The aspect that is so damning about mainstream forms of media is that it is obnoxiously repetitive and rarely strays from the norm. More times than not, if artists do not fit to the prescribed and pre-determined mold of a typical performer in the entertainment industry it is extremely difficult to break into it. That is one of the reasons why Keith Ape is such an electrifying enigma.
Recently, KA moved to the California Arts District to clear his head and hit the reset button. With a fresh start and a new outlook, he released his debut EP, “Born Again.” The collection includes references to his favorite comics, TV shows and video games. He relates heavily to the image of a crowbar because that symbolizes the starting point in his favorite game of all-time, “Half-Life.” He concludes with a song called, “Symphony Number 93: Escape from the Planet of the Apes.”
Possessed by spirit, shoulda been a Moo-Dang (Korean Shaman)
Dongheon Lee grew up in Bundang, South Korea which is a suburb about an hour outside of cultural hub, Seoul. He was born on Christmas Day in 1993 and radiates positive energetic output. He did not grow up on the streets and had a relatively simple upbringing that saw him being fortunate and not having to ask for much. His relationship with hip-hop grew when he realized he could utilize it as a form of creative expression. The song that really catalyzed his entire affinity toward the genre was “Life’s a Bitch” by Nas.
Keith Ape: inspired beginnings
Twelve was the magic number for KA as the age where he first started experimenting with hip-hop. He received great lengths of inspiration from Korean artists such as Epik High, Drunk Tiger and Dynamic Duo. Despite his family’s disapproval, he dropped out of high school at seventeen in order to fulfill his musical aspirations. Originally, he released music under the moniker, “Kid Ash” which was a combination of Kid Cudi and Ash Ketchum (Pokemon.) From the outset, he wished to differentiate himself via word structure, cadence and unorthodox delivery.
Once Lee outgrew his Kid Ash nickname, he transformed into Keith Ape. This is a tribute to him and his father’s favorite art producer Keith Haring and Nigo, the Japanese DJ who founded streetwear brand, A Bathing Ape. Keith Ape studies the greats that came before him, pays them homage and consumes every piece of their strategy in order to replicate the successful process on his own terms.
How the world turns for Keith Ape
It was only by coincidence that Keith Ape was discovered by a fellow artist, Okasian. When perusing instrumental tapes, Lee’s voice accidentally made its way onto one of the beat tracks and it was so extraordinary that it led to a follow up contact from Okasian.
“It G Ma” is phonetically styled so that is able to be easily understood by Americans. From Korean it is directly translated to “Never Forget.” What started as an inside slang, greeting and farewell term between Keith and his Cohort crew turned into a sensational smash hit. The video showcases Keith and his Korean counterparts turning up inside of a hotel. Ape clutches a bottle of makgeolli (Korean rice wine) and aggressively swigs the previously unpopular drink like it is a 40 oz of Olde English. With only one setting, the crew had to get rather creative to give all five artists a different scenario by which to perform their verse on the song.
The lyrics in the song itself blend together phrases from Japanese, Korean and American languages. To your average listener, it may sound a bit animalistic and foreign but it is very easy to recognize, nonetheless. Although, many of the lyrics uttered from the Cohort collective are not easy to decipher it still sounds very familiar. Reason being, these guys recognized the pattern of Southern trap and adopted it to fit their strengths. They capitalized mightily with, “It G Ma” and the song has since been remixed with Waka Flocka and A$AP Ferg and has granted them entry into major hip-hop surroundings.
Keith Ape spearheaded K-Rap boom
“It G Ma” shifted the entire trajectory of these five South Korean artists. When the song dropped on New Year’s Day 2015, it redirected their entire movement and catapulted them into the spotlight. K-Pop is a genre of Korean music that was the only widely renown tuneage coming from that area. Now, the emergence of Keith Ape has ushered in a completely new genre, K-rap.
By mixing and mastering a formula of different slanguages, Keith Ape continues to prove himself as a groundbreaking culture convergent. His unrestrained mayhem and rap rowdiness has worked wonders for him. His overall style is rather eclectic and has garnered him some recognition within fashion avenues, too. He has modeled for Calvin Klein and frequents fashion shows from the likes of Valentino and Alexander Wang. His sharp bone structure and shoulder grazing hair make him worth consideration for fashion labels.
Ape continued to ride the absurd wave of virality from “It G Ma” by performing in New York, Los Angeles and for the first time outside of his home country at SXSW in Austin, Texas. At SXSW, people turned up with reckless abandon and unleashed all kinds of pent up rage to his musical catalogue. With unbelievable moshpits and invigorating performances, Keith Ape set foot in America with passion and purpose.