[Update: Rich Chigga released a new track, “Who That Be,” the day this interview went live. Find it embedded below.]
In late February, the Internet birthed a video of an Asian teenager wearing a pink polo and fanny pack in an undisclosed location, rapping over an aggressive track with the hook, “Man I don’t give a fuck about a mothafuckin’ po / I’mma pull up with dat stick and hit yo motherfucking door.” “Dat $tick” quickly went viral, amassing more views several months later, when Asian media company 88Rising posted a video of rappers including Cam’ron, Ghostface Killah and Desiigner reacting to the video. “I like that, that’s dope,” Ghostface said. “I’ll get on that track.”
“Dat $tick” followed the formula for a modern-day viral rap phenomenon: be catchy, do the unexpected, piss some people off. Case in point: last year’s Slim Jesus, a skinny white teenager from Hamilton, Ohio, whose “Drill Time” video, where he totes guns and threatens murder, is sitting on 29 million views.
But what differentiates 16-year-old Rich Chigga from Slim Jesus is that Rich Chigga is Asian—we’ve previously covered their rarity in hip-hop—and already had some degree of internet notoriety. He had released a music video, started lively Vine and Twitter accounts and made parody videos on Youtube under his real name Brian Imanuel: check out his hilarious “Kushothyleoma” weed-addiction bit.
I recently Skyped with Rich Chigga, who’s based in Jakarta, Indonesia, from my temporary residence in Beijing. His interviews seem to be performed very much in-character (“What’s in the fanny pack?” One interviewer asked. “My sexuality,” he said), but I talked to Brian Imanuel, the artist, who freely admitted to never smoking kush and having airsoft guns in his video and the totally satirical nature of “Dat $tick.” He also expressed a desire not to be labeled as an Asian rapper, which hinted at a broader concern about not being seen just through the lens of “Dat $tick.”
In that regard, Rich Chigga has little to worry about. It’s not hard to imagine him as some sort of Asian Action Bronson—a young polymath who makes music and short films and hosts cooking shows, all three of which he’s currently doing. Rich Chigga seemed to have been on the cusp of virality for some time. “Dat $tick” merely lit the firecracker. We discussed child gangs in Indonesia, why “Dat $tick” was so popular and Chigga’s future schemes for internet infamy.
What’s your ethnicity?
What’s the Chinese-Indonesian experience like? Are you guys a minority?
It’s still quite a minority. But the whole racism thing is not really like a thing anymore here. I’m familiar with [the stereotypes about Chinese people]. It’s mostly kind of stupid—that good ol’ “go back to your own country” type shit. The whole rice shit, kung fu, piano, whatever the fuck. But it’s different over here. People are pretty cool now.
How did you get into hip-hop?
When I was 12, I started having American friends through the Internet and they just showed me this Macklemore video, “Thrift Shop.” That was the first thing that really got me into hip-hop. I started looking more into it, checking out blogs and YouTube and stuff. I was listening to 2 Chainz, Drake, Kanye, Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar. I really like "Take Care” by Drake. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of MF Doom.
Why did you gravitate to hip-hop?
Being able to make hip-hop music just makes me really happy. The stuff that I rap about may not be the deep shit. But I do it because it’s fun. I’ve been actually into music since I was five years old. I used to play the drums. I used to be in a band with my family. I stopped doing that but I found out that hip-hop and producing music and rapping is actually my passion.
How did you start your Internet career?
My first creative medium was actually Twitter. I used to just Tweet comedy stuff. When Vine started getting big, I got on that. That’s where I started getting into the video thing where people could actually see my face. And then music. I first started doing music for fun. Back then writing something and having it rhyme, it was like holy shit, that was fucking cool. I started uploading songs—like five, six songs, with beats I got from Youtube—to Soundcloud and Tweeting them. And people on the Internet started digging it.
Where’d you get the firearms in the “Dat $tick” video?
I think firearms are legal here. But those are airsoft guns.
