Throughout the past decade or two, the genre of hip hop has progressed immensely. It has always been known as the black-dominated genre with the exception of a handful of artists, but in the last decade the genre has shown this unusual expansion in its styles, subgenres, and types of artists. Within the last ten years, trap and mumble rap were born as subgenres of hip hop, and traditional hip hop continued to develop. New artists of many different colors, such as Dumbfoundead, Lil Dicky, Snow Tha Product are on the face of the genre. These progressive developments and changes have made hip hop the most listened to genre in the entire world. But even with this progress, Asians were less than represented in the genre of hip hop. Keith Ape changed that in western hip hop. Although he was an underground rapper from South Korea who spoke very little English, Ape set a foundation in America for Asian artists everywhere. He is an Asian role model.
On January 1st, 2015, Keith Ape shook the foundation of the hip-hop community with the release of the song, “It G Ma” on YouTube. Now with over 40 million hits on YouTube, “It G Ma” made history by infusing Atlanta trap beats with Korean and Japanese lyrics. Ape’s hit was a breath of fresh air. The song’s hook was Keith Ape himself going “ape” shit crazy yelling the words “It G Ma” and “Underwater Squad,” simple yet insanely catchy. The verses performed by each feature were all memorable and unique as each had their own flow and delivery. The bridge in Kohh’s verse sent goosebumps up my spine with how smooth yet hard it was. Aside from the actual music, the video wasn’t some stereotypical piece where the rappers showed off their jewelry, women, cars, and money. The video was so shaky and flashy that it should’ve had an epilepsy warning. It was just Ape running around hotel rooms to each artist, and drunk off his ass off of cheap rice wine. The music video for “It G Ma” was crazy. It wasn’t exactly a cinematic masterpiece, but it showed his reach. Only six months later, a remix of “It G Ma” would be released featuring Korean-American rapper Dumbfoundead and trap stars ASAP Ferg and Waka Flocka Flame. With two songs, Ape has shown his ability to unite cultures through hip hop.
Riding off the success and social media hype of “It G Ma” and its remix, Keith Ape and his crew, the Cohort Crew toured in the United States and sold out several venues. In a mini-documentary created by Noisey, Keith Ape’s ability to network was shown. He performed on a Skrillex set, seen in the studio with several artists, and just talking to people, people that were in the scene. Throughout his young career, Ape has already worked with a variety of artists, such as Denzel Curry, XXXTentacion, Rich Chigga, and even Chinese rap group, Higher Brothers. Ape’s opportunistic outlook is also shown through his ability to kick-start success for many other artists. He has indirectly created success in the West for several members of his crew such as Okasian and Bryan Cha$e, as well as international artists such as Kohh from Japan. Ape often serves as a door to Asian artists in hip hop. Ever since the release of “It G Ma,” Okasian himself has said in an interview that he has received “a lot more opportunities for new experiences.” He has collaborated with stars CL and G-Dragon on the song “₩1,000,000,” and with Jay Park on the song, “You Know.” Okasian’s individual projects themselves have received millions of hits on YouTube, and it’s hard to say that Keith Ape doesn’t get credit for that.
It is no secret that hip hop is a competitive scene, but especially for Asians. Asians in hip hop is controversial because to the masses, that is beyond cultural appropriation. They are almost offensive to authenticity. Asians are stereotyped as feminine, and as the model minority. Those stereotypes are the opposite of what hip hop stands for throughout its years: masculinity. Keith Ape is Korean, his personality shows it more than anything. In Noisey’s video, his polite yet matter-of-fact mannerisms are extremely stereotypical of Koreans, yet his music is rebellious. Ape’s music is loud, dirty, creative, and versatile. Seeing an Asian artist break stereotypes is inspirational, for not the aspiring artists, but also for fans like me. For the fans, this means a brighter future. Inspiration create waves. Schoolly D inspired Ice T, who started gangsta rap, which created a wave of talent, including legends like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, yet to be matched. Ape has shown that he wants to embrace being different. In an interview, He said that,
“I just want to be the artist that people have never seen and will never see again from Asia,”
and he has been on the path to achieving his goal. His music from 2016 have been wildly experimental in terms of both production and delivery. His flow changes from the “molasses-slow delivery of trap” to fast and concise from song to song, showing his versatility. Keith Ape is an Asian role. model, he worked hard for his success and he’s shown that he deserves everything that he has. He is a rebel to both Americans and Koreans, but he’s definitely earned a place in hip hop.