Review: Amen

Brian Imanuel’s debut album, Amen, seems to teeter the line between something to laugh at and something to laugh with. Imanuel, or Rich Brian, quickly gained internet fame around two years ago after posting his self-aware parody of modern-day rap, Dat $tick. Early on, the spectacle of a deep-voiced Indonesian teen wearing a fanny pack in a trap music video was intriguing enough to catch the attention of some of the most respected artists in the industry.

But, for the past couple years, Imanuel has been coasting through the music industry, producing flashy singles and still leaving listeners unable to conclude whether or not his persona is a joke. So, following his name change from the controversial Rich Chigga, Imanuel has indicated that he hopes  to take his first steps towards a respectable rap career.

When I started listening to the 14 tracks on Amen, I approached the album with caution, wondering how many of them were just attempts to recreate the same hype surrounding his first hits. At first glance, half of Amen embodied every stereotypical gimmick the new age of rap is known for: the lines about beautiful women, the uninspired hooks, and the Offset feature everyone seems to have. By doing so, Imanuel seems to make a mockery of the culture he strives to be apart of.

For these tracks, Imanuel caters to the philosophy that the edgier the line, the better. In particular, on “Attention,” Imanuel raps, “I got people locked and loaded like they trained for ISIS,” continuing to follow the same cliche rap formulas that got him to where he is today. Ultimately, for much of the album, Imanuel chases how rap music is supposed to sound, failing to balance his viral persona and artistry.

However, the other half of the album shows a radically different side of Imanuel. Aside from Amen’s flaws, its few gems show that Imanuel is capable of being genuine, with his version of genuine being stories of his upbringing, pains of his transition into the mainstream and some lovable, cringe-worthy jokes.

Like on “Flight,” he expresses the complex combination of stress, growth and belonging as he narrates his first trip from Indonesia to the United States. Imanuel produces this chorus in an almost dream-like state, slowing down his usual muffled rap verses. But it’s within those moments and tracks where I’m able to see the artistic development from his earlier releases: where I’m able to see someone shamelessly immature and fragile.

But even then, Imanuel seems stuck doing impersonations: the idea that he’s considered a rapper is an impersonation in itself. He lacks the depth to understand the nuances of his genre and, in turn, his identity within it.

At the very least, he proves he can fit in with the present. So, however drab it might’ve been at times, Amen still leaves me hopeful that one day, Imanuel can become the kind of artist that doesn’t just fit in, but stands out.