When Rich Brian burst onto the scene, he was going viral puffing his chest in a pink polo shirt and khaki shorts for his debut single “Dat $tick.” The deep baritone of his voice and the awkward dabbing was every bit confusing — toggling between dadcore and an imitation of rap culture.
The same year, the Indonesian-based artist was quickly signed to budding record label 88rising, flying out to the United States. “Dat $tick” confirmed the fact that he was finding fame for being out-and-out weird. If you squint, though, looking past the fanny pack and instead to the lyrics critiquing Indonesia’s police force, there was something deeper — something more salient to him that he wants to prove in his newer work.
1999, Rich Brian’s sophomore EP, was released Aug. 25. He was 16 at the start of a career that, while it put him on the map, created a version of himself he has trouble recognizing on the new album. He’s ditched the cargo shorts for a higher production, more honest version of his original self.
On “Long Run,” he’s celebrating and simultaneously confessing that there is more to him than meets the eye. In the past few years, Brian went through a very public reckoning of his old, problematic self. In 2018, he went through two stage name changes before settling on “Rich Brian.” The world might remember his multiple names, public personas and controversies that surrounded his early career. He gently reminds us that despite it all, his “name still the same” and “brain still the same.”
Brian reaches some points on the album in which he opens opportunities to delve deeper, such as on “Don’t Care,” but they are squandered in between experimental lyrics sung more with a weak shout than a substantial melody. He professes repeatedly throughout “Don’t Care” that he truly doesn’t care about others sounding off about his life, but he decides to make up his mind and be honest at the end. “I been thinkin’ that it may be time to tell myself that I/ Don’t care,” he sings in the least grating part of the song.
Since the start of his career, Brian was hyped up by fans looking for Asian representation in American hip-hop, and in this album, he celebrates his struggles. While the majority of the EP’s songs go through his relationship woes, he interrupts this pattern to quickly address his mom. He reassures her he now has “bigger goals and bigger shows,” as he notes on “Sins,” with “the right amount of stress.” While the song is easily 1999’s most complex work, it winds on and on, seemingly without a chorus or end in sight.
“Love in My Pocket” examines the world around him, looking for love in moments rather than people. “DOA” and “Love in My Pocket” sound similar, like disco-pop fraternal twins in an attempt to mimic The Weeknd. The “Love in My Pocket” music video has Brian returning to his roots: weird and rapping. He sports a misshapen face mask and crushes packets of ramen, and it’s nostalgic of a time when Brian was remembered as a meme first and an artist second.
There isn’t much of a cohesive theme or a prominent style on the EP that listeners could pick up from an album. It’s slightly disheveled, put together with a mish-mash of styles that aren’t focused for any particular way or reason. His second EP does excel in the moments he’s honest, trying to be tangential to his original persona. There’s less of the smart, vulgar quips his previous work was chock full of, and more of a serious attempt at finding his sound.
1999 isn’t particularly revolutionary or an in-depth look at what has become of a 21-year-old internet sensation. The EP is akin to a half-hearted gift bought at the last minute with shiny wrapping paper slammed on top of it to save face. His 21st birthday present to himself is a little fun and a lot of mess. Which is, more or less, the meaning of growing up.
Contact Kelly Nguyen at [email protected].