Rich Chigga has to be either the dumbest name in the history of rap music or the smartest.
In the attention economy that currently runs the internet, it’s an eye-catcher. That’s absolutely what you wanted in the early going of 2017. That’s when Donald Trump’s impending inauguration made it clear that offensive trolling had become a viable promotional tactic. Anyone looking to pivot 15 minutes of fame into a lucrative permanent position in the eternal outrage engine only had to say or do an offensive thing, weather the inevitable storm thinkpieces and Twitter death threats, pretend to backpedal (or, alternatively, double down) and profit was sure to come. That’s probably exactly what Brian Imanuel was thinking when he settled on his pseudonym — an ethnic slur portmanteau of “Chinese” and “n—a” used to degrade “Black-acting” or “ghetto” Asian people.
I shouldn’t need to list all the reasons the name is offensive, but this being the internet, of course I do, so here are just some of them. It’s offensive because it demeans both Asian people, reducing them to simply Chinese despite their actual nationality, diminishing and disrespecting all the many cultures that make up the Asian continent, and Black people, for reasons that should be painfully obvious by now. It implies that there’s a way to “act Black,” which is usually associated with ignorance, crime, and intellectual inferiority and that Asian people ought to be above such behavior. By ostensibly performing as a rapper, the Jakarta, Indonesia-born Imanuel mocks the very idea that Asian folks should even demean themselves to participate in even a parody of what is traditionally a Black cultural genre.
Which is why his name change, to the mononym Brian, rings hollow. He can feign ignorance if he wants, but if he can learn to speak English largely from watching rap videos on Youtube, he could surely pick up enough cultural references to understand why such a thing would be offensive. Certainly, he gleaned enough to cook up “Rich Chigga” as a rap name. Perhaps realizing that his fans and critics alike would have been able to figure this out is why he instead chose to double down, saying he was trying to “diminish the word’s power.” Now he says, via a social media post on January 1, that he was “naive and made a mistake.”