Rich Brian Went From YouTube to Working In The Studio With Pharrell 

The young rapper speaks candidly about creative blocks, his evolving sound, and the pressures of being a role model.   

Brian Immanuel, aka Rich Brian, first gained recognition in 2016 when his music video for “Dat $tick” went viral on YouTube. Determined not to be a one-hit wonder, Immanuel used the buzz from YouTube to launch his career. Since then, he’s signed to mass media label, 88Rising, released three studio albums, topped the iTunes hip-hop charts, and been in the studio with Pharrell.

Born and raised in Indonesia, Immanuel’s interest in hip-hop began when he discovered Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop,” which led him down a YouTube rabbit hole where he discovered Drake, 2 Chainz, and other popular North American artists. At this point, his English skills were still improving, but through his YouTube research he learned more about the language, the production of music, and its accompanying visuals. This all led to the release of “Dat $tick,” with his journey coming full circle as he was now one of those names with a music video that was trending online.

We caught up with the artist while he was in Shanghai, China, following the release of his third studio album, 1999. Immanuel speaks about how he deals with creative blocks, the biggest misconception about him, and reveals to us the one artist he’s still dying to have a conversation with. 

Do you still get nervous to release new music, or is it something you’re used to at this point?

Every new release is pretty exciting. It’s such a long process from when you make the music to when people finally get to hear it. I don’t think I get nervous anymore, just excited.

What can fans expect to take away from 1999?

Happiness and feeling like they can live their life [as if] they’re in a movie, cause that’s pretty much what it is.

 Can you explain the concept and inspiration behind it?

I wanted it to be the project where I stop overthinking, in a music sense but also [in] a more general life sense, realizing that most of the time no one cares about your mistakes as much as you do.

You speak to outsider’s perceptions and enemies on the project. What made you want to go that route and sing about these things?

It isn’t an active decision for me to take a certain route when I write my songs. I mostly just write how I feel in that moment, and in some moments on 1999 I was definitely a very angsty teen.

What is it like releasing a project in the middle of a global pandemic? Does it feel weird?

Not at all, I’m just glad I have a platform to make people a little bit happier in this insane time.

Do you ever hit a creative block? How do you get out of it?

Yeah absolutely, usually either when I’ve made too much music or have too much life stuff going on. The hardest part is to start writing again, but the key is to let yourself make as many mistakes as possible; wanting it to be perfect the first time just causes anxiety.

It’s been over two years since you released your debut album. How has your sound changed since then?

I’ve grown a lot lyrically and vocally. Since [my debut album], I’ve learned a lot more about song arrangements and production, also my English pronunciation is much better now.

Do you often feel the pressure of being a public figure at the forefront of Asian rap?

Absolutely, but I remind myself that I’m just a normal person like everybody else and I’m just doing things that make me happy.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Having the thought of a bunch of people all around the world driving around listening to my song or crying to my song or having sex to my song. It’s all really cool; I’m glad I can be the soundtrack to people’s lives.

What is the biggest misconception about you?

Some people think I’m 5’7 but I’m actually around 5’8-5’9

Who is someone that you have yet to work with that you’re dying to?

I know I say this all the time but Tyler [The Creator], it doesn’t have to even be music or anything, I just want to exchange words with this man.

What has been the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment of your career?

My first ever studio session with Pharrell. That was my first time having to write in front of someone; it was insane.

Who would be in your dream group chat, dead or alive?

Alan Watts, Jesus Christ, and NAV.

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