Favorite Song: "Sometimes" Least Favorite Song: "Sins"
Rich Brian’s breakout single, “Dat $tick”, is one of the most unique breakouts I can think of over the past 10 years of music. The immaculate flow and the deep, intoxicating voice of Brian was made even more interesting due to his meme status and his vine star reputation before his musical career. Furthermore, his story was quite inspiring, citing his musical inspirations as his means of learning fluent English. His perspective on the world after living in Indonesia as a kid just added to the layers of things that interested me about Brian’s character. Needless to say, his first album Amen definitely caught my ear and fed me a lot of the things I felt I wanted from Brian, but 2019’s The Sailor was even more of an opus. Blending pop and rap with tight lyricism and driving beats, this record was a listen that was quickly endearing and rewarding. However, it left me wondering how an artist of his caliber could improve further without drastically altering his style.
On his most recent EP, 1999, Brian does attempt to change his style in a drastic way, but any attempts at improving his sound fall flat in a major way. At seven tracks, I only manage to walk away from this project with just one or two highlights sticking with me. The vast majority of cuts on the record are heavily influenced by more pop-oriented hip-hop artists like Post Malone and Swae Lee, with the track “DOA” being nearly indistinguishable from R&B influenced Swae Lee cuts. On other tracks, Brian completely forgoes rapping for the duration of the cut and instead decides to reach into the upper registers of his vocal range in a way that I can only describe as abrasive. Multiple times on the song “When You Come Home”, I physically cringed at some of the voice cracks or strained vocal attempts that just didn’t work out. He attempts the same vocal styles, but in a much more derivative manner, on the track “Don’t Care”, which is the most Trippie Redd song I have ever heard by someone that isn’t Trippie Redd. Brian tries to pull off Trippie’s trademark wailing and yelling, but doesn’t have nearly the same vocal charm as Trippie on this track, and I came away from it not really knowing which artist I had just listened to.
This record’s instrumentation is it’s saving grace, what little of a saving grace it has. The pop production across the majority of the EP is relatively pristine, especially on tracks like “Sometimes” and “Love In My Pocket”. Both tracks adopt some sort of musical inflection that gives an otherwise lifeless vocal performance some spunk and panache. The latter of those tracks sports a super fun and funky bassline, while the former feels much more inspired by something off Amine’s debut album. Even the production on songs that I otherwise can’t stand, like “Sins”, is relatively tolerable, which I have to commend Brian for. The style he was going for with this EP is clear from the start, and he picked the right beats for the job.
Despite the single track I thoroughly enjoyed, “Sometimes”, this EP is a rough listen. A lot of Brian’s charm as a rapper comes from his intoxicating deep voice with his quick-wit flows, and instead he continues to reach into a high range that he isn’t fit for and work with a style that is taken care of much better by some of his labelmates at 88Rising. There are points where Brian shows that with more work, he could be more of a clear and cut vocal talent, but he needs to solidify his range and vocal style first. I can appreciate the ambition and attempt at a sound change, but Brian comes out the other end sounding like he should have left this batch of tracks to Joji.