Review | Rich Brian - The Sailor
Indonesian export and 88rising prodigy Rich Brian returns in 2019 to release his sophomore studio album, The Sailor. But does the album further Brian’s wunderkind status or take him down a few rungs to mediocrity that he has flirted with before?
Hailed by 88rising’s founder Sean Miyashiro as “the hope of Asia in the hip-hop scene”, Rich Brian’s story started from essentially a meme. “Dat $tick” was released in March 2016 to Soundcloud - it possessed a heavy beat and a great hook, but Brian (Rich Chigga as he was known then) did give off a relatively high level of immaturity, and as he was only 16 when the track was released, who could blame him? The main takeaway from that song was that Brian had potential, and prominent industry members saw this. Soon enough he was signed to 88rising and began releasing single after single throughout 2016 and 2017, earning features from the likes of 21 Savage, XXXtentacion, Ghostface Killah and Pouya. Eventually it all came to a head in 2018, with the release of Brian’s debut studio album Amen. The album had some memorable highs and then moments of blandness, but the main gains made on that album were Brian’s rising maturity as an artist. The main question for me for this new release would be if Brian could keep making ground and evolving his sound to become much more than just the dude from Asia that released “Dat $tick.”
I got the answer immediately from the first single, “Yellow” featuring Bekon. No understatement here at all, this is one of my favourite songs of the year so far and comes as Brian’s most experimental effort yet. Driven by melodies, Brian sings extensively for the first time in his career over the top of harmonious strings and choral elements, making the listening experience heavily atmospheric. Watch the accompanying music video and the song seems to complete itself - that orchestral outro is truly something else when paired with the cinematographic style of the film clip. The second single “Kids” doesn’t stand up to “Yellow” for me personally, however that doesn’t mean its a bad track - it just means “Yellow” is incredible. A classic inspirational boom-bap bop, “Kids” reveals the themes of the album effectively, themes of Rich Brian being a “sailor” entering foreign lands and hoping the path he has blazed can be followed by kids back home in Indonesia.
Brian’s new sonic landscape that he offers on The Sailor promotes a heavy focus on melody. In an interview with Genius about “Yellow”, Brian exclaimed he always loved melodic music, but was too “scared” to try and implement that into his own music. On The Sailor Brian has evidently taken the leap of faith to play with melodies, and thus the album successfully comes off layered and intricate compared to Amen. The feature list is minimal, with only RZA, Bekon and Joji appearing on the album. However, Brian holds his own and with the exception of “Yellow”, the greatest moments on the album are all by Brian’s hand. “Drive Safe” is a memorable song with stripped-back guitar lines underlying some heavy-hitting and relatable lyrics from Brian that are best listened to watching the sunset or cuddling your chosen loved one. “100 Degrees” doesn’t possess the same emotional depth of “Drive Safe”, but it does have a place on the album as a potential feel-good summer hit.
With the undeniable high points on this album, there also come some moments of mediocrity. “Confetti” starts off so beautifully, and I wish that spacey lo-fi intro was extended, especially as it comes off “Drive Safe”. The core of “Confetti” is a hard hitting hype track with a dynamic beat that makes the song a great listen on its own, but its position in the album feels out of place and as such the song still has a question mark hanging over it’s head for me personally. The closing track with Joji, “Where Does the Time Go” is another example of Brian playing with melodies and more intricate instrumentation. However the issue with this track is that it feels more like a Joji track featuring a few jump-in verses from Brian to fill out its roughly four-minute run.
As a whole body of work, the aforementioned down moments on the album do impact its consistency quite heavily. However, on this project alone Brian has shown the crazy highs that he can create, and in the event that he follows that path in the future, he will no doubt possess a legacy that would not only benefit his own name, but the whole of Asia.
Best Song -Yellow ft. Bekon