RICH BRIAN WANTS TO “INSPIRE THE S**T OUT OF PEOPLE”
words by John Kennedy
Rich Brian is oscillating in an office chair at XXL‘s Manhattan headquarters. He’s set to release his first full-length project, Amen, in 10 days, and he’s sharing an early listen with the staff. He plays an unfinished version of the Offset-featured track “Attention,” and midway through, the Migos member pays homage to his host.
“No tick tock, Rolex watch, plain Jane, keepin’ it simple/Young rich nigga, in the trap with Rich Chigga,” Offset rhymes, making reference to the controversial, racial moniker that the 18-year-old artist born Brian Imanuel changed on New Year’s Day 2018. Still reclined in the chair, Rich Brian, swallowed by a black, down-filled bubble coat, insists the lyric will be updated as to omit his former alias.
“We didn’t actually need to re-record anything,” Brian tells XXL of Offset’s verse one week later, phoning in from Los Angeles. “We just edited the vocal and then it sounded like he was saying something else.” [Ed note: “Rich Chigga” was changed to “rich niggas.”] Rich Brian is intent on turning over a new page in his young career, and that shift goes beyond just his stage name. The artist who first made waves in 2016 via the viral parody trap record “Dat $tick” has pivoted toward creating music that’s more serious than satirical in nature.
The artistic shift came as Rich Brian prepared to drop Amen (out now), a record that he says details how his life has changed since his migration from Indonesia to America—and all of the new experiences that have come along with that. This includes his newfound celebrity status, which he encounters head-on during his interview with XXL, as he’s mobbed by fans asking for photos near his Hollywood Airbnb rental (he obliges). And he’s marking milestones in the process. With Amen, Rich Brian became the first solo Asian artist to reach No. 1 on iTunes Hip-Hop/Rap chart.
XXL spoke with Rich Brian about Amen, transitioning into a new sound and his plans beyond music.
XXL: On the Amen song “Occupied,” you rap, “I should probably go delete all of my old tracks.” What does that lyric mean to you?
Rich Brian: That was when I was still trying to find my sound. I had no idea what I wanted to do and the kind of music that I wanted to make. I had a point where every track it’d be really easy to hear another artist make a song just like that. And I just wanted to delete those tracks. But at one point, I finally found my tempo and I was like, “OK, this is what I want to do.” It definitely took me a little bit to know what I wanted to write about. It was a process of finding myself and thinking about which sides I wanted to show to people. There were probably six or seven songs that didn’t make it to the project that were during the time that I was in that phase.
Was that during the time when you were trying to find a middle ground between comedic raps and more serious content?
It’s not really about being serious or being comedic. I just love making people laugh. To me, it’s just being witty. There are people that rap who just have really funny lines in their songs. Even Kendrick Lamar or Kanye [West]. That’s what I’ve been doing. I say funny stuff in my songs sometimes, but it’s still all in the seriousness of the music and the craft.
You learned how to produce while you were making this album, yes?
I learned how to produce about a year ago. Making music became a lot more natural to me because you can come up with a new idea, lay it down and start writing. I’ve been doing that almost every day.
The music on Amen sounds so different from what your peers are making. What were your influences for the project?
The influences are a little bit of Childish Gambino and Mac DeMarco. I’ve been trying to listen to stuff that’s not hip-hop, because I’ve been listening to hip-hop for like two to three years straight. I definitely tried to be a little bit more versatile and diverse on this project.
Why did you decide to call Amen a project instead of an album?
The reason I’m calling it a project instead of an album is because it started when we were just working on this as an EP. We thought it was going to be a five-song EP that we were going to release last September. But I’d make songs and listen to them with my manager and we’re like, “This sounds really good but it’d be better if we put this on the album release later.” It happened so much that we kind of realized, “Why are we limiting ourselves? Why don’t we just keep making songs and put them in a folder and see what happens?” That was like seven months into the process, so we didn’t really have much time to really work on it as an album. In my opinion, an album has a story from start to finish and has a concrete concept.
What’s the significance of the title as it relates to this body of work?
The reason behind the name Amen is because I’m a very optimistic person, but at the same time, you can never be too sure about something. You can never get too cocky about some shit. I just say “Amen” a lot. It’s just about being grateful and never taking things for granted. So on this project I talk a lot about being from Indonesia and coming to America and a lot of new life experiences on this project.
Do those experiences include your newfound fame?
Definitely. Every little thing that I’ve been experiencing, I just think about those moments and try to lay it down in the lyrics. I love to revisit stories and put those things in my music. Those are always my favorite songs, songs that have moments in the lyrics where people just talk about their life with very unique, vivid stories. And I definitely tried to do that for this project.
How did you get Offset to appear on “Attention”?
It was my manager, he sent him the beat. It had that sample from the intro, and then the beat dropped and it became something else completely different that I didn’t like. But that intro sounded so good. So I just took that and was like, “Yo, I’ma fuck around and make a beat.” I just put drums on it, made it faster. One morning, I just made the hook and started writing. I recorded to it on my phone and then put it together in FL Studio and thought it was pretty fucking good. I was in a phase where I was listening to the Migos really heavy, listening to their whole discography, their old mixtapes and stuff. I was really obsessed with Migos at the time. I was like, “It would be amazing if we could get Offset on this.”
Why do you think he was perfect for that song?
I feel like he’s the perfect mixture of Quavo and Takeoff. He’s really good at catching melodies and he has some really good solo projects. Offset is definitely one of my favorite Migos members.
What do you want people to know about you?
I really want to do a lot of things—things that I haven’t even discovered yet. Right now I’m doing music heavily but I want to take acting classes and get into acting. I want to make an impact and inspire people my age or younger, to let them know that this shit is really possible. You really can do and become whatever you want as long as you have that vision in the back of your head that you know it’s gonna happen one day. That’s my biggest thing: making an impact and inspiring the shit out of people.