A combination of talent and resilience are crucial in surviving virality. ‘Dat $tick’ was a parody track that turned Rich Brian into a celebrity overnight. It connected him with the likes of Pharrell, Post Malone, Ghostface Killah, and Tyler the Creator. It put him in front of his manager, and 88rising founder, Sean Miyashiro, and alongside fellow post-meme master, Joji. But what was it about Rich Brian–an unassuming Indonesian kid obsessed with Rubix cubes–that audiences and industry latched onto?
Despite being an outlier to the traditional rap archetype, Rich Brian’s debut album Amen topped the iTunes hip-hop charts. He was the first Asian artist to ever do so. In the space of two years, he made history. Rich Brian’s success highlights the valuable impact of multiculturism in modern society. His virality has empowered him to reclaim his heritage and to redefine cultural stereotypes, simply by winning.
The fact is, Rich Brian’s narrative of being homeschooled in the suburbs of Indonesia is far more relatable to Asian-Australian youth than stories about the trap. Ask any first generation migrant about their feelings of otherness, and displacement. Ask them about being stereotyped, and fetishised. Rich Brian ‘made it’ because he redefines the caricature of Asian culture portrayed in Western media. He is a parody of the parody pre-determined for him, and that makes him iconic.
Firstly, I want to personally thank you for being a role model.
Oh, I appreciate that.
You’re aspirational. When I was growing up, I didn’t have many role models that looked like me in Hollywood.
Yeah, I didn’t have many role models growing up. There was this Indonesian actor that was in a movie called ‘The Raid’. It was this action movie that was really successful and won a lot of awards. He got a role in ‘The Fast and the Furious’ as one of the bad guys. You don’t ever think that someone from Indonesia will be in Hollywood. Even playing one of the bad guys was insane to me. I was really driven by that.
That is so true. When I was growing up I looked up to Lucy Liu.
I love Lucy Liu.
Do you know who Lee Lin Chin is?
She is a news anchor on SBS, which is Australia’s most diverse TV channel. She’s amazing. It wasn’t until I watched MTV Asia for the first time that I realised Asian people could host western-skewed shows. That’s honestly where it was at. So, it’s really good that you do what you do.
I don’t really think about it that much, but I definitely know that it’s a thing. It’s a lot of pressure. Sometimes, I have split-second realisations that I’m doing what I’m doing, and it’s pretty crazy.
Australia is so close to Indonesia, but this is your first time here. Had you known much about Australia before this tour?
Honestly, not really. I have a lot of friends from Indonesia who have been here before on a student exchange program. Other than that I don’t know much about Australia. I used to watch Masterchef Junior and I had a crush on these two girls, Isabelle and Sofia, who won. All I know is that they’re from Queensland.
Have you been to Queensland yet?
Yeah, we went to Brisbane, it was great.
Heaps of Australians go to Indonesia, well, Bali more specifically. But you’re from Jakarta, and I haven’t been there yet. What’s it like?
Compared to Bali there’s a lot more of a city vibe, there are way more buildings. I don’t really know what I do when I’m in Jakarta, I’m such a stay at home person. A lot of my friends go to the mall or the club. Or they play pool and go to cafes, that’s a big thing in Indonesia. I try to not go out that often, I just love being at home.
I can relate to that. Having the internet definitely helps. The internet has played such a big part in your career. When did you first get online?
The first time I remember accessing the internet was at an internet cafe. It looked like an office with cubicles of people using the internet. Me and my whole family would go there sometimes and book three computers for my sister, my brother, and me with our parents just watching over us.
Would they be watching your screen?
Sometimes my mum would be with my sister Googling stuff. I remember the first time I found out about Google I thought “This is insane, you can look up any image you want?”. I used to love drawing dinosaurs, but it was really hard to access dinosaur images. I would play this dinosaur game on PlayStation, and I’d have to replay this one cutscene, turning it on and off. Then I found out I could just use Google Images. It was amazing.
What dinosaurs were you drawing?
You learnt to speak English by watching Youtube, which is wild. Who were you watching?
Mostly Vloggers. I was watching a lot of PVP (Prank vs. Prank) and random Youtube reviews and tutorials. I used to be really into Rubix cubes, so I would watch people who made tutorials.
So when you started speaking English, you were just talking about Rubix cubes?
The first time I remember wanting to learn English, I was 11 years old. I was thinking about something, and I realised that the inner voice in my head was in English. I thought that was cool, and wanted to keep learning it. Every time I’m alone I talk to myself in English and practise my pronunciation.
I’ve tried to learn other languages, it’s hard. I admire your drive, you’re so fluent now.
It took a while. When I was 15 I definitely had more of an accent.
Yeah, I watched an old tutorial of yours and noticed your accent a bit more.
Oh yeah, that was from when I was like 12 or 13 years old.
Is it weird that people can Google you now? Just knowing that I so much about you, and you nothing about me?
