“I thought it was going to be a one-time thing,” says Brian Imanuel, better known as the Indonesian rapper Rich Chigga, referring to his "Dat $tick" video. “I didn’t want to be one of those people that does something that blows up and keeps doing it for way too long.”
For Imanuel, this past year — after exploding into the rap game with “Dat $tick” in 2016 — has been unexpected and “fucking crazy.” Recently a very diehard fan forced his way into the 18-year-old rapper's home in Jakarta just to meet him. “Some fan literally broke into my house. He literally came in and said, ‘I’m a huge fan, I brought you food.’ He brought me three boxes of noodles,” says a confounded Imanuel.
Imanuel was awestruck at first by his internet fame, and more than a little uncomfortable with it, but he says he's moved past that now. “I became fine with it. I focus more into making my music." And that focus has paid dividends. He’s gone from performing small shows of only 50 people in Indonesia to releasing the single “Crisis” with 21 Savage and headlining the Fonda Theatre here in L.A. for two nights, Nov. 20 and 21.
He’s also working on his debut album, which he hopes to release early next year. “I’ve looking for a style I haven’t really done before. I’ve been getting into singing a little more,” says Imanuel.
Although he hasn’t been influenced by any particular Indonesian artists, he has been trying to experiment and add things from his own culture. “We have this thing called the gamelan, which is some kind of bell, that will sound good in a hip-hop beat. Or some Indonesian-sounding flutes. And there will be some exciting features on this album, people I haven’t collabed with before." His goal for this new record is to grow as an artist and to inspire people. “I feel like with an album, that’s how you get to know an artist."
Although Imanuel is spending more of his time in L.A. than his hometown of Jakarta, he hasn’t made a permanent move yet, opting instead for extended stays in Airbnbs around Hollywood. But he hopes to make it a more permanent thing soon. “Everybody is here. It’s way easier to work with people, I can meet with people, shoot the videos when I want,” says Imanuel. “I would also love to get into acting. I love being in front of the camera.”
He admits there’s definitely been a little culture shock, but in a good way. “It’s definitely super different. There are a lot of things that are not the same. At the same time, I already expected it. I already know how it is in America. I’ve been obsessed with it since I was 13. There are just a lot of things in America that are so convenient. Like I just found out about Apple Pay. Or like one time my teeth was hurting and I told my bus driver and he told me to get some Orajel. I was like, ‘What is that?’ and he was like, ‘It’s this gel that numbs your gums’ and I was like, ‘Wow.’”
Much of Imanuel's childhood was spent scouring the internet for any bit of American pop culture, including hip-hop, that he could find. Around the age of 14, before his career took off, he asked his parents if he could go to L.A., but they refused. But once he got an offer to perform in Texas, they changed their tune. “My parents are very supportive. I don’t think I couldn’t have gone through with it without that."
He cites Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Big Sean and A$AP Rocky as influences. Although he was into rap early on, his steady rise to online fame began with making videos and Photoshopping images and posting them on YouTube and Instagram. Eventually he started rapping and making beats, and that led to his breakthrough moment with "Dat $tick."
“I’ve always sort of had a musical background," Imanuel says. "I played drums when I was like 5 to 10 years old in band. It was a family band and my sister would sing. We would cover Christian music,” he recalls, laughing. During that time, Imanuel didn’t feel that music was something he would do professionally. “Ever since I started to produce and rap, it's so much more fun. I just got super into it.”
Imanuel has even produced for other artists, including Indonesian R&B singer Niki. After being sent demos by his future labelmate, he helped produce her ’90s R&B–inspired “See U Never,” mostly contributing beats and drums.
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Although he hasn’t released a full-length album yet, Imanuel is already on his first tour as Rich Chigga. He’s been traveling on a bus around the country, putting in work. “I don’t have that many songs right now, so I like talking to the crowd a lot. I just think it makes it interesting. This one time this fan from the crowd threw me his phone. And I called his dad and pretended to be him and told [his dad], ‘I love you.’ I had his dad on speakerphone in front of everybody and he was so confused. I’ll do stuff like that.”
Although he's had incredible success here in the United States, most people back in Indonesia don’t understand Rich Chigga's music as much. That’s beginning to change, but his unique origin story still causes some confusion, even in his native country.
“When I played a festival in Indonesia and I was reading the comments when the lineup was released, people were saying, 'He’s finally coming to Indonesia,'" Imanuel says, laughing. "They thought I was from L.A. or something."
Rich Chigga headlines the Fonda Theatre with Duckwrth and Don Krez on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 20 and 21.