After deconstructing SAWAYAMA earlier in the month, I got a taste for writing these sorts of articles so I decided to take a stab at an album that I wanted to talk about again on the blog – Rich Brian’s The Sailor.
I reviewed the album when it first dropped and my opinion of it has largely remained unchanged. Still, after the 88rising Head In The Clouds II compilation and his admittedly disappointing 1999 EP, I’ve got a newfound appreciation for the record.
It’s a drastic turning point in his early career so I’m very excited to talk about it some more.
1. The Sailor
The singles were pretty big indicators that Rich Brian wasn’t going to stay in the trap lane on Amen, but this opening track solidifies his departure from that sound right away.
A more boom-bap type beat, a matured delivery and even a very DAMN.-inspired spoken word intro, “The Sailor” paints a picture of an artist who’s confident enough to dive headfirst into his artistic vision. Though to be fair, the concept of the album itself is nothing new nor is its presentation. However, the switch in style and aesthetic was more than enough to win me over.
2. Rapapapa (feat. RZA)
And just like that, he hops back onto a trap beat but its not the party-heavy lighthearted type of Amen. There’s depth to the track – from his awkward-yet-charismatic singing to his improvement as a storyteller. Though to be fair, I could do without Rich Brian ever rapping about sex ever again. It’s never sexy or interesting, instead it often sounds like a humblebrag.
Also the RZA outro has little-to-connection to the theme of “Rapapapa” so I have no idea why it’s here other than being a co-sign.
3. Yellow (feat. Bekon)
Inarguably the most avant-garde track of his career so far, “Yellow” was the perfect single to mark Rich Brian’s growth as an artist. On first listen, I couldn’t even tell that it was Brian himself singing. On further listens, I couldn’t believe that this was the same man who gave us ‘So I had to go down, cruisin’ down to poon town‘.
A captivating ballad about people of Asian descent looking to make a name for themselves in the world, it encapsulated everything that Brian’s career had led up to and what fans have seen him to be – a yellow-skinned rapper who broke into an industry that often felt untouchable by those outside the US.
It’s an incredible track.
The Kanye Late Registration-esque production of this track won me over fairly easily but like “Yellow”, “Kids” is also an inspirational rags-to-riches story that cuts extra deep given my relatability to his background.
No hooks or choruses, only bars from Brian being grateful for what he has and where he’s going to go. It’s a feel good song that I can’t help but smile at.
Also, ‘Not tryna make an album they forget ’bout in a week‘ is a pretty apt summary for why I’m writing this article anyway.
5. Drive Safe
Now, I may have my gripes with Rich Brian’s singing nowadays but “Drive Safe” is a clear exception. There’s no soaring pop hook or a strained attempt at using his upper register. Here Brian is comfortable as he croons about a long-distance relationship, where his inability to let go of the past hinders his enjoyment of the present.
It’s beautifully somber and a testament to the potential of Brian’s vocals to be emotionally affecting when he chooses to be.
My one of two skips on The Sailor.
The chorus is intolerable. Brian’s layered vocals on it are so hilariously off-key it sounds like he made a parody of himself. The verses aren’t any better either given their distinct lack of energy compared to the chorus. “Confetti” just sounds like something picked up off the Amen cutting room floor.
Every time Brian details his relationship woes on a song, I start to get detached (though not as bad as his sex ones). There’s something in his delivery that just doesn’t translate well to a topic such as this, where I usually prefer a more soft approach. He feels like he’s stumbling through the stories he tells, lacking the subtlety that the themes he aims to convey requires.
“Vacant” is about the insecurities both parties in a relationship project upon each other. The chorus is light and sets a suitably solemn tone alongside the beat, while Brian’s rapping is smooth and pleasant. However, it just doesn’t elevate the tragic experience of the narrative and it’s a bummer, despite the track being a good listen.
8. No Worries
The other skip on the album…or at least only the first half. This track is largely letdown by Brian’s stilted singing which is made even more apparent with the stripped back production.
Once the singing is out of the way and the beat switch kicks in, “No Worries” instantly finds its groove. Over a thumping beat, Brian flexes on us in a fairly standard ‘you can’t fuck with me, I’m a bout my money’ verse that I honestly expected more of on The Sailor.
Given that the trope only rears its head 8 tracks in, I was pleasantly surprised.
9. 100 Degrees
A full blown pop track, Rich Brian’s singing (yes, I’ve been talking about it a lot, I know) is compensated by the sunny, guitar-tinged production. Both his vocals and the beat trade off one another with their infectious energy, serving as a perfect backdrop for its lighthearted lyrical content.
It’s his best mainstream song yet but probably gave him the confidence to go full on pop on 1999 too. For that, this song is horrible (I’m kidding).
10. Slow Down Turbo
The most experimental track of the album. The structure of “Slow Down Turbo” works in tandem with its theme.
As the song’s pace quickens with every bar, Brian paints the contrast between his laidback lifestyle in Indonesia and the lightning-fast momentum of America. It’s pulled off fairly well and unique framing of a topic he’s touched on a lot in his short career…which is ironic since I find “Slow Down Turbo” to be way too short.
Backed by an acoustic instrumental, “Curious” is actually my favourite Rich Brian song. It’s, in my opinion, his most personal sounding track so far.
Imagine if life was a game
Imagine if all of this is fake
Imagine if everything ended
And we go to Heaven and meet all the greats
Imagine if there was no Drake
Imagine if there was no Wayne
Would rappers be garbage? Would people be rappin’?
Will everyone still sound the same?
Having self taught English over the internet, I’m not expecting ‘lyrical miracle’ type writing from him. However, it does make this whole track endearing to listen to. It’s honest – in both the subject matter and use of language.
If I had heard this track as it is from an American or UK rapper, I would have found it to be basic. Yet I think simplicity is Brian’s strength. Paired with context of his other songs and his come-up, the writing on “Curious” feels all the more genuine and is made infinitely more appealing to me.
12. Where Does The Time Go (feat. Joji)
Rich Brian and Joji have never missed on a collaboration and this is the best of the bunch – Joji’s vocals are exquisite and Brian’s flow is buttery smooth.
Though it’s a bit weird to end the album off on a love song, the luxurious sound of the track just leaves a warm taste in my mouth as The Sailor slowly fades out.