Indonesian rapper Rich Brian doesn't take himself too seriously and has formed a 'bond' with Jackson Wang

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·Editor-in-Chief, Lifestyle
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Rich Brian. (PHOTO: 88rising)
Rich Brian. (PHOTO: 88rising)

Indonesian rapper Rich Brian, 21, formerly known as Rich Chigga, has come a long way since Wu-Tang Clan legend Ghostface Killah contributed to his remix single of ‘Dat $tick’ in 2016.

Ever since ‘Dat $tick’ went viral, Brian, whose real name is Brian Immanuel Soewarno, has followed up with two studio albums, one of which, ‘Sailor’, debuted at number 62 on the Billboard 200 albums chart last year.

Having carved out a music career since he was 17, Brian is now based in Los Angeles on a career move to take on the US market, thanks to the founder of the music label 88rising, Sean Miyashiro, who convinced both his parents to take a chance.

Brian used to be known as Rich Chigga but changed his stage name in 2018, after accusations of cultural appropriation hit him online and he apologised for his mistakes on social media. Brian is comfortable with such an evolution in his persona, telling Yahoo Lifestyle SEA, “I've always felt very free with my personality on social media and in public. I never feel like I need to take myself too seriously.”

This year, despite looming pandemic threats and months of lockdown, Brian took it in stride and focused on releasing bouncing ‘quaran-tunes’ in the form of ‘Bali’ (where he was shown delivering COVID-19 funds to the needy in the music video) and now, ‘Love In My Pocket’, a catchy summer bop which he took months to write (with an ‘unfinished’ music video shot with a green screen).

Artwork for 'Love In My Pocket'. (PHOTO: 88rising)
Artwork for 'Love In My Pocket'. (PHOTO: 88rising)

Brian chuckles when I asked him if the green screen was his idea. “It was a conversation between my manager and my friend James Defina. We were talking about it for a while and we were trying to make a really cool-looking video. We tried to put the effects on the actual green screen but on the day of the release, we found out that there was a miscommunication, and the VFX team didn’t have enough time to finish it.”

“So we just put it out and I felt like it kind of worked out. A lot of people really liked the idea. And then everyone thinks it’s some sort of a mastermind marketing plan that we end up with, but it was all very accidental.”

The accidental music video has now transcended into a collaborative project with his fans, as Brian invites them to ‘finish’ the music video by adding their own effects courtesy of the green screen. Brian now occasionally tweets his fans’ works on social media, much to their delight.

Being part of the digitally-savvy Generation Z group, Brian knows how to work social media, and he does it with panache. Before the full music video was released, Brian teased, or we think, confused fans by photoshopping himself and merging the chorus to ‘Love In My Pocket’ into GOT7’s Jackson Wang’s ‘100 Ways’ music video. The result was hilarious, as his Korean fans were flabbergasted by the move. Another mastermind marketing plan? Only Brian will tell us.

“First off, I love Jackson Wang’s fans. I’m probably going to hang out with him in a couple of days actually. I Love Jackson as a person; he’s just like a really, really good friend too. We met through Sean, and we hung out in LA one day. We ended up shooting the music video for our song ‘Titanic’ together.”

“But the first day I met him, I liked him immediately; we actually have a sudden bond,” Brian crushes on his friend.

During our video interview, I watch as Brian eases into the communication flow, displaying a level of maturity and earnestness, compared to his past carefree teenage innocence. He is aware of a certain scrutiny, trailing after a cohort of Asian rappers such as Jay Park, Keith Ape, and Awkwafina.

“I feel like I'm kind of being in a place where there's not that many Asian (rappers) and it only motivates me to push myself even harder. I think that it's cool to also see a lot of other Asian people appreciating what I do and, you know, seeing all the other Asian kids around my age coming up to me and be like, ‘you inspire me’,” said Brian.

“That's just such a great feeling for me because personally when I was growing up, I didn't have that many role models. So it's great to know that I'm doing that for a lot of people,” he adds.

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When the ‘Love In My Pocket’ single was dropped earlier in July, fans were quick to point to his newly minted relationship with Vanntey Heng as the inspiration behind the track: “I definitely appreciate everyone for being supportive about it (the relationship). And I think, it’s the way that me and my girlfriend are on social media; I don't even treat it like a celebrity-status, or anything like that.”

Brian continues: “A lot of people think (‘Love In My Pocket’) is a love song. But to me, it's a very metaphorical kind of way of looking at, you know, like a love song. It's more like feeling a lot of love for the whole world. And just like someone who’s living a life, being happy about everything and is stress-free.”

The culture of hip-hop envelopes not just music, but also fashion and lifestyle, and to Brian’s understanding, he feels that people shouldn't just box in any genre, whether in hip-hop or outside of hip-hop.

“For me, the way I look at how people make music, they're kind of expressing their own life, and everyone has their own different story. Personally, I sometimes love wearing cool clothes, but I don't really spend that much money on a lot of designer brands. But I don't have a problem with other people talking about that either,” Brian said.

With borders tightening around the world, being far away from home has gotten Brian used to being on his own and alone: “I miss home, like a lot, and I definitely miss my parents. But at the same time, I feel like I'm a very nomadic type of person; I'm very comfortable with being alone. And I always love just staying home by myself and stuff like that. While I'm away, I have a lot of things that I need to do like music and there's a lot of people that I need to talk to every day. I still talk to my parents on FaceTime every day so it's not that bad.”

Surprisingly, being at home a lot has turned Brian into an avid cook. “I try to be (a good cook). I get recipes from my parents and I think they are really good cooks too. There is good Indonesian food here, but sometimes I just miss the ones that my parents made for me. So I would just WhatsApp them and ask them for a recipe and I would just go to the grocery store and get the ingredients. It definitely makes me feel like I'm home for a second,” Brian shares.

Watch the ‘Love In My Pocket’ music video below:

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