Rich Brian is the Indonesian teen living the rap dream in LA
88rising are shaking up the rules of record label behaviour while bringing Asian culture to new audiences worldwide. This week we're getting to know their artists, starting with rising star Brian Imanuel.
This article originally appeared in The Sounding Off Issue, no. 350, Winter 2017.
Brian Imanuel was a homeschooled meme-making teen, spending most of his time alone in his bedroom in Jakarta, Indonesia, tweeting to the world. Then he dropped the video for Dat $tick under the moniker of Rich Brian, and became a bona fide rap star meeting his musical icons and living it up in LA. He’s still only 18, though if it weren’t for all the giggles you wouldn’t know it – his voice is deeeeeep. Here, we get to know the 88rising star.
What’s it like living in LA? I think it might be the best place on earth, everyone I work with is great, the weather is amazing. Every day I walk out of my house and I’m like, ‘Oh wow this is where I live now!’ It’s very surreal.
Do you miss Indonesia? I miss it for sure. When I’m there I’m seeing all my friends and then nothing else really matters anymore... I mean, it does, but it’s just like a different world basically. It’s really weird. But I love going back and forth.
Do you have fans stopping you in the street? Yeah! I’m getting used to it now. I know some people don’t like it, but I think it’s nice.
And you’ve been in that fanboy position, getting to meet the rappers you admire. Who’s the person you’ve been most excited to meet? Yeah, I’ve met loads of great people, but I’ve still not met Tyler, the Creator or Childish Gambino.
You got to talk to Tyler on the phone though… I did! It was really weird.
You told Pharrell that you’re done with relationships, but he seems to have talked you round. He did, I mean, I don’t have a girlfriend but there is someone who I met this one time and I was just like, ‘Oh my god what the fuck!’ At the time I’d never met anybody that was worth [it] but when I met this girl it was like, ‘Holy shit, I’m never gonna meet anyone like you for the next 20 years, probably.’ So, yeah!
You probably will, but it’s nice that you think that. What do your parents think about your success? It must be hard for them being in Indonesia with you being so far away now. Yeah, they worry, but they’ve been a lot a more supportive than I thought they would be. Support from my parents is really important, so I’m very grateful. They’re excited. My dad is on Twitter and he doesn’t even follow me but he looks my name up every day to see people tweeting about me, and he looks up hashtags of me on Instagram.
You’ve said previously that you planned to build a following on Twitter and then post your work on there. And it totally worked. What’s your guide to getting big on Twitter? Oh, that’s a good question. I think you gotta be yourself. I mean, back then I was just making memes, but at the end of 2015 I changed my whole thing to posting more videos and pictures of myself and then people knew me as the comedy skit dude. It’s just doing original stuff, you gotta be funny. I don’t have to tweet all the time [anymore] because I’ve built it out now. But back then I was definitely tweeting all fucking day. Indonesia is in the opposite time zone to America, so during the day I was writing all these jokes and making these memes and then posting them at night. It got to the point where I would wake up at 6am and go on my phone and tweet something and have it be really good and get lots of retweets... and then I would wake up, because it was actually a dream, I would wake up with my hand holding nothing – an air phone. It was insane.
You were dream tweeting! That’s dedication. Dat $tick has 66 million views now, is that hard to get your head around? It’s pretty crazy. I don’t really think about anything like that, which is going on in my life, because if you think about it it gets to your head. So I’m trying to live my life like a normal human being.
Before that you hadn’t put out music, you were just doing lol videos. I just thought it was going to be like one of my comedy skits, just a one-time thing – but then I ended up getting really into music. When I five years old I used to play the drums. I had a family band with my brother and sister. It was Christian rock. A Christian cover band! I think maybe my dad has a couple of videos from when I was a kid somewhere.
You’re in a position to be able to highlight Indonesia and its people. Is that something you feel pressure to do? I definitely don’t feel pressure. There are good things about Indonesia, but there are bad things about it that I hope can be fixed. And also people don’t really know I’m from Indonesia and that there’s bad shit happening over here.
You’ve shied away from talking about being defined as an “Asian rapper”, but that’s always going to be something people point out. It’s important for kids to see someone who looks like them carving his own path. I definitely acknowledge that and I think it’s super great. I remember in Indonesia there was this actor in a film that got pretty big internationally and he went to Hollywood. Seeing an Indonesian guy doing that when I was 13 or 14, it really motivated me. And now people come up to me and tell me I motivate them – kids at a young age that look like me. It’s very heartwarming, it’s amazing. I think it’s the greatest thing ever, it’s one of the things that keeps me going.
Is your album going to drop soon? Hopefully yeah. It’s gonna be out before this year ends. I’m experimenting with other stuff. Coming up with melodies is the most fun thing for me. I’m excited by my life and my experiences of being in America, coming from Indonesia. It’s gonna be more real life stuff. It came very naturally once I started writing. I have a few collaborations that I can’t talk about yet, but I’m excited.
Text Clementine de Pressigny
Photography Cameron McCool
Styling Mar Peidro