I read that getting caught with a single joint in Indonesia can lead to a jail sentence of up to four years. What is the Rich Chigga relationship with kush?
I don’t even do that shit. In that video it’s just like a joke. If I smoke I’m vaping. People definitely still smoke [weed] here, but I’m like, fuck that shit, ‘cause I don’t want to get arrested.
How did the political situation influence “Dat $tick”?
Indonesia is very corrupt. I was trying to say that in Indonesia, there’s some weird shit going on that people don’t really know about. Like I know some people that smoke crack casually. And they’ll be like, “Yeah, I smoke crack like once a week and shit.” But the schoolkids in Indonesia, they do this thing where it’s like, every school is a different gang, and they just fight in the public streets for no reason. And they have sharp weapons and shit. Elementary schoolkids started doing it and some people died, so it’s kind of fucked up.
I get it: People like the video because it’s a shock thing, this Asian kid rapping. But it turns out it’s actually a pretty good song.
You were homeschooled. How did that play a part in your life?
It definitely played a big part. If you’re in school you wouldn’t really have time to explore your hobbies because a lot of the stuff that I learned, hobby-wise, passion-wise, it’s all from the Internet. Back then I used to be really into cinematography, and I still am. So all day I would just watch YouTube tutorials on it. And that’s actually kind of where I learned English: from watching YouTube tutorials. I was alone a lot at home, so I would start talking to myself in English.
How has the success of “Dat $tick” influenced your life in Indonesia?
People are going crazy. Some Indonesian people don’t even know that I’m from Indonesia, so there’s this music festival that I’m going to, and they’re like, “Oh shit, Rich Chigga is coming to Indonesia.” But people who do know that I’m from Indonesia, they’re definitely proud and they’ve been giving me so much love.
What’s your reaction when people call you an Asian rapper?
It’s kind of annoying, because it’s like, why should it matter? If I want to be a painter, nobody says, “Asian painter.” Nobody calls Kanye West a Black rapper. So I don’t know why it should matter just because I’m a minority.
How did your Asian-ness affect “Dat $tick” and the rest of your music?
I definitely wasn’t thinking about my race at all. Except for having Rich Chigga as my name, because that’s something that I made a really long time ago, so I had to stick with that. But when I made that song, or when I make my art or music, I’m definitely not thinking about my race. I just think about what I am. I wasn’t thinking, Should I do this or not? I’m just like, Fuck it. I’m not going to let my ethnicity or race stop me.
A few people threw the term “cultural appropriation” at Dat $tick. What was your response?
Um, let’s see…. I don’t really think I’m appropriating culture. At least that’s not my intent, ‘cause I’m I’m not trying to be what I’m not. The way I dress in the video, I’m wearing a fucking fanny pack and a pink polo. That’s what I’m trying to do with my upcoming stuff. I’m just trying to have fun; not trying to be too serious about it. People think I’m actually trying to be hard, but that’s definitely not what I’m doing. I’m just being myself.
Why do you think the video was so popular? Do you think if you weren’t Asian, the video have blown up?
I definitely think being Asian is part of the appeal. I get it: People like the video more because it’s a shock thing, this Asian kid rapping. But it turns out it’s actually a pretty good song. I’m not trying to put [my ethnicity] in people’s faces. But I definitely feel like that’s why the video got big.
You are one of the few Asian rappers out there, so naturally you would be an inspiration to other Asian rappers. Is that a role you even want to be in?
The way I see people, I don’t really care about their ethnicity. I’m just trying to inspire people in general. To do what they want to do, and go for things. I never really think about race; I just think about the art I’m making.
What’s the future of Rich Chigga?
There’s a lot of stuff in the works. I’m definitely going to collaborate with other artists very soon. I’m probably going to make an album soon. I really want to experiment more with my music, so it’s probably going to sound a little different [from “Dat $tick”]. I’ve been trying to go to the US. I’m going to do other stuff. I’m into cinematography, so maybe I would make a short film sometime. I just have a lot of shit that I want to do, I don’t even know where to start.