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Rich Chigga
Rich ChiggaPhoto via

The Indonesian viral YouTube rapper who says he’s for real

Rich Chigga is a 16-year-old Vine comedian whose viral hit ‘Dat $tick’ has been described as both ‘seemingly satirical’ and better than ‘70% of America right now’

You probably don’t know Rich Chigga. Or at least you didn’t, and neither did some of the biggest rappers in the game until last week, when Rich Chigga’s “Dat $tick” was played to the likes of Ghostface Killah, Cam’ron, Desiigner, and Tory Lanez (amongst others) for a reaction video that swiftly clambered up the pop culture ladder.

The original video had already been blowing up after the KollegeKid website reposted it, garnering several million views for the combination of polished drill rap and its not-what-you-expected creator. Yet Rich Chigga has never lived in Chicago, the home of drill, or even visited the USA – he’s actually the alter ego of 16-year-old Indonesian Twitter and Vine comedian, Brian Imanuel.

Imanuel, by his own admission, has been internet spoon-fed, discovering the world of American hip hop from thousands of miles away. “Dat $tick”, which Imanuel made in under two weeks with a young EDM producer, Ananta Vinnie, used rap hallmarks in the song and video – guns, gangster poses, Martell and an entourage – but Rich’s look (a pink polo shirt, a Reebok fanny pack, and chino shorts, looking like a golf-loving retiree) skewered the narrative and a comment war began over whether it was cultural appropriation or satire.

“Dat $tick” has caused plenty of controversy and confusion in mainstream media as well: High Snobiety sneeringly called it “#cringecoretrap”, while Complex were cautiously less aggressive, claiming it “bizarre” and “seemingly satirical”. No one seemed entirely sure of what label to slap on “Dat $tick”, but calling out his lack of authenticity seemed ineffective when Tory Lanez claimed Rich’s spitting “is probably killing 70% of America right now”, while Ghostface offered to guest on the remix... and who’s to argue with a member of the Wu-Tang Clan?

It's turned a very bright spotlight on Imanuel, a rather charming talker who now shares a manager with Korean rapper Keith Ape, and who’s suddenly facing fast-paced growing up. Ask about the ‘Chigga’ moniker, its combination of two racial slurs, and he emits a kind of strangled sound. “At the time I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I don’t know if people will take me seriously with it,” he admits, though doesn’t say why exactly he chose it. While he wonders aloud if he should change it, he clearly realises the ball is well and truly rolling and, for better or worse, he’ll remain Rich Chigga for his music endeavours.

And he is, in fact, serious about making music, though the lyrics and visuals contain comedic twists. What you come away with from talking to Imanuel is that Rich Chigga is entirely a work in progress; a true love for a genre paired with a burgeoning exploration of his own roots and creative self, though it may currently be a precarious line between offending and entertaining. He talks Dazed through his unconventional upbringing, sudden fame and why he definitely doesn’t want to merely be an ‘Asian rapper’.

Why did you decide to do music alongside your comedy?

Rich Chigga: I have this friend who does comedy but also music, and I really enjoyed his stuff and I wanted to do that. I wasn’t expecting it to get this big!

What was your reaction to “Dat $tick” going viral?

Rich Chigga: I was definitely overwhelmed, but I didn’t want to be like one of those people where something blows up and they just keep on talking about it, so I just retweeted a few articles and left it there. But I was looking at every comment – and so were my parents actually! They don’t know what I’m talking about in the song but they know what’s going on. They’re really proud; my dad made a Twitter account just so he could search my name and he does that every day but he doesn’t follow me (laughs).

You’ve had quite a bit of time on your hands to create your comedy, and now music, because you were home-schooled, right?

Rich Chigga: I started home-schooling when I was in elementary school because my parents were really busy back then. They didn’t have time to drive me there and we didn’t have a school bus or whatever. I was like, this fucking sucks. At first I was really learning and my mom was my teacher, but about two years into it, we just stopped! I sat on the computer all day and learned stuff from the internet. I used to be super into cinematography – actually I still am – and I used to watch a bunch of tutorials.

“(Some people) think I’m trying to look hard and I’m not – that’s just part of the joke, they don’t get that” — Rich Chigga

You also learned to speak English through YouTube...

Rich Chigga: Yeah, and I also talked to myself every day. I was home alone a lot and I talked to myself like the way you talk when you're making a blog or something like that.

Into a mirror?

Rich Chigga: No, that’s some crazy shit! (laughs) But after four years I had American friends (that I’d met online) that I would Skype and things like that, and (my English) got a lot better.

