There’s a line in the Brian Imanuel, stage name Rich Brian, song “Kids”, the second single released off of the Indonesian rapper’s 2019 album “The Sailor,” that states, “I used to be the kid, now the kids wanna be me.” It’s this sense of personal accomplishment, bordering on braggadocious pride, that drives much of the 19-year-old hip hop sensation’s sophomore musical effort.
Yet, often times throughout the album's 12-song, 44-minute run time, we also see Imanuel reflect on times where the “kids” he mentioned didn’t even know who he was– times of racial prejudice, familial stress, and economic hardships. While Imanuel has certainly made it by today’s standards, “The Sailor” makes it clear that it’s not necessarily about the destination, but the journey, that makes the Sailor into the Captain.
This personal journey results in a beautifully performed, lusciously produced and staggeringly epic piece of music that I feel confident in calling one of the best hip-hop records of the decade.
To start off, it’s that luscious production that makes The Sailor an absolute joy to listen to. There is an incredible range of musical styles present, from the from the typical yet addictive hi-hat and snare laden trap beat of “Rapapapa,” to the indie-rock ballad guitar strums of “Drive Safe,” and even a seemingly Weezer-inspired sun rock anthem with “100 Degrees.”
Imanuel himself shows a vast range of not just rapping styles, but flexes his singing chops on multiple tracks, and in a manner much more impressive that I would’ve thought (he turns in a simply masterful musical performance in, “Yellow,” the album’s lead single).
Even the select few features, including fellow 88rising label member Joji, blend perfectly with Imanuel’s voice and style, yet add even more depth and flavor. It’s clear Imanuel took the criticisms of his debut album Amen and developed a far more versatile sound and flow, which results in an auditory experience with nary a dull moment.
Lyrically, Imanuel covers a wide range of topics, while keeping the centralized story of his quick rise in the hip-hop world and his struggle to remain not only relevant, but true to himself, at the forefront of the album. Carrying the same sense of humor and personality that he’s had since he burst onto the scene in 2016 with, “Dat $tick,” Imanuel adds a level of maturity not even present in the music of rapper’s 20 years his senior.
Exploration is, well, explored in “Slow Down Turbo,” (perhaps the best song on the album), racial prejudice in “Yellow,” pride in “Confetti,” and even more themes are sprinkled consistently throughout. Yet, throughout the entire story, it seems as though he wants us to understand, just as a sailor does, that one cannot stay in the same circumstances for too long, and with new life experiences comes new character traits and increasing knowledge and humanity. This epic sense of scope and storytelling is what truly elevates “The Sailor” to the musical masterclass that it is.
At the end of the day, if you had told me that a 20-year-old kid from Indonesia would release one of the greatest rap albums of the last 10 years, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed. I guess, in a way, that that’s the beauty of this album. It speaks on unexpected moments of life, while being an unexpected delight in and of itself. Rich Brian is here to stay, and if he keeps on making music as good as “The Sailor,” then the kids will want to be him for a very, very long time.