The Korean trap star behind ‘It G Ma’ is going global
The first moment we played Keith Ape’s “It G Ma” video at VIVISXN hq almost a year ago, our adrenaline gushed and serotonin levels spiked. His sucker punch flows, minimalist trap beats, lo-fi visuals and animalistic screeches pummeled our synapses and seared our brains. Ape’s music is a polyglot palette spanning several genres and sounds: K-pop, J-pop, underground, southern rap, Asiana, hardcore and hybrid. Sporting golden grillz, a braided blond mane and lapping up a lager (actually, a bottle of rice wine), Ape introduced a trap zap sound that truly took the music scene by storm. His real name — Dongheon Lee — and his killer whale-loving Cohort Crew, which also includes lyricists from Japan and South Korea (Okasian, Oscar, Kangkook, Swidea, etc.) — are the first Asian MCs of significance to penetrate the Western consciousness. Blunt and boisterous, Ape’s infectious energy and savvy fusion of east/west sound is blowing the fuck up. With over 26 million views on YouTube and collabs with Wacka Flocka Flame, A$AP Ferg, CXSHXNLY, Danny Seth and CL, is this the genesis of South Korea’s first global rap star? We think so.
VIVISXN kicked it with Keith Ape last month in LA…
Anyoung haseyo, Keith (‘Hello’ in Korean). What’s up?!
I’m chillin,’ trying to make things pop lately. It’s been a wild ride but my dreams are finally comin’