When 17-year-old Brian Imanuel from Jakarta, Indonesia pulled on a pink polo shirt and fastened a fanny pack around his waist, he had no idea how his life was about to change.
He’d originally been planning to dress in ultra-cool fashion that day, but changed his mind last minute. Coupled with the incredibly violent lyrics he was about to deliver, he thought the contrast of “white dad” attire would provide a necessary contrast.
For the career of his rap alter-ego Rich Chigga, it was perhaps the best decision he ever made.
‘Dat $tick’, the video he created that day, would become an international success when YouTube channel 88Rising, who dedicate themselves to celebrating global Asian culture, created a short clip in which they’d record rappers - including Ghostface Killah, Cam’ron, Desiigner, Tory Lanez, 21 Savage and Flatbush Zombies - reactions to the video.
The majority of the rappers involved were taken by surprise initially, but praised Brian’s skills as a rapper. Ghostface enthusiastically demands “Let me get on that!” delivering a verse for the remix which would be released a few months later.
Since then, Brian has made it out to the US where he played a handful of headline shows, delivered features for Skrillex and Diplo, surprised Post Malone with a Mariachi band and even sat down to be interviewed by Pharrell Williams on Beats 1.
We caught up with Brian to discuss the rise of Rich Chigga…
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In your mind is Rich Chigga you or is it like an alter ego type of thing?
I think it's just like a part of me, that's like somewhere in the back of my head but I just don't show it when I'm talking to people. So it's kind of nice to say things that you're not able to in real life, to say it on a song is really cool.
When you broke through with the ‘Dat $tick’ video, a lot of the commentary surrounding it regarded the way you were dressed, with the pink polo shirt and fanny pack. What made you choose to present yourself in that way?
It was just part of the concept. At first, I was going to dress all cool and stylish and all that. Last minute I was like, "Maybe because the song sounds so serious, maybe I should do something different with the video. Maybe I should make it kind of comedic almost, but at the same time it was cool as shit so."
I thought about the polo shirt and the fanny pack - that's like the classic like white dad look - and I'm like, "Damn. If I wear that it could either completely ruin it or make it really good." I thought about it for a while and then wrote a full concept behind it. So it turned out pretty good I think.
What was the first hip-hop that you started listening to?
I started listening to hip-hop in 2012 when my first American friend introduced me to it. I mean, I heard hip-hop around before but back then I only heard super old school stuff.
In 2012 I started listening to Drake, 2 Chainz, Kanye, Macklemore, Logic and a bunch of other stuff. But the first song that I tried rapping to was actually Macklemore, ‘Thrift Shop’ and that was when my English was really bad. Learning how to rap actually improved my pronunciation a lot back then. That’s also why I really like hip-hop too and I got super deep into it.
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I wasn't trying to actually make rap songs at all, I just loved hip-hop...
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What made you progress from being a rap fan, to giving it a go yourself?
In 2012 I wasn't trying to actually make rap songs at all, I just loved hip-hop. But 2014 was when I made my first song, and that was just me fucking around using my iPhone microphone. I was rapping something that barely even rhymed over an MF DOOM beat. I'm like, "Damn, this is really fun, I should keep doing this."
I did some more. I uploaded them to a SoundCloud, and my friends liked it, so I was like, "Damn. I should start doing this seriously." I know now your references seem to be more like Tyler, The Creator, $uicideboy$, Awful Records and stuff.
When did you start getting in to that?
I started getting into that about two years ago, I think. For Awful Records, I started listening to Father first, and then I found him through this song ‘Nokia’ that he did with iLoveMakonnen. Tyler, ‘Yonkers’, I guess we were deep into that and just the whole Odd Future and Earl Sweatshirt, it was just so cool to me. $uicideboy$, I found them through Pouya.
What is the hip-hop scene like in Indonesia?
For the mainstream stuff now, Kanye, Drake, and all that stuff, a lot of people listen to that here. But the people who listen to the rare stuff, the more underground stuff, is very small. Hip-hop is still super small over here, I can tell it's definitely getting bigger though.
