Rich Brian has the potential to be one of the most unique perspectives in the current rap landscape. His Indonesian heritage, his American sensibilities, and the symbiotic relationship with Internet culture that his youth naturally possesses coalesce into a style that is equal parts enlightening and juvenile. It’s a style with inherent flaws, and that’s reflected in his live show as well - but Rich Brian is ever-evolving, and his performance at the Powerstation gave the impression that his artistry is stabilising, one step at a time.
Homegrown rap duo Church & AP have been hard at work, building buzz around their sticky hooks and on-stage chemistry with shows at The Others Way and a planned national tour. In that sense, having them open for Brian seems like a no-brainer. Their flows ride the beat with precision, and their beats were certifiably bouncy; Roulette, in particular, would feel comfortable booming in a club as much as a car speaker. No playing favourites with the hooks either; they trade with each other, Church’s exuberant dancing and delivery juxtaposing nicely with AP’s more stoic stage presence. It’s easy to see why they’re one of the most hotly discussed up-and-comers.
DJ sets are fundamentally not my cup of tea; they bring to mind deafening clubs and the unenjoyable aspects of local nightlife. Don Krez, the official 88rising DJ and designated hype-man of the night, curated hit upon hit from artists like Ski Mask The Slump God and fellow label alumni Joji - even teasing a new track with the latter. Essentially a live Spotify playlist: good for filling a fifteen-minute slot, but not something I eagerly anticipate in any setting.
Standing next to the sound booth gave the perfect view of Brian’s introduction, smoothly sauntering into a capable performance of Rapapapa, pacing the stage with purpose. In a testament to how much Brian has improved over his short career, his monotone delivery in backing tracks for older cuts - pulled from both his 2018 debut Amen and his “Rich Chigga” days - ended up clashing with his newfound energetic inflections. It was frequent enough to the point where I wished there weren’t any backing tracks at all, because they meshed rather awkwardly.
Other times, his setlist focused on collaborative efforts like Gospel, leaving stretches of dead space and sampled features that Brian tried to compensate for by hyping the crowd up. Nonetheless, on more involved tracks, Brian rapped consistently well, staying in the pocket and riding beat switches with ease. His singing was shakier though, with a few off-key moments covered up or blended into the backing vocals. Enough to take notice, but not enough to ruin the moment.
The inherent issue behind a rap gig is that production can’t be made better or worse when played from a laptop or a desk of turntables; it is an immovable object to a performer’s unstoppable force. Thankfully, the songs of The Sailor were as ornate as they’ve always been - and fantastically complemented by one hell of a lighting crew. Red and white consistently filled the room with Indonesian pride, and rows playfully dimmed and flared to mimic the crowd. A sea of hands backlit by a translucent smattering of colours is always a beautiful sight indeed.
In spite of the negative notes I have about the show - from the haphazard flow of the setlist to crowd interaction that blurs the line between playful appreciation and padding for time - it’s clear that Brian respects his journey and his fans. You can see it in his dogged determination to perform his best song, Yellow, in all its transcendent excellence (and set to yellow lighting, appropriately). Moments like this, where Rich Brian encapsulates Asian representation and becomes an inspiration in his own right, are the payoff, the highest high to combat the lowest low.
Yet even this is a dashed hope, a false ending followed by the boom-bap beat of Kids and the typical encore kayfabe leading into Glow Like Dat. Good songs, but not good conclusions. All in good time though; progress, no matter how small, is a good thing.
Rich Brian's setlist in Auckland
- The Sailor (2nd Half)
- The Sailor (1st Half)
- Drive Safe
- 100 Degrees
- Who That Be
- Dat $tick
- Slow Down Turbo
- Glow Like Dat (encore)