88rising Music/EMPIRE · February 2, 2018
Before I get into this review, I want to acknowledge just how impressive Rich Brian’s story is, regardless of the quality of this album. Brian Imanuel just turned 18 in September, and he has already earned the title of first Asian artist to ever reach #1 on the iTunes Hip Hop chart. He learned English from YouTube videos in his room in Indonesia, and is essentially a poster child for the ideal self-made internet rapper story. Just keep that in mind.
Since the viral success of the half-serious, half-satirical 2-minute ‘Dat $tick’ in 2016, Rich Brian has released a string of decent singles, but Amen is his first ever album. Actually, when ‘Dat $tick’ came out, his name was Rich Chigga, and the song even included the n-word, both quite risky choices that ended up going reasonably well for Brian. To his credit, he has since changed his name and realized the mistakes he made back then, but these choices do a good job illustrating just how young Rich Brian is, both in years and in experience in the public eye. Brian was 16 when he started getting famous, and instead of behaving worse after the fame, it seems that he has made a real effort to mature and clean up his act.
From the very first second of Amen, Brian makes it clear that he’s not here just to joke around with a fanny pack and khakis like in ‘Dat $tick.’ The title track starts the album short and sweet, and while the rap game might not be his best, it absolutely captures the listener’s attention, which is extremely important for the first track on an album. However, after the initial excitement, Brian still feels a lot like an artist who is still figuring himself out. There are some pretty solid beats, both on the harder end and on the softer side, and there are some clever lines, but mostly it feels distant and one-note; there isn’t a clear storyline or dynamic arc in the album, and Brian still seems like he’s imitating his idols to make up for his lack of experience.
The most impressive part of Amen is the production, which is still a testament to Brian’s talent, since he produced or co-produced almost every song on the album. It’s possible that Brian could be an even better producer than a rapper, if he chose to focus on the former more in future projects. Songs like ‘Occupied,’ ‘Attention (feat. Offset),’ and ‘Chaos’ are some of the toughest beats on the album, almost irresistible to dance to; others, like ‘Introvert (feat. Joji),’ ‘Arizona,’ and ‘Glow Like Dat’ show the more relaxed and beautiful beats Brian is capable of. In particular, ‘Introvert (feat. Joji)’ shows a lot of promise for Brian branching out with his style, with a more classic groove that isn’t seen on the rest of the album, and gorgeous vocals from fellow self-made internet star Joji. On ‘Kitty,’ the struggle between Brian’s comedic online persona and his professional rap goal presents itself in the form of a rap about getting caught losing his virginity to a girl who he later discovers to be his manager’s sister.
Ultimately, Amen is an okay album, nothing special objectively but still an interesting tangible product of Rich Brian’s incredible origin story. It’s probably a scary thing to take the risk of opting for more honesty instead of just a trap façade, and while the payoff may not have been the best musically, I think Amen will serve as the catalyst for Rich Brian’s full evolution into the artist he wants to be. If this were his second or third album, I’d be seriously disappointed, but since this was his debut, my feeling coming away from it is excitement for the future over anything else.