Brian Imanual, known as Rich Brian, is hoping his new debut album, Amen, will help him transition from Vine star to respected rapper.
Brian became internet famous in the beginning of 2016 after his YouTube single “Dat $tick” went viral. At the time, then–16–year–old Brian went by his previous stage name “Rich Ch**ga,” and received most of his attention from reaction videos to his song that satirically played on Asian and African–American stereotypes.
The Indonesian teenager, who recently moved to Los Angeles, says he learned to speak English in 2011 when he was just 11 by listening to rappers such as Childish Gambino, 2 Chainz, Macklemore, and Tyler The Creator. Brian began his internet career the next year, posting homemade sketches on Twitter and then Vine, which often centered on African–American stereotypes of gang violence.
As Brian gained fame as a viral meme, many thought he was no more than a comedic spectacle. He was also heavily criticized the for his racially insensitive imagery and lyrics. He frequently used racial slurs for what some called “comedic purposes,” like in the first few lines of “Dat $tick”: “12 in the morning, pop shells for a living / and berry gon’ smell blood trail every minute / rogue wave on you n**gas, no fail when I hit ‘em."
Since the release of “Dat $tick,” Brian has apologized for his offensive language, telling the New Yorker that he “regrets” ever going by “Rich Ch**ga” and has changed his stage name to “Rich Brian.” Brian explained that he came up with his first stage name as a joke.
“I do regret it—I didn't really know what I was doing and I definitely did not know people were gonna pop off like this," he said.
Brian has said he hopes the name change will make people take his music more seriously.
So far, it's not clear whether many people are buying his supposed transition. Pitchfork wrote that it is “hard to determine if the whole thing is a joke or not.”
Brian isn't the first internet–famous icon to try becoming a recording artist in the past year. English rapper and comedian Michael Dapaah, whose alter–ego “Big Shaq,” released the wildly popular single “Man’s Not Hot,” and went on to release a music video in October featuring cameos from a host of celebrities, including Waka Flocka Flame, Lil Yachty, and DJ Khaled.
In the past decade, numerous internet stars have found their way into mainstream stardom. Justin Bieber famously got his first start after a talent manager found his YouTube channel in 2008. So, if Rich Brian can successfully separate himself from his previous work and be taken seriously as a rapper, he’ll be in good company.