Let me tell you a story about a boy named Brian. On February 2nd, Brian Imanuel, better known as “Rich Brian”, dropped his debut project, “Amen,” featuring thirteen songs. His lyrics concern topics not uncommon in other hip-hop tracks, among which fake friends, money, and girl problems find their place, but Brian’s identity as an Asian rapper truly sets the album apart from the rest. Thanks to Amen”, Imanuel became the first Asian to reach number one on the iTunes Hip Hop Charts, and it’s not without good cause.
In the album, Rich fully steps into his role as a prominent figure in the minds of young Asian teens across the world, and seems to thrive under the pressure of representing all of Asian culture. Brian raps lyrics like, “I do this for the people that look like me, so the girls can think of me, and not that kid that throw a fit ‘cuz he didn’t get straight A’s all week.” Although the line displays some of the always present childish humor in Brian’s music, the underlying meaning of the lyric shows that Brian understands that he has the ability to change some of the stereotypes imposed on Asians around the world. And Brian isn’t only talking, or rather, rapping about it, he’s clearly showing his willingness to step fully into his position as a role model.
Brian was previously known as “Rich Chigga,” with the controversial name drawing criticism of many, viewing it as a highly inappropriate, if not racist, joke. In response, Brian made the change, saying, “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was naive and I made a mistake.” On a similar note, Brian was criticized heavily when his first song, “Dat $tick” openly used the n-word, and he has since apologized, saying, “I was trying to make people less sensitive to the word. But I realized that I’m totally not in a position to do that. So I just don’t say that anymore.” Brian is clearly showing that his status as one of the most influential Asian artists doesn’t come without responsibilities, and he’s showing he can handle everything said status entails.
It hasn’t been an easy road to the top, however. Imanuel hails from Jakarta, Indonesia, and has been homeschooled since elementary school, admitting that he had “zero” friends for a majority of his life. He recounts scarring stories about growing up in Indonesia, including scenes in which high school kids would quite literally stab one another for sport. All the English that Brian learned was learned through the social media platform YouTube, where he was also exposed to American hip hop, and fell in love. However, this is not to say Brian doesn’t proudly represent his upbringing. Through lyrics such as “Make the country proud, got the governor wearing all my clothes”, and “All I see is red and white (the Indonesian Flag)”, Brian shows that although he is not ignorant of all the problems his home country hosts, he is still very much an Indonesian through and through. In fact, Brian has referenced both through lyrics and interviews that he is not too shy to reference the levels of poverty and corruption gripping Indonesia, and wants to remind everyone he hasn’t forgotten where he grew up. Yes, it’s been a long road for the 18-year old kid who taught himself English through YouTube, but he’s clearly valued every step of the journey.
All in all, with the release of “Amen”, Brian shows the culmination of a long journey with challenges littering the pathway, but also the start of his role as one of the most influential Asian artists for years to come. The teenager not only shows off his extraordinary producing skills in the album, but with hits like “Kitty” and “Enemies” he’s shown he hasn’t lost any of the humor and charm that made us fall in love with him in the first place.
Quotations for this article came from Twitter and genius.com