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Album Review: "Amen", Rich Brian

Rich Brian is the prodigy who made the famous YouTube tutorial on how to microwave bread. Ever since I came across it, I knew he was destined for great things. Although a lot of his appeal lies in detailed explanation of how to accomplish this, he’s a decently talented rapper as well. The 18-year old Indonesian artist recently skyrocketed to popularity in the US under the name Rich Chigga. He’s most known for his appearance on Dat Stick, and understandably so; Brian’s distinct vocal style, attitude, and ability to handle the beat showed him a bright future ahead. Since then he’s released a myriad of other singles, and Amen is his first full-length effort.

I definitely have a love-hate relationship with Brian’s style of rapping. His one-note, straightforward vocal remains pretty low-pitched throughout most of Amen. I don’t have a problem with it for a decent chunk of the release; lack of vocal range doesn’t mean uninteresting. The problem is that an approach like this does become tiresome after the fifth or sixth track on the album. I do love the speed on a track like Amen; Brian’s on fire here and I wish he’s carried the same drive/energy throughout more of the songs here.

It’s worth noting that Brian produced nearly all of Amen himself; it’s hard not to be impressed that someone at his age can rap, produce his own music, direct all his own music videos, etc. And while they’re relatively simplistic, the beats are definitely appealing, but they’re not necessarily handled with enough detail to remain gratifying in the long term. They’re catchy for a listen or two, and past that you’ve heard everything you’re going to hear.

Amen definitely has a personal conceptual approach that makes it stand out. Brian’s lyrics are pretty frank and to the point, but their raw state is clearly intentional. This is 18-year old Brian in his element; he’s talking about his experiences and not trying to exaggerate the details. The depressive nature of Cold and Introvert are arguably the most honest and vulnerable we’ve seen him. Both delve into Brian’s introversion and dark cynicism; it’s not hard to sympathize, as a lot of us go through these feelings people write off as teenage angst at one point or another. They remind me of each other sonically as well; the atmospheric, wispy synths and depressive pianos on Cold remind me of the elegant, bouncy synth line, blaring percussion, and murky bass of Introvert. The straightforward/polished approach can be seen on tracks like Occupied, with its speedy shimmering synths and chilling backings, and the hazy, ringing guitars on Glow Like Dat continue the cold and melancholic mood.

Glow Like Dat stands out as another conceptually rewarding track. Here Brian describes the pain of his only relationship, which was over the internet and lasted two months. His honesty and ability to talk about it despite people with more experience thinking it’s trivial and unimportant is valuable and I think was overlooked in the context of the album. It pushes the fact that pain is relative, and something that doesn’t appear substantial to someone might be heavily important or excruciating to someone else.

Flight was similarly lyrially fascinating; uses imagery of planes/travel to capture a moment where Brian took in everything that’s happened to him up to this point in his career. It brings me back to times I’ve spent hours in the car and had time to reflect on my own life and the recent progress I’ve made. It typically happens around the holidays, connect the events of the past year to each other and make sense of them. I can imagine for someone like Brian whose material has received so much sudden attention, the experience would be much more emotional and intense.

Arizona’s lyrics remind me of it; I also love the feature on this track and Little Prince. The lowkey, mellow r&b is a nice change of pace. It might not be as polished as Amen’s other sonic moments, but the fuzzy, hazy layers of sound are as appealing. I love the fact we’re getting a female vocal presence on Little Prince; it makes me with Brian had incorporated a few more features into the rest of it. Especially after the Offset and Joji features didn’t do anything for me, it would’ve added some much needed variety.

Another issue Amen presents is the cringy bars that seem to pop up time and time again. While sometimes Brian pulls it off (note “Indonesian MC Hammer in this bitch” on See Me), there are a lot of moments that take away from what the project could’ve been. Kitty stands out as a culprit; not only is the subject matter painfully cliche (Brian hooks up with girl at club to find out it’s his friend’s sister), it bluntly describes everything going on without a reason why we should care. He also seems to deliver cringe bar after cringe bar on Chaos, which the beat isn’t interesting enough to make up for.

Although the album isn’t as gratifying as I wanted it to be, I’m genuinely interested to see where Brian goes from here. More bread tutorials would be awesome, but if he decides to stick with hip hop, I think if he perfects his style he could be onto something really unique. If he eliminates the few cringe bars/boring moments and finds a way to push his production a step further, he could easily have more appeal in the future. This being his debut, it’s only uphill from here and I’m rooting for him.


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