When Rich Brian was just six years old, he discovered he had some special powers. Not in the otherworldly sense, where he developed skills to teleport or shapeshift, but in the musical sense. As a young kid, he spent his free time making music in his family band along with his parents and siblings. Brian adopted his instrument of choice–the drums, which his father also played. And it was here that he developed his lifelong love of music. Eventually, his powers for the art form grew as he explored new genres and artists he found on the Internet.
“I started listening to hip-hop a lot when I was 12 when I was learning a lot of English. I feel like listening to rap every day helped me with my pronunciation and just helped me get to know American culture a lot better,” says Brian from Los Angeles, California, where he moved to in 2017.
Years before Rich Brian became the touring musical phenom he is today, he was Brian Imanuel, a kid with a love of hip-hop, learning how to produce music like the rest of his generation–on Youtube. From his bedroom in Jakarta, Indonesia, he started experimenting with different melody structures and lyric sequences, creating the unique sound we’re all familiar with today.
“When I was 15, I started making songs just for fun,” Brian reminisces of his early releases on SoundCloud. “I made my first song from a beat I found on YouTube. My followers at the time liked it so I was like, ‘I did this for fun, but this feels nice so I’m just going to keep doing it.’”
A natural lyricist especially gifted in storytelling, he released his debut album, Amen, and as big breaks go, it was “life-changing.” Demonstrating an emotional and melodic sophistication that stood out from his peers, Amen ultimately reached number one on the iTunes Hip-Hop charts in 2018–making him the first Asian artist in history to achieve this feat. And in the intervening years, Brian has released multiple projects (“Brightside” and features with Playboi Carti and Offset,) as well as some forays into film (most notably, Jamojaya, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival). Last year, he wrote and recorded several songs for Marvel’s Asian-led epic Shang-Chi and the Legacy of Ten Rings.
“There’s been a lot of milestone moments in my career, but doing the soundtrack for Shang-Chi is definitely one of the major ones. To be on a song [“Run It”] with Rick Ross was insane and a personal high for me,” Brian shares. This summer, Brian continues forging ahead, with a performance at the highly anticipated Head in the Cloud Festival alongside his 88rising friends NIKI and Warren Hue. “I love New York,” Brian elaborates. “And the fact that this is the first Head in the Clouds in New York is super crazy. Last year, we had one in California, so I’m looking forward to reliving that experience and energy.” And despite these successful forays into other creative outlets, Brian shares that music will always be at the core of everything he does. “It’s something that I picked up when I was six, and I feel so passionate about it now. Music is what got me here and it’s what keeps me going.”
Rich Brain performs at Head in the Clouds Festival on May 20, 2023.
Photography Dennis Leupold
Fashion Christopher Campbell
Makeup Yasuko Shapiro (A-Frame)
Hair Patricia Morales (The Visionaries)
Executive producer Johnny Pascucci (Photobomb)
Production coordinator Merry Nestor (Photobomb)
Photo assistant Charles Brown
Stylist assistant Alexis Kossel
Makeup assistant Gabriela Vega
Hair assistants Jessica Arriaga, Luna Vela
Location Dust Studios