Rich Chigga Is Out to Prove He’s More Than Just a Funny Guy
Rich Chigga isn't your average rapper. The Indonesia native, born Brian Imanuel, is a web comedian at heart who surprisingly found out he had a passion for rapping after losing a dare with a friend. Now two years into the craft, he took hip-hop by storm when his video "Dat $tick" went viral. The Anante Vinnie-produced track took off this summer and to date, the video for the song has more than 16 million views on YouTube. The massive number is thanks to the huge push the visual received when 88rising released a brilliant video featuring American rappers like 2016 XXL Freshman 21 Savage and Ghostface Killah responding to seeing “Dat $tick" for the first time.
The 17-year-old's story is incredible, from how he learned to speak English to his introduction to the game -- whether some love it or hate it. "I was homeschooled and literally learned most of my English by listening to Odd Future and watching YouTube videos," he tells XXL.
While “Dat $tick" is his claim to fame, Chigga was generating buzz before the song arrived in February. He started making a name for himself with videos he dropped on Vine in 2013. A lover of film and cinematography, he would also post hilarious parody videos on YouTube, most notably “Suicide Hotline,” a short film where he plays a married man wanting to commit suicide.
When it comes to hip-hop, Chigga got familiar with the genre through friends he made online -- they would play music for him during Skype conversations. Soon after, he would release his first video, “Living the Dream,” and adopt the Rich Chigga alter ego. He signed to CXSHXNLY, a record label that also reps Korean-American rapper Dumbfoundead and Korean sensation Keith Ape, who struck gold with "It G Ma" last year.
After "Dat $tick" went viral this summer, it was apparent the internet went crazy for it due to its unique content. A then-16-year-old Asian kid with a voice of someone twice his age making a trap record while rocking a fanny pack in the music video; that's just not something you see every day. However, hip-hop fans were a bit hesitant to fully accept Rich Chigga. He caught flack because of his racially insensitive rap name and the use of the N-word. Plus a photoshopped photo of him wearing a sweatshirt with the N-word standing next to President Obama from 2012 made the rounds -- he was only 12 years old at the time the photo was taken. Chigga insisted that he meant no harm with his name and in previous interviews, stated that he's not trying to offend anyone.
Now that he's "famous," Chigga is trying to prove that he's a serious rapper and let the music speak for itself. In August, he dropped the Sihk-produced track "Who That Be," the follow-up to "Dat $tick."
According to Rich Chigga's manager, Sean Miyashiro, now the rapper is getting more recognition than ever. "I would say that what Brian has done, he definitely gets stopped on the streets now, Indonesia, mainstream media, even Asia," says Miyashiro. "'Dat $tick' just got uploaded on the platforms in Korea and it’s selling and streaming like the biggest K-pop stars. This is a historic moment for a whole continent of people that have been enamored by hip-hop for decades. Japan is a very sophisticated hip-hop market in terms of there’s been many rappers from Japan over 20 years and there’s a deep love for the culture. Bape, Migos, Pharrell, that whole stuff has happened. However, the continent of people, we never had one person that resonated in the States like Brian has."
XXL got on Skype with Rich Chigga while he was in Jakarta around 1 a.m. to discuss his rap moniker, his history with hip-hop and that fanny pack from the "Dat $tick" video. He also shares an exclusive video of his birthday celebrations, in which he freestyles over Wu-Tang Clan's "Triumph" and other classic beats. Get to know more about Rich Chigga (and a few thoughts from his manager) below.
XXL: What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
Rich Chigga: Childish Gambino, and 2 Chainz’s “Birthday Song” [laughs]. That was like 2012. That was when I met my first American friend and he would show me stuff over Skype and it was super dope. From there, I just looked at a lot of other stuff. When I was listening to 2 Chainz and shit, I was like, “Damn, I’m the only kid in the Indonesia that’s listening to hip-hop.” I thought it was underground [laughs].
What type of music did you listen to before?
Rich: I was actually into stuff like Asking Alexandria, Attack Attack! I was into a lot of shit. My dad put me onto Phil Collins and Dream Theater and all that stuff.
When did you start rapping?
Rich: I started writing raps in 2014. I wasn’t even uploading it on SoundCloud yet, I was just writing for fun because I lost a dare with my friend and my friend said write a rap. So I was writing, and the first song I wrote rhymed and I was like, “Shit, this is really fun.” So I just recorded it using my iPhone and put it together using Sony Vegas, which is a video editing program. That was my first song and a lot of my friends liked it so I just kept on doing it. And I started to upload it and posted it on Twitter.
When did you know you had potential and can make some money out of rapping?
Rich: Basically, I wasn’t really thinking I could make some money off “Dat $tick.” I wasn’t expecting it to blow up at all. My friend had a camera and I’m into cinematography so I said, “Why not do it, it’s super low budget.” I just did it for fun. I was expecting max 100K on YouTube, mostly views from my friends. That’s it.
