Cover Rich Brian sits down with Tatler to talk all about his new album, Brightside (Photo: Courtesy of Rich Brian)

In an interview with Tatler, Rich Brian talks about his new EP, Brightside, his go-to Jollibee order, and what his songwriting process with Warren Hue is like

“It's a simple question, do you got it or not?” Rich Brian opens in New Tooth, the first song from Brightside, his new surprise four-track EP. In the self-directed music video inspired by The Raid, an Indonesian martial-arts film, Brian acts out his own police thriller, portraying a S.W.A.T officer turned business executive who takes revenge on a double agent. New Tooth’s heavy, piano-driven instrumentals are matched with his equally hard-hitting lyrics. This isn’t a filler track, and it’s nothing like Brian’s recent releases. It’s rap. Quick. Intense. Yet smooth. Brian is going back to basics, and it’s clear that he’s still got it. 

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Steering away from his other recent releases such as Edamame, Love In My Pocket, and Sins—which blends rap with pop and indie-pop inspired beats—Brightside has a grittier edge to it. “I wanted to just put out songs, and to just let people hear me rap, because it's something that I haven't really done as much recently,” Brian tells me over Zoom. Dressed in a black sweatshirt and a silver necklace, his hair has grown out and been dyed back to black, a striking contrast from the bright pink buzzcut he previously sported for Brightside’s album cover. 

Rich Brian, whose real name is Brian Imanuel, is a 22-year-old Indonesian rapper who first rose to fame with his viral single, Dat $tick in 2016. Since then, he has moved to Los Angeles after being signed by 88rising, an American record label and Asian arts collective that specialises in managing Asian artists, with other notable artists including Joji, Niki and Keith Ape. 

“I miss when people would drop songs on SoundCloud and I think this was the closest thing to that for me. I had this really clear vision that I wanted to drop a very short three or four-song EP and do it as a surprise,” Brian says, reminiscing over his SoundCloud days––where he first released Dat $tick

“While doing melodies is fun, I wanted to remind people that I still love to rap,” Brian said in a statement. “It’s short, it’s not an album but I see it like a mental note of how the past year has accelerated my growing-up process as an artist and a person.”

Growth, for Brian, seems to be plentiful. Last September, he became the first Indonesian artist to surpass 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify; since 2020, he has released two albums, 1999, and now, Brightside. On top of everything, when 88rising caught the attention of Destin Daniel Cretton, director of Marvel’s first Asian superhero movie, Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings, Brian helped collaborate on 5 out of the 18 soundtracks for the film. 

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A recurring name in Brian’s list of collaborators is 20-year-old Warren Hue, an Indonesian artist whom Brian previously worked with for California, Marvel’s Always Rising, and now, in Brightside’s Getcho Mans.

“My collaboration process with [Warren] is always really organic,” says Brian. “He doesn't overthink when it comes to writing and that's inspiring to me, because I'm such a deep thinker when it comes to my lyrics to make sure that I don't waste a single bar on a whack quote, or something that’s boring.” 

After hearing the beat for Getcho Mans with Hue in the studio, the two friends began brainstorming for the hook of the song. “[The phrase] was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the beat. I was just like, ‘getcho man's’ and we both kind of liked it,” says Brian. “I wrote down my parts of the hook and then Warren continued based off of what I did.”

“To me, the hardest part [of songwriting is] to make a hook that's catchy. But also [to make sure it’s not] trying too hard to be catchy,” Brian explains. “With verses, you can kind of write whatever, there's not really any structure to it.” 

Brian’s songwriting may have evolved over the years, but there’s a topic that he returns to in every album: his home, Indonesia. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2017 to pursue his music career, the rapper says he used to visit home every five months, staying a month at a time prior to Covid-19. Due to the pandemic, however, he hasn’t been able to visit for almost two years, but there are plenty of places in Los Angeles that remind him of home. 

“I can go to the beach [in Los Angeles] and feel like I'm in Bali. Or there's this highway that I go past near Studio City and this car dealership makes me feel like I'm in Indonesia. It's just certain things. if I miss Indo, I would probably eat Indonesian food,” Brian says. “I don't really eat out that often. I mostly cook recipes from my parents.”

There is, however, an unlikely place that reminds Brian of the taste of home: the Filipino fast-food chain, Jollibee. In fact, he likes it so much that he included it in his new song, Sunny. When I asked him about the line, Brian visibly brightens and starts rapping, “‘F**k around I eat some Jollibee's, I love the grease and all the seasoning.’ I eat Jollibee all the time. I love Jollibee. I get the all spicy chicken with rice,” he says. “In Indonesia, we have KFC. And it is the closest thing that I can get to an Indonesian KFC.”

Although it may be a while until Brian will be able to taste KFC from Indonesia, the rapper is wasting no time making his friends and family back home proud. Just a few days after the interview, Brian dropped Blue, an archived song he previously made for The Sailor album, on YouTube. A glance at the comment section and it’s clear that his fans love it, comparing it to Drive Safe, a gentle, slower-paced love song in The Sailor

“I ain't born to die, I need to stay a while,” Brian raps, with the slowing instrumentals at the end of New Tooth. If the drop of Brightside proves anything, it’s that Brian and his music will be staying in the spotlight for long while. 


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