When I first heard that Indonesian rapper Rich Brian had released a video freestyling over the beat from Teriyaki Boyz’s theme song for for The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, my mind was blown. For one thing, it was such an surprising choice for a beat to freestyle over. For another thing, I didn’t think anyone else even remembered that movie now that the franchise has nuclear subs and parachuting personal tanks.
But that’s Rich Brian: Always doing the unexpected. He surprised American audiences as a foreign-born rapper who learned English watching American TV, debuting with the viral single “Dat $tick.” When his former rap name caused controversy, he pivoted, becoming Rich Brian and releasing The Sailor last year. It was another unexpected move; he proved that he could really rap and that he didn’t need a gimmick to capture our attention.
Just a week ago, he released the “Tokyo Drift” freestyle, complete with a homemade music video making light of coronavirus social distancing protocols, turning his boredom into content — much-needed content that not only helped others stave off their own boredom, but showed his talent for crafting self-produced potential hits. Not only did it display his artistic growth, but it also brought him back to his SoundCloud guerrilla releases, showing he has the edge to compete in this new, Wild West world.
In a new interview by phone, Brian talks about his “Tokyo Drift” video, his appearance on Guapdad 4000’s Falcon Fridays release “Bali,” and how coronavirus-sparked xenophobia against Asian people has affected him.
All right. First of all, your “Tokyo Drift” video is incredible. What were you doing when you got the inspiration for it?
I was in just like my little studio set up and then I was just one night, I was just thinking the “Tokyo Drift” beat is so f*cking hard, and I feel like if I tried writing to it would be tight, so I did. This was kind of before the lockdown things started to get crazy.
So I recorded it with my friend Vic, it was a really rough recording, we didn’t have that much time to mix it, I showed it to my manager, and he was like, ‘Yo, this is tight, we should put this out.’ At first, we were going to try to do some sort of video, but then I was like, ‘I don’t really want to get out the house, though, right now it’s kind of scary.’ So, I decided to just make a little phone thing in my living room and then just edit it on [Adobe] After Effects for like two, three days, and then just put it out. It definitely felt like the old times and just kind of like being able to hit ‘upload’ on SoundCloud again.
It’s funny because I didn’t think that people really remembered that song or that soundtrack or that particular entry in the Fast And The Furious movies. Why do you think it was that Tokyo Drift was considered the redhead step-child of the Fast And The Furious franchise?
I heard that song for the first time when I was really young, when I was probably like five or six. And I remember just loving it and just because I was a kid, that melody with that hook just stuck with me. It was just like this is the hardest thing ever. I think that was just a really legendary song.
It’s kind of a legendary movie. It’s kind of known as being the worst one, but some people say it’s the best, some people like it more. And some people think it’s the worst one.
I actually don’t even remember.
Okay. How’s this? Which one’s your favorite?
To be completely honest with you, I don’t remember watching Tokyo Drift. I don’t remember like how it went, but my favorite Fast And The Furious probably would be — and this is for me just you know, like hell, I don’t think that I’ve watched all of them to be honest with you. But I watched like a good, like three or four of them and I think my favorite is the first one with Paul Walker and Tyrese.
Which is 2 Fast 2 Furious.
Do people like that one?
Some people did, some people didn’t. I liked it and I think it’s aged probably better than any of the other really old ones. So, we’ve been stuck in the house for a little while. What kind of music have you been working on since you were stuck in the house?
I’ve been getting back to producing more because before this, I’ve always produced and I started learning how to produce when I was like 16, 17. So, that’s always been a nice little skill to have just because it makes it easier for me to make songs and I don’t have to talk to people about what I want all the time. It just makes songwriting a lot better, and being able to learn arrangements and what these little languages are.
And it’s been a lot of different kinds of music — a lot of hip-hop stuff, then a lot of really melodic stuff, and that’s what comes out when I produce. I can’t really just do one thing because it gets really boring for me. So I try to switch it up.
That’s fire. Challenging yourself is a really great way to get better at any skill or even just get better at like you said, writing things down or finding ways to solve problems. There’s actually a challenge that I heard that goes with the video that has prompted prominent Asian rappers to also jump on the beat for “Tokyo Drift.”
I guess it’s been a challenge that kind of started naturally, people wanting to get on the beat. I think it’s cool to see people doing that without even me just trying to start anything. It’s really interesting to see. I’ve seen some really good ones and right now, I’m currently trying to get my other rapper friends on it, but we’ll see.
Absolutely. So, I know you’ve probably seen how in the news that there’s been a rise in anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia lately because of the coronavirus. What would you say to someone who believes or repeats some of those anti-Asian sentiments?
This virus is not an excuse to just be racist to random Asian people. And what’s been happening is not cool. And I’ve seen a lot of the news and even my friends have gotten into their share of weird encounters and altercations relating to this whole pandemic situation. It’s really fucked up. It’s a weird situation to be in and I just hope that more people realize that it’s not cool.
And as an Asian person myself, I don’t feel safe walking outside just by myself. And I never thought I would feel that, like in a million years.
You’re now seen as sort of a role model for a community of people that don’t necessarily get a lot of representation in hip-hop. Can you just talk about what does that position mean to you?
That position is so big to me and most of the time I don’t really get pressure from it. Most of the time it’s motivation. But there are times where I’m really, really thinking about it and I’m like, ‘Whoa, this could be a lot of pressure sometimes.’ But a lot of times, it’s what keeps me going. It’s great that I’m able to make money off of something that I enjoy doing, but at the same time, outside of all that, I like being able to do it and inspire a lot of other people in the process and be that role model that I didn’t really have that much of when I was a kid.
I also hear you’re working with another rapper from the Asian-American community: Guapdad 4000, who’s part Filipino.
Yeah, the new single’s called “Bali” and it’s featuring Guapdad 4000 and it’s coming out today. It’s just a really fun song, it’s really melodic and catchy. At the same time, there’s also rapping in it that’s kind of like that rap-melodic stuff that people do sometimes and I haven’t done too much of it because it’s kind of a new territory for me. It has kind of like a reggae vibe on the beat.
I worked on it with Bekon and the Donuts. We produced it together and Guapdad 4000 was amazing to work with. We never met before, but we were just like texting about it. He was really cool because he did his verse and then he sent it to me. Usually, when I collab with people, they send me their verse, whatever, and they’re just like, ‘Alright, I did my verse, this is what you get.’ But he was actually asking me what do I think about it and he was down to take notes and stuff like that.
So it was a great collaboration and I can’t wait for it to come out because it’s definitely, again, a weird time to be in right now. I’ve never seen anybody just like globally staying home. I don’t think this ever happened before in this world. And the thing that I feel like keeps a lot of people sane right now is music.