When 17-year-old Indonesian native Brian Imanuel started writing songs in 2014, three years after posting comedy videos to YouTube and Twitter at the age of 13, he wasn’t expecting much to come of it. “I didn’t really know if I wanted to take music seriously, or it should be a one-off type thing,” he tells Rolling Stone. However, it wasn’t long before his single “Dat $tick” was making the rounds online, with a self-directed video that has garnered upwards of 54 million views since its posting in February, 2016. Suddenly, Imanuel – now better known by his stage name of Rich Chigga – was a viral sensation. “It was definitely intimidating at first. It’s such a new world for me, and it’s so foreign.”
Imanuel, who is now based in Los Angeles, doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge the role played by social media and the Internet not only in the swiftness of his rise, but also with regard to his ability to create publicly in the first place. “Social media definitely influenced a lot,” he recalls. “I just learned so much stuff on [the Internet]. I learned how to make videos, I learned how to make music, I learned English from the Internet. It’s such a great platform, too, to release your stuff. I just wanted to, on Twitter, build a following, and then post my work on there. That’s what I did, and it actually worked out.”
Despite his controversial name, for which he has expressed regret in numerous interviews, Imanuel tries to remain apolitical, especially with regard to American politics. “I actually honestly don’t look into politics that much,” he says. “I feel like I’m not at a place to say anything about that, because I feel like I don’t really know what to say. I just want people to love each other and accept each other and stop putting people down and stuff like that.”
He’s also hoping to follow in the footsteps of one of his formative idols, Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino), who he dreams of collaborating with in a movie or another capacity. “He’s my favorite person. I love him so much,” he says, “I’ve been watching his stuff since, like, when I was 13. It’s definitely a big influence. What he’s doing right now is what I’m trying to do.” That’s why he’s also currently at work on the debut full-length album as Rich Chigga, while simultaneously continuing film and comedy work, just like his hero.
His newfound foothold in America isn’t just sick beats and lyrics. When asked about the ongoing tensions in his hometown of Jakarta – where the city’s minority Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as Ahok) was recently jailed after making a speech that the court declared blasphemous in a widely Islamic country – Imanuel is quick to add thoughts on the fears his family and others are feeling. “There are riots and stuff. Recently, people have been getting shot more often. It’s pretty scary.”
With the continuing violence, his parents are making an effort to move out of the country’s capital, from Jakarta to Bali, and have encouraged their son to extend his stay in the United States. Heeding their request, Imanuel has found himself on his own in America at just 17. Though not seeing his family very often continues to be jarring, the new environment doesn’t bother him much. “I love this place,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to move out here.”
Although he compares it to being away from his family at college, he readily admits higher-education isn’t in the cards.
“I was homeschooled, and the last time I’ve been in a class full of people is when I was in elementary [school]. I completely forget what that was like. Academic studies in general is not something that I’m very good at,” he says. “When I say homeschooled, I was homeschooled for like two years and then we just stopped. It was me and my parents, and they’d give me homework and stuff like that, but then one day, they just stopped. I would be at home every day on my computer, and that’s kind of how I learned most of my stuff. Academically, I’m quite fucked. But I think it’ll be good. No college for me.”