Rest in Peace, Rich Chigga

dex digital
3 min readJan 2, 2018
May 18, 2017. Keith Ape on the left, Brian Imanuel on the right. Shot on a Ricoh GR.

I first met Rich Chigga — as he was known back then, after his first performance in Los Angeles, back in May.

I thought he was a pretty cool guy. We rode in someone’s car to a restaurant somewhere in Koreatown. He seemed absolutely bewildered by his fame, but very confident in his ability. We didn’t talk about anything significant – I think we were mostly raving about Playboi Carti’s “Magnolia”, and making fun of Keith Ape’s apparent hatred of Jameson whiskey.

But I knew that if I ever did a formal interview with him, we’d end up talking about his name. ‘Chigga’ is an obvious play on the word ‘nigga’, and that association has been causing him problems since the day his first single dropped.

Then, yesterday, he changed his name to ‘Brian’. So, there goes that interview.

I wrote about that here, for Vice News:

It’s been interesting watching the reaction to this. A lot of people are angry.

The angry reactions generally fall into two types:

1. Weird cringy edgelords

The comments section of his latest video has a handful of people complaining about “SJWs” and political correctness.

These people seem to be upset that Brian realized his name was hurting others. It’s almost as if they don’t care about other people. It’s weird.

(As an aside, Brian now shares a bond with fellow labelmate Joji, who got famous making videos of himself, as “Filthy Frank”, vomiting up hair cakes but now makes pretty alt-R&B songs. Like Joji, Brian now has a bunch of edgelord fans who wish he was still telling rape jokes. I find this immature, but whatever.)

2. Cultural skeptics

Then, there’s the people who are still angry at Brian for saying ‘nigger’ in a song, and think of him as a cultural interloper in a black space. I’m a little more sympathetic to this stance than the other one, but I don’t know, it’s a little hard for me to get mad at Brian.

Like I wrote earlier this morning, the dude learned English (and American culture) from Rubik’s Cube videos. What do you expect?

Also, I’m biased, because I like Brian’s music. A lot.

It’s easy to dismiss someone you don’t like as ‘problematic*’ when they aren’t actually any good. But unlike, say, Bhad Babie or Slim Jesus, this kid is actually good (and, just as crucially, his management actually cares about developing him, not just flogging him as a one-trick gimmick). Not all of his tracks are megahits, but he’s got an undeniable knack for off-kilter melodies (check the chorus on Glow Like Dat), and the fact that he’s able to produce makes him a pretty compelling listen.

That is to say, in general: our anger at an artist’s bad behavior is usually inversely proportional to how much we like their art.

There’s a lot going on here. I’ve been fascinated by Brian for a while, not least because idea of an Asian hip-hop artist is something that tends to freak everyone out (listen to comrade Mary H.K. Choi’s interview with a guy who was consulting with Brian’s label for more on this — start at 42:40).

Academically, it’s a pretty damn interesting phenomenon to watch.

Anyway, I’m excited to see what Brian does next. I’m glad he made his decision, and am looking forward to the album.

And, if you haven’t heard it yet, listen to “See Me”. It’s pretty great:

*do not get me started on this word