It’s not everyday that someone goes from Vine to a Ghostface Killah feature – Brian Imanuel has had one of hip-hop’s strangest come-ups. The Indonesian rapper and producer taught himself English through watching YouTube, before becoming popular on the Vine platform and then transitioning into music. Imanuel’s debut single, Dat $tick, quickly made waves, racking up millions of views on Youtube and sparking a “Rappers React To…” video that catapulted Imanuel into the scene. 10 singles, 1 tour and 2 name changes later, we’ve finally arrived at his debut album, Amen.
In the face of such a unique perspective, many have questioned the way in which Rich Brian has attempted to express it through his music. The album’s opening track is already a good sign – Brian discusses his upbringing, past friends and success over a minimalist beat that perfectly sets up the album. Indeed, across Amen we see the full spectrum of Rich Brian – from self-discovery on Cold to braggadocio on Chaos, from fragility on Introvert to longing on Glow Like Dat. Amen succeeds where many modern rap albums fail, crafting a persona that is identifiable and empathetic.
This emotional range is complimented by Amen’s lyrics – alongside emotional depth, Brian’s wit allows for some very quotable lines across the project. This is all aided by Brian’s buttery, deep vocals, which glide with ease over the varied styles that his beats provide. While the voice can become a little tiresome towards the end of a full-length project (let’s call that Culture 2 syndrome), there is a 21-Savage-esque effortlessness to it that is fairly engaging.
This is not to say that the rapping is perfect, however. Weirdly enough, Brian’s rhyme schemes are incredibly discordant – instead of the multi-syllable internal rhymes we’ve come to expect from the genre, many of Amen’s tracks are filled with struggle-rhymes and un-rhymed bars. This isn’t the only problem, either. While miles better than your average trap thoroughfare, Brian’s lyrics can often feel disconnected from each other – lines such as “My dad is a lawyer, he would tell me ‘bout his days at work” aren’t developed into full-fledged stories, leaving the listener wanting more. Likewise, some of his references and jokes can err on corny: lines such as “cruisin’ down to poon town” are almost painful to hear. It’s clear that despite some great one-liners and flows, Brian has a way to go in terms of refining his style.
Which bring me onto Kitty, the album’s elephant in the room. This track is a complete mess. Over a painful near-three-minute journey, we hear one of Brian’s anecdotes, told as if to friends in a bar. Brian’s story of meeting a girl in the bar is a Lil Dicky track without the self-awareness. Lines such as “2AM, Whiskey dick, 80% discount” and “Struggling to put the jimmy on” reach a Lonely Island-like level of parody, while others like “that p**** smell like honeydew zest” are just nonsensical (nothing like the smell of a freshly grated melon skin in the morning). This is all brought together for the track’s ‘finale’, where shock horror, the girl was his friend’s sister. This track combines the wit of a Logan Paul video with the charm of roadkill – simply put, it’s unlistenable.
If there’s one thing you can’t fault, however, it’s production. Every song is perfectly matched to the track’s subject matter – Cold is icy yet emotional, Attention is dark and menacing, Arizona is warm and nostalgic and Chaos is, well, chaotic. If this wasn’t enough, the songs are littered with beautiful ‘breakdown’ moments that add so much to their atmosphere. Cold, a standout track for production, rises from a twinkling introduction to an icy rap beat, eventually flourishing into a breakdown reminiscent of Tyler, The Creator’s phenomenal Flower Boy (my AOTY for last year, you can check out the review here). Likewise, Occupied is the definition of a perfect trap beat – the cold twinkles that begin the track are brought together with a crisp clap, creating a bouncy beat that makes it impossible to sit still. Regardless of
what you think of his rapping, it’s undeniable that Brian has a future as a producer: if this is his debut, you can only dream of what his tracks will sound like 2-3 years down the line.
Overall, Amen is a fairly solid project. That’s not to say that the tracks are bland middle-of-the-road rap, but rather of varying quality. There are 3 levels to the album – the amazing tracks (Cold, Occupied, Introvert, See Me, Enemies), the awful track (Kitty) and then everything in-between. If you’re a fan of Rich Brian’s style, you’re likely to love most of the record – it’s not a disappointing release by any means. However, aside from the ‘amazing’ tracks, there will be little to convert new fans – it is unlikely to have any staying power as an entire project. If there’s one thing to say though, it’s that Rich Brian’s potential could lead to one hell of a career.