What was it about hip hop that stood out for you?

Rich Chigga: I just love it. Hip hop helped me learn about a whole bunch of American culture. I was like 12 or 13, the first hip hop song I tried to rapping to was Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’ and my English was so bad, but learning to rap to different songs really helped me with my pronunciation, and looking at the lyrics on Rap Genius and stuff like that.

Who was your thing?

Rich Chigga: Drake. I was really into the Take Care album. I was listening to a bunch of stuff because I was just getting into hip hop and I would think it was underground but, in reality, it was like 2 Chainz and Kanye and shit like that, but nobody (here) knows them. Hip hop’s definitely still an underground culture – if you go to the clubs here, it’s all EDM.

Some musicians might feel deeply disconnected without an audience. Do you feel isolated at all as you’re yet to perform regularly?

Rich Chigga: I don’t think so, because when I’m on my computer or my phone, I’m in my own little world and I feel really connected with the people and what’s going on all the time. I wish I could be in America – that would make things really easy – but at the same time, I really like being in Indonesia. I feel like if I was born in America I’d be more… spoiled (laughs).

In the video for “Dat $tick” you sport a polo shirt and a fanny pack. Is this your look for the every day or done specifically for the song?

Rich Chigga: No, no, no. I was going to wear designer jackets, chains, cool stuff for the video. But then I was like, what if I dressed like a dad with this really hard, dark song? How would it look? It was like super last minute and I was in a dilemma, it could really fuck it up or it could be really cool!

“I’m not going to do it (say the N-word) anymore... I definitely do understand that people could be offended by it” — Rich Chigga

Opinion was really divided – some people loved it, others seemed confused or pissed off. If people miss the point, then what exactly are they missing?

Rich Chigga: The point they’re missing is that some of them think I’m trying to look hard and I’m not – that’s just part of the joke, they don’t get that. And I don’t think 21 Savage got that in the reaction video (laughs). I’m trying to do less serious music but still catchy. I don’t want to be dark, gangster kind of music all the time. I want to be diverse.

There is a slightly controversial side to it – your age, or stepping into another culture that you’ve only observed and absorbed through the internet.

Rich Chigga: I don't know what to say about that.... it’s more like, I think by me making it weird and twisted and shit, I feel like it would open up new ideas and people who are aspiring to be rappers. They might look at this video and be like, ‘Oh shit!’ It’s not always serious.

You drop the N-word in “Dat $tick”, which offended some, and you mentioned in a previous interview that you were trying to change how the word was perceived and to remove negative connotations from it. Have you changed your stance on that and your future use of the word?

Rich Chigga: Now I’m like, I’m not going to do it anymore. I was actually expecting more people to hate on it, but it was my attempt to take the power out of that word, but I definitely do understand that people could be offended by it. It wasn’t my intention to be edgy or to get attention from it.

Your lyrics were quite violently confrontational, and some called you out on the realness of these: “And people be killing for food / With that crack and that spoon / But these rich mothafuckas they stay eatin’ good / Droppin’ wage livin’ good.” You annotated it on Genius with an image of corrupt Indonesian fugitives. Was it your way of saying, actually there’s shitty things happening here too?

Rich Chigga: That was definitely the purpose of it. I don’t know that much about politics, but I know this country is super corrupt. We don’t really have gun problems here, but it’s so fucked up; like we have high schools where they’re rivals and they fight in the street. It’s like a big gang fight but they use sharp weapons. In America, maybe it’s territorial, but here, they do it for no reason. And so many people die and get hurt. And now elementary kids are doing it, I see them with machetes and shit like that, it’s insane.

“We have high schools where they’re rivals and they fight in the street... And now elementary kids are doing it, I see them with machetes and shit like that, it’s insane” — Rich Chigga

With six million YouTube views and everyone talking about you, do you feel slightly famous yet?

Rich Chigga: I hate calling myself famous but let’s just say, here people come up and take pictures and shit when I go out. But I just can’t call myself famous!

Have you been affected or upset over any of the reaction so far?

Rich Chigga: I kind of replied to one article (laughs). When it came up on Twitter, I jokingly wrote, ‘Wow, fuck you guys’. I understand though, I have only two songs out. They can say anything as long as they don’t just label me as an Asian rapper. It’s so stupid just to focus on that. I don’t want people to think about it, I don’t want to be put in a box. I do comedy, though I wouldn’t call myself a comedian, and I still love videography, like, I directed ‘Dat $tick’ with my friend, so I’d love to drop a short film, that would be sick. I don’t want to be just a rapper.