The 17-year-old Indonesian rapper and comedic sensation Rich Chigga—better known on Twitter, his comedic medium of choice, by his real name Brian Imanuel—has just released his new video for the official remix of viral sensation "Dat $tick," featuring none-other than the Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah and Miami underground rap sensation Pouya.
The first thing you realize upon talking to Brian is that his English is nearly perfect, often using better grammar and syntax than some of his American counterparts. This is not a product of schooling in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta where Brian calls home, or the outcome of intense ingestion of Rosetta Stone courses online, or any other academic language instruction. Instead, Brian has turned the rabid and insatiable internet consumption that has rounded out his illustrious career thus far into a mastery of the Western lexicon, so much so that by age 17—after only starting to learn English at the post-formative age of 14—he is capable of composing such ocean-spanning tweets such as: "bein a good person is not corny why is everyone trying to go to hell", or "i made out w a white girl 4 the first time at the club last nite right as the dj changed the song to Wonderwall i swear to god."
Brian is blessed with the ability to absorb everything he witnesses on the wild west of Western internet (which was first introduced to him at one of Jakarta's many crowded internet café's) and mold it into an innovative and cutting parody of what culture has become to so many young people in America and across the globe. Take, for example, this 2Pac meme he made.
But to box Brian in by these terms is to completely miss the trajectory of his rising career to this point. At 17, Brian has become a bit of an internet celebrity with looming offers for performances, mainstream collaborations, and quite possibly a record deal and tour. Now he has the endorsement of the Wu. I caught up with him via Skype, scheduled early in the morning to catch him in the evening hours of Jakarta's 14-hour time difference from Los Angeles. During our chat, Brian is a pure reflection of the jovial teenager he portrays online, and speaks in perfect English with an inflection more reminiscent a millennial who has grown up in a Midwest suburb than in inner-Jakarta.
Noisey: Tell us your background with American culture and rap music.
Brian Imanuel: I first got introduced to hip-hop in 2012 by my first American friend, who I had met that year. He showed me Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" and I was so into that. It was the first song that I tried rapping to and my English was so bad back then. And then through that I started listening to 2 Chainz and Childish Gambino. But back then I had no friends at all in Indonesia and really thought I was the only one listening to hip-hop. So I thought artists like 2 Chainz were considered underground.
I started making raps in 2014, recording stuff from my iPhone and putting them together in Sony Vegas, which is a video editing program. I didn't really know how to make stuff and it sounded like shit, but the writing was really fun and friends liked it a lot. I started recording at my friend's studio.
What was it like growing up in Jakarta?
It's not considered a third-world country anymore but the slums are everywhere. Even if you're in the downtown area with skyscrapers there's always the slums right around the corner. So it's always super packed with traffic and polluted as fuck. But yeah, it's home.
I always liked to draw and when I was a kid, the internet wasn't big at all, so I would go to internet cafes and search Google images for cartoon characters and save it to my USB drive. When my family got internet installed at my house, me and my siblings went crazy and would take turns browsing. I'm home schooled too so I would be on the computer every day. It was so exciting to finally get internet at my house.
When did you first get your Twitter account?
It was actually 2010, before I even tweeted in English. You can find tweets from a longass time ago where I'm tweeting in Indonesian. I started doing the comedy stuff in 2014. I started taking it more seriously and using social media as my platform because I wanted to get enough followers to start promoting my music and videos. I'm really into cinematography and shot films so I really wanted to promote my shit on there.
A lot of my Indonesian friends don't really get my jokes on twitter. People definitely recognize me now in Jakarta, especially after local papers published articles about the video compilation of rappers' reactions to "Dat $tick," but there hasn't been any local controversy or anything like that. Before "Dat $tick," the raps I used to make were not serious. They were kind of half joking, but "Dat $tick" was the first time where I thought, "Shit, what if I tried to be serious with this? What if I actually put a lot of effort into it?" It was the first song that I recorded in an actual studio, and my friend who produced it had pushed me to really work on something serious. At first the music video was going to be the most mediocre music video ever, I was going to try to be cool a stylish. But that was trying way too fucking hard. At the last minute, I thought, "what if I try to make this shit ironic? What if I wear a pink polo and fanny pack? What if I wear some real Dad shit?" I was in a dilemma in my head, it could completely fuck it up or it could make it amazing. So I'm glad I chose the ironic take.
The guns are BB Guns. I was expecting like 100,000 YouTube hits, or 200,000 hits at most. But one day I saw it get posted by this big Facebook account and a ton of articles picked it up from there it blew up, it was insane. At first it was definitely overwhelming because for the first time I presented with the option of whether to take music seriously or not. Should I keep doing it? I decided to keep doing it.
What kind of reactions were you getting from "Dat $tick"?
I was definitely expecting some hateful shit, but it was mostly positive. I thought the video was ass. This is when Sean Miyashiro—part of collective 88rising and head of CXSHXNLY Records which houses South Korean rapper Keith Ape—contacted me. When Sean called me up he let me know he was putting together a compilation of famous rappers' reactions to the "Dat $tick" video. It featured legends like Ghostface Killah, Cam'ron, and 21 Savage. I called my mom up like, "Shit, this is getting really real. It's getting crazy."
Why do you think Ghostface Killah fucks with you?
I have no idea actually. I don't know if I'm too humble? Maybe I'm dope as shit to be honest. Ghostface is such a legend and the fact that he wants to get on my shit is kind of unbelievable. I still can't believe it.
How did you first get in to making music?
I started playing the drums at five years old and used to listen to a lot of screamo bands like Asking Alexandria, Dream Theater, and Attack Attack! My dad put me on to Phil Collins and that really helped me with my music.
I'm working on new music everyday but I'm trying to get to the states to meet everybody. I want to meet Ghostface and I want to meet Tyler, The Creator. My visa application for the states has been denied twice, I don't think I can say too much on that, but it's been hard. I've recently turned 17 and I'm going to get an official government ID soon, so that should make it a bit easier. They'll be a couple more singles coming, and maybe an EP coming. I've been going into the studio everyday and cooking up new shit.
What do your parents think?
They've been so supportive. They don't really know what I rap about, like the lyrics or whatever. But they do know that people support me and they love what's going on. My dad looks at all my YouTube videos and songs every single day and lets me know whenever the views are going up. Like, "Hey Brian. 'Dat $tick' hit 18 Million views today."
Tune into Noisey Beats 1 this weekend for more Rich Chigga.
Justin Staple is a producer for Noisey and VICE in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.