A few of my friends told me that since ‘Dat $tick’ blew up, Indonesian people are more in to hip-hop now. EDM is currently the biggest thing here right now, it's really fucking annoying. But people are definitely starting to get into hip-hop more.
I guess one of the videos that put a lot of people onto your music was the 88 Rising clip where different rappers reacted to watching ‘Dat $tick’. How was the experience of watching that?
That was really crazy. Especially seeing Ghostface. I listen to all of them; Flatbush Zombies, that was also crazy. But having Ghostface saying that he wants to get on that song is the craziest thing that ever happened to me. I was so excited, I called my mom. That was a crazy time. It was like all of my idols criticising my stuff. And they liked it.
Even though Ghostface said that, it was still a surprise when he actually kept his word and delivered a verse for the remix… It was so fast. After that video, he sent the verse super fast. I was like, "Woah, what the fuck. That was quick." It's so crazy to hear his voice on the ‘Dat $tick’ beat because before that, I was just getting in to him. Getting in to Wu-Tang Clan.
Every day I try to find new music on YouTube mostly. If I do get in to something, I get in to it for like weeks and months. I was just getting in to Wu-Tang stuff, and that was crazy.
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Writing real stuff is what gives you character. It's what makes you different.
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I know that you're a big fan of Pouya also, how did he get involved in the remix?
Pouya was crazy. When I released the original ‘Dat $tick’ video, my plan was to get his attention on Twitter and then have him follow me. And it actually happened. After ‘Dat $tick’, he found me and he followed me.
I DM#d him like, "Yo, we're doing this remix and Ghostface Killah is going to be on it. Do you want to be on it?" And he was like, "Hell yeah, man."
He got on it, and then I also told him that whole plan of how I wanted him to follow me, and he was like, "Shit, I'm glad your plan worked out, man." He's a super nice guy.
It seems like you really go back and do your homework. Obviously there’s been a lot of debate lately around whether up-and-coming artists need to know their history, do you think that’s important?
I don't think it's important. I feel like at least if you're going to call yourself a rapper, or if you want to do hip-hop, the least you could do is respect them. That's the least you could do. Don't talk shit about them, basically, is all I'm saying.
I'm not going to say I know all the old school shit that people like. I definitely respect them. There's always been this notion of “keeping it real” in hip-hop, that's been diluted as years have gone by.
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Don't talk shit about them, basically, is all I'm saying.
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Do you think that that's irrelevant now?
‘Dat $tick’ was just me fucking around, to be honest. I just cared about it sounding good. I wasn't really paying attention to the lyrics that much and I just thought at the time. I listened to a lot of gangsta rap and violent lyrics, so that's kind of what influenced me. Now, I kind of want to stay away from that.
Sometimes when I write stuff I kind of want to make it fictional, but at the same time there's kind of a thin line between fictional rap and trying to be hard rap. Sometimes I also just want to write real stuff. Just write what I'm thinking in my head.
Writing real stuff is what gives you character. It's what makes you different. For other people. The stuff that I'm writing now is definitely not going to be about violent shit or 'fuck the police' because that's not what I'm about at all.
People always seem genuinely really surprised that you're a good rapper, which feels bittersweet, because why should you not be? How do you feel about that?
I think I understand. That's actually kind of the whole point of the video, because the way I look, the way I dress up too. I’m also like skinny as shit; It's definitely understandable that they think that way.
That's kind of what I was thinking, too, when I wrote the concept, "Damn. If I do this, I bet they're going to be not expecting it." Yeah, having them say that, it kind of makes me happy that it works.
Moving forward, what do you want people to be able to take from Rich Chigga?
With the music that I make I really want people to feel emotions. I'm not going to be writing all emotional stuff, but I want to make something interesting. I don't want to be the same as everyone, definitely. I want to make something that people can turn up to, and I also want to make stuff that can make people cry, because that's the best type of music.
I want to make people feel emotions with everything that I do. If I'm making a short film, or videos, or music, or comedy stuff. I just like making people feel a certain way. Just leaving an impression. That's an important thing to me, leaving an impression. Making them come back.
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Words: Grant Brydon