Was “Dat $tick” like your first real song?
Rich: No, I have two music videos out right now: “Dat $tick” and “Living Dream.” "Living Dream" was the first one that I recorded using an iPhone.
Can I ask you a serious question? Why the fanny pack in the “Dat $tick” video?
Rich: The song I was making previously was jokes. I wasn’t really going in on them, I rhymed for fun. They didn’t sound serious. At the time I wanted to make something serious and really make this sound dope. So I asked my friends can he make me a beat. I went to his house and recorded. It took me like a week to write that.
As for the fanny pack stuff, that was actually a super last minute change. At first I was thinking for the music video of how to make it cool. I was thinking cool rapper clothes but maybe if I put a twist on [the video] it can make it way better or it can completely fuck it up. So, the next day I bought a fanny pack [laughs].
Do you want to take rapping seriously? People may not know.
Rich: It’s definitely really serious. Even before the song blew up I said in 2016, I want to release at least four more songs before the year is up. I definitely am going to go even harder.
Let’s talk about your rap name. I feel like that’s a big reason why people are apprehensive of you. How did you get it and do you understand the notion that it gives off? Have other rappers approached you about it?
Rich: I was like 14 or 15 at the time. That was around [when] I was making my first song. My friend and I were like, What do I name myself? At the time, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I didn’t know my shit was going to blow up. My perspective of hip-hop was very skewed because of what I saw on the Internet so I had to have a rapper name. So we had to put Rich in it and my friend was like, “Put Chigga in there” and I was like, All right cool. And “Dat $tick,” I was debating should I change the name but I already had one music video out and I didn’t want it to be weird with having two videos out with two different names so I had to keep it that way.
The name is something I came up with a long ass time ago and I didn’t know what I was doing. I know a lot of people are offended by it but at the same time a lot of people don’t really care and fuck with it. I don’t think that it should matter that much but it’s understandable if it offends people. I’m definitely not making fun of hip-hop.
Sean Miyashiro: I totally get it. At first even me as a hip-hop fan for years it was like, “Oh shit his name is Rich Chigga. Whoa.” But the thing is, I’ve been working with Brian for the last few months and it has never been a problem with any producer or any collaborative artists. As you can see on the rappers react video, people reacted to it very well and no rapper gave a fuck. Then also beyond that, a lot of people want to make music with him. People who are kind of about that hip-hop, they really accept it. Today, more than ever, people are more accepting and open-minded to it. There’s going to be people who say, “I don’t fuck with this guy period” right off the bat. That’s pretty much the same thing with any scenario too. It’s been great to see the embracing of Rich.
From your perspective, what did you see hip-hop as when you first discovered it?
Rich: It was really fucking cool. I was listening to 2 Chainz’s “Birthday Song” and it was a lot of asses in that shit and it was really explicit and every time you would see a hip-hop video on like Vevo it would say explicit and I didn’t even know what that meant yet. It was cool. But back then, I was also listening to a bunch of different type of hip-hop too like Macklemore. Hip-hop was definitely very diverse for me. I like lyrical rappers and turn up rappers. I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s really crazy.
What is the hip-hop scene in Indonesia like?
Rich: The hip-hop scene in Indonesia is really underground right now. I know a couple of good rappers, like one or two. The other ones, I’m sure they’re [are] a bunch of good rappers, but they are still underground. People don’t appreciate [hip-hop] over here. Everyone just listens to EDM. I hope [hip-hop] get bigger.
Sean How did you meet Rich Chigga?
Sean: I was put onto Brian before I heard any of his music. I just saw a couple of things on Brian’s Twitter that he’s done on the comedic side that made me think this dude was a genius. He’s one of a kind and he’s 16. Then he dropped “Dat $tick” and I was like, What the fuck? I was introduced to Brian by Dumbfounded and I Skyped Brian. It was all really organic.
Your voice is crazy distinct, dude. Did you realize you had a unique voice?
Rich: Since I was 15, a lot of girls think I was 19 or some shit. I honestly don’t know. My voice used to be really fucking high [laughs].
Do you think it’s tougher or easier for you that you’re Asian and entering into hip-hop?
Rich: I honestly don’t know because it’s like I can see how it can be easier but at the same time I can see how it can be harder. Race is such a difficult topic. I feel like at the end of the day, it depends on the [artist] and the shit that they make.
Sean: There’s been plenty of White rappers and there’s been plenty of Latino rappers, hip-hop is open. The fact that Brian is the true first to resonate like this, people are checking for him, people respect it and he’s Asian and he’s 17. It’s absolutely unequivocally more of an opportunity more than a bad thing. You can already see that. That’s how a lot of us see that.
Rich: I think me being from Indonesia and English not being my first language is a part of that.
What do you have planned for 2016?
Rich: A lot of music but I'm not really sure. I’m figuring out a lot of shit right now. A lot of things are coming. A lot of different stuff.
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