Indonesian rapper shows his serious side

Indonesian rapper Rich Brian, whose real name is Brian Imanuel, is flying the flag high for rap music coming out of the region.

On his second album The Sailor, the 19-year-old displays an assuredness not seen on his previous album, Amen (2018).

He is better known for his goofiness - at one time, he had the rap moniker of Rich Chigga and made a low-budget music video for his 2016 breakout song Dat $tick. So it takes a while to get used to this more serious side of him as he shows off a versatility beyond that of a rapper.

On Yellow, he claims his Asianness over a dreamy, psychedelic arrangement with lyrics like: "Don't fight the feeling 'cause I'm yellow/ Will I make it? Who the hell knows?/You want my soul but we don't sell those."

Better known for his deadpan rapping, he unexpectedly sings throughout the track - over lush, cinematic strings that take his sound in a completely different direction. It is probably the best he has ever sounded.

Kids, a Jay-Z-style success anthem, comes complete with horns and triumphant lyrics: "Victorious tropical flow comin' straight from Indo." Listen to the teenager's rallying cry: "Tell these Asian kids they could do what they want/Might steal the mic at the Grammys just to say we won/That everyone can make it, don't matter where you from."

Several tracks feature classical instrumentation and strong hip-hop and pop melodies, but the middle of the album sags under the weight of weaker, trap-laced tracks like Confetti and the moody numbers Vacant and No Worries.

  • HIP-HOP

    THE SAILOR

    Rich Brian

    88 Rising

    Rating: 3.5 Stars

Then there is the bad rap-pop of 100 Degrees, a throwaway and radio-friendly number that belies the progress he has made as an artist.

The Sailor is not a perfect album, but the young rapper might well make captain yet.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2019, with the headline 'Indonesian rapper shows his serious side'. Print Edition | Subscribe