Hip-hop would not be the same without Brian Imanuel.
2016 is widely recognized as a monumental year for music (with albums such as Frank Ocean’s Blonde or Kanye West’s Life of Pablo) but the cultural impact of the Indonesian boy in the pink polo is often overlooked. In February 2016, rapper/comedian Rich Brian released the satirical music video for his soon-to-be viral hit “Dat $tick” which went on to gross over 150 million views on Youtube. Despite this overwhelming response, Brian chose to depart from his comedic endeavors (which included changing his name) and began to use his music as an outlet for his more vulnerable insecurities. His debut album Amen (2018) brought forth a brilliant display of maturity and introspection which extended far beyond his aggressive bars on “Dat $tick”. Being one of the first artists to sign to international music collective 88rising, Brian is largely responsible for the label’s resounding success with injecting Asian American culture into mainstream music and instilling a sense of pride in a diaspora devoid of representation. This success is largely thanks to the artistic growth of Brian himself, who has shifted his songs away from comedy and into mature, thoughtful cuts like the summery “100 Degrees” off his sophomore album The Sailor (2019).
“100 Degrees” is a dark take on the conventional, feel-good summer jam. Despite vibrant chord progressions and a lilting melody, the song is unmistakably tainted with melancholy. It’s essentially a testament to the fleeting nature of happiness; Brian artfully presents this paradigm as a duality between youthful, carefree ignorance and an inescapable, sobering reality. This juxtaposition is prevalent in the production (the bright and cheery chord progression is marred by dissonant, detuned strings) but most noticeable in the hook. The flowery phrases “It’s 100 degrees” and “We’re just here to be free” are sung full-bodied and harmonized while the responding, desolate phrases “Why you feeling down? What’s the problem?” and “It don’t feel like this often” are thrown out in a more passive manner; each pair is delivered as a sharp decrescendo. In the bridge, Brian presents positive imagery with a caveat of blatant ignorance: “feet up on the dash” and a “future so bright” can only be enjoyed “in the moment” and because “the past” is not being “look[ed] at”. The back and forth between the song’s sad segments and carefree verses reiterates the tempered feeling of enjoying moments that one knows will soon end.
This inner turmoil is also reflected in the music video. The initial shots of Brian depict him mumbling verses with a mournful expression as he quite literally drifts through life.
Only in the second verse do we see him begin to crack a smile and start interacting with his environment.
The artful placement of these final shots give an endearing answer to the aforementioned dilemma; strategically leaving the viewer with footage of Brian grinning ear to ear suggests that enjoyment should always triumph over anxiety and that the fleeting nature of happiness should not spoil happiness in itself.
The overwhelmingly widespread reception of this song implies that this conflict between ignorance and reality has plagued millions of people around the globe and “100 Degrees” provides a wholesome answer to sway people still on the fence. This unique blend of positivity and introspection distinguishes this track from the rest of his discography and – in my opinion – claims the title of his best song to date.
Watch the full music video for “100 Degrees” here: