaming fans. “How the f**k are you Auckland?” We got the old call-and-response hip hop trope, I say Rich, you say Brian, Rich, Brian. “Who is under 18? Who is over 18?” he asked. The whole upper balcony went wild with adoring teens, and the slightly chiller over 18’s raised a glass below.
He got the ball rolling again with his remix of Diplo track ‘Bankroll’ and did a nice lead-in with weather banter for ‘Cold’. “Who’s thirsty?” he asked. Instead of spraying the crowd, he started handing out full bottles of water, and someone screamed, “you’re such a nice guy!!!”
He then asked everyone to get out the torches on their phones and segwayed into ‘Glow em Lit.’ I recognised the song from the psychedelic sunflower background of his popular music video. He then slid into two more tracks, including ‘See Me’. To be honest some of his tracks sounded a bit too similar to each other.
Brian asked the crowd what he should do in Auckland. Someone said “Sky Tower!!” He was like “Clock Tower?” Then asked, “What should do I do there?” Someone screamed, “Jump off it!” Brian looked disheartened, like it was as a dig to ‘go jump’. I don’t think he realised it’s a tourist thing to jump off …We do love you Brian!
Then came the pièce de résistance! Dat $tick! I actually got goosebumps. He is good, really good. Other rappers tend to agree in a viral vid of them assessing the track.
The crowd screamed “encore!” and he played the full song again. What was funny though, was the DJ coming out and dancing at the front like he was the centrepiece of the track!
We bid Brian goodbye and I headed to the girls loos. It gave me a bit of a barometer reading about the gig. I overheard, “Such a good show!”, “It was a bit short.”, “He’s such a good c**t”. Some hardened girls commended the chill vibe of the show, happy they weren’t jostled around. “At Post (Post Malone), I got punched in the face twice.” Another girl said she had gone to Drake’s hotel after his show…I’m not a groupie though”, she added.
There was a massive queue for the merch after the show, everyone wanted to take home a piece of Rich Brian. Me too, I’m now a fan and added him on Instagram. I’m convinced he’s a truly talented boy-man. The Fresh Prince of Jakarta (thanks Forbes) is definitely stiff competition to my other comedy rap fave about to play at the Powerstation…Lil Dicky, watch out!