It’s pretty crazy. Especially when you see the time from you can’t find anything about me, to now.
You can’t delete your history either.
You definitely can’t.
You went from Vine to ‘Dat $tick’ and found fame via meme culture. Do you have any advice for the younger generation of meme crossovers like Yodel Kid, Lil Tay, and Bhad Bhabie?
You have to be visual and be able to see yourself in other people’s eyes and know how other people see you. When people look at your whole personality and brand, you have to know how to change that slowly, and not freak people out at the same time.
In this post-meme era, it really is all about an artists output. You dropped your album Amen, which went Number 1 in the first week on iTunes. That is mindblowing.
I was not expecting that at all.
I expected it from a consumer perspective. The hype was definitely there. Being the first Asian artist ever to go to number one is wild.
Yeah, it’s insane.
What did your parents say?
I don’t really know. They just texted me. I was in LA at the time and they were in Indonesia so it was hard to communicate. They were just really stoked about it. My mum and dad both posted a screenshot of the charts on their Instagram. I was totally not expecting that, at all. I had no idea where I was at in the whole music thing. I didn’t know how well it was going to do. When I posted the cover art and the release date, I realised there were a lot more people interested than I had thought.
It’s pretty amazing that streaming exists now. It’s really all about the fans, and each one of those plays is an actual kid somewhere in the world. 88rising is very inspiring. What you’ve done as a crew, and the way you use content marketing is impressive. It’s a very different model to major labels, and very suited to this era. How did you and Sean meet?
It was through an American-Korean rapper named Dumbfounded. I already knew about him at the time, and he followed me on Twitter a week or so before I dropped ‘Dat $tick’ for my comedy stuff. When the video dropped, I DM’d him the link and asked what he thought. He had already checked it out. He asked if I had a Skype number to call me on as he wanted to connect with his manager, Sean. I was already a fan of Dumbfounded and found out that Sean also managed Keith Ape, who I thought was dope. Sean and I got on a call, at the time he was still talking to me about his vision for 88rising, because it didn’t have a Youtube channel yet. I was really intrigued by it. It was a really fast process.
It’s crazy how quickly you can build trust with someone online.
It’s pretty crazy to think about. Sean and I worked together for about a year before meeting each other in real life.
88rising keeps going from strength to strength. Do you think there will be new additions to the roster, or is it kind of maxed at the moment?
Sean is taking care of everybody. That’s like having multiple kids. If, one day, he decides to have actual kids: we’re fucked.
I saw that you, Trippie Redd, and Joji were playing basketball. Are you and Trippie Redd making any music together?
We were all in the studio together, and I played Trippie Redd one of my songs and he wanted to get on that one. I don’t know what’s going on with that. All I know is that he’s beefing with 6ix9ine.
It’s so hectic. They are going at it all the time. Like when 6ix9ine was in the pool trying to stir up Trippie Redd on Instagram Live. That was pretty hilarious.
Sean literally emailed me the link to watch it.
It reminded me of best friends beefing, the kind who love and hate each other. Are you friends with 6ix9ine as well?
I’ve never met him.
In my mind, there is an IRL Soundcloud world where everyone just knows each other.
Yeah totally. I haven’t met him yet, but a long time ago before the rap thing, I remember seeing a picture of 6ix9ine, and he looked nothing like he does now.
Proof that you can’t delete history. So, do you think you’ll get back into making films and directing?
No, but I am taking acting classes when I get back to LA.
So you’ll be in one of the Fast And The Furious movies then?
I hope so. I better be!
Someone better call Cole Bennett to direct it. Would you work with him?
For sure. The first video I saw by Cole Bennett was a Lil Pump video for ‘Flex Like Ouu’. I’ve been noticing him get more diverse with his video style and I really like that.
The thing about Cole Bennett that trips me out is that he looks like such an unassuming dude.
Yeah, which is really cool.
Agreed. It’s kind of like when your ‘Dat $tick’ video dropped, I was honestly like “Who the hell is this guy with the fanny pack?”. How long has it been since then?
It’s been about two years.
Things have moved fast! You must be proud.
Yeah, I’m pretty proud.
One last thing. When I was in Uni, I would live off Indomie Mi Goreng. It’s really popular in Australia. There’s this new trend of chefs bastardizing the original format of eggs and noodles, and putting really strange things in there like kale and gourmet garnishes. What are your thoughts on that?
I don’t like that. In Indonesia, we do it too, but restaurants put non-gourmet stuff in like corned beef or cheese on top. It’s actually really good.
What about Spam?
No Spam. And definitely not kale. Mi Goreng is meant to be served really DIY, and not fancy. When it gets fancy it just feels weird and wrong.
Follow Rich Brian here.
Listen to ‘History’ by Rich Brian here.
Listen to Head In The Clouds by 88rising here.
- Photography: Mike Danischewski