Rich Chigga and The Evolution of Ironic Rap

Four months ago, when an unabashedly swaggering, fanny pack toting, fast-rapping, Indonesia-born rapper by the name of Rich Chigga became an overnight viral sensation, I didn’t know what to think. At first, I, among many others, dismissed Rich Chigga’s video as at best an entertaining gimmick or insincere farce. At its worst and most subversive though, his shtick could easily be  interpreted as cultural appropriation and mockery.

It wasn’t until I took the time to deconstruct this man’s flow that I truly realized the extent of his artistry. I learned to appreciate the genius that lies within his ability to simultaneously satirize and energetically replicate the essence of American trap culture with a mixture of goofy, honest and, perhaps most importantly, self-deprecating charm.

Ironic rap ingenues such as Lil’ B and Riff Raff predate Chigga as artists who’ve gained an advantage by subverting hip-hop’s traditionally conservative rules and regulations. What sets Rich Chigga apart from them however is approach: he comes at the rap game from the perspective of a complete cultural outsider.

Lil’ B and Riff Raff have a subtle humor in their music and visual presence which comes from lampooning the industry via contextual jabs, but they integrate many cliches of Bay Area and Houston hip-hop culture into their ironic swag rap. Chigga on the other hand makes no effort to incorporate any American hip-hop influenced sartorial style into his aesthetic. Instead, he opts to shamelessly rock his Indonesian prep school uniform–complete with fanny pack.

In a world where the equally geographically and culturally distant Yung Lean managed to gain a profile overnight off the strength of his YouTube raps, this type of semi-ironic novelty rap has now become a genre all its own.

Chigga might talk about running up in your house with the stick or getting money like any other trap rapper, but he fearlessly juxtaposes lines referencing his gun toting fantasies with the reality of his everyday life. Unlike Slim Jesus, who lives false gangster fantasies through his raps and never breaks character, Rich Chigga integrates fantastical lines about gunplay with self aware statements such as, “either get diplomas or a tool I’mma cool with my younguns,” or  “fuck a gang, affiliated with nothing but my name”, or “yeah bitch, I don’t smoke no gas, I don’t pop no Zans.”

Those lines, the first two taken from his first breakout single “Dat Stick”, and the third coming from his most recent banger, “Who That Be,” mark Chigga as one of hip-hop’s first cross cultural hybrid recording artists.
One could call Chigga a hypocrite for talking about guns he’s never shot while remaining true to his fanny-pack-sporting roots, and by the standards of the old guard’s definition of “real”, they might be right. Nowadays however, the aesthetics and conventions of modern trap hip hop have become an interchangeable commodity.

Chigga’s brand of cultural coagulation is all but inevitable with the immense worldwide popularity of American hip hop culture. The subgenre has become public domain for YouTube savvy and self aware, ironic tricksters worldwide. Rich Chigga is simply riding the wave at the right time, and it has been truly fascinating to watch.

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