‘Amen’ a surprising risk from Rich Brian

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - 5:45pm

NOSELL

Courtesy of Rich Brian

 

Rich Brian may have just surprised everyone.

Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, he rose to internet fame under the name “Rich Chigga” with the viral music video he created for his song “Dat $tick,” a decent song that suffered from not being able to decide whether it was a joke or not. He’s an unlikely success story: He learned both how to speak English and how to rap off of YouTube as an adolescent, and he only turned 18 a few months ago.

With Amen, along with the name change, Rich Brian is clearly trying to be taken more seriously. If he tried and failed to pivot away from his comedic roots, he would risk going the route of Lil Dicky and plummeting into irrelevance. However, if he totally abandoned his past as a “meme rapper” he would be flirting with losing the very fanbase that got him popular in the first place. Rich Brian was walking a tightrope — he had to balance his viral fame with his artistic output — and I think Amen can be considered a successful exercise in doing so, in spite of its flaws.

There are some exceptional tracks on this record — “Glow Like Dat,” “Cold” and “Arizona” are among the best songs on the album — and any one of these would represent a substantive development from the “Dat $tick” days.

Certain tracks demonstrate a knack for careful experimentation that could yield interesting results in times to come: “Introvert” is worth discussing, light yet dissonant with a driving groove and featuring fellow 88rising member Joji, another internet star attempting to transition to being taken seriously as an artist. “Flight” is also unique, a pulsating synth core draped with gentle bells and a reverb-soaked hook.

“Little Prince” and “Arizona” are both much more atmospheric and peaceful than the rest of the album, with smooth hooks lent to both by relatively unknown vocalists (NIKI and AUGUST 08, respectively).

The album had its share of low points: “Attention” was a little disappointing for having the big-ticket Offset feature; the beat was serviceable but it felt like Offset phoned it in. For most of his verse he was spitting like he was reading his bars off of a teleprompter. Maybe I’m just tired of him after having to sit through all of Culture II last week. I don’t know, either way the track didn’t grab me.

This is an album where the production really does the heavy lifting, which would be an indictment of Rich Brian if he didn’t also produce most of the album. Given his rather repetitive and often monotonous flow, I might wager that he is actually more talented as a producer than he is as a rapper. His bars can straddle the line between funny and lame (“Every week, I be on her face, she think it’s Cetaphil”), and while his singing voice is not technically proficient, it has character, redolent of Kid Cudi’s singing style. However, at the age of 18, he still has plenty of time to improve upon his weak areas, and I would look to his next project as an indication of whether Rich Brian is a flash in the pan or if he'll be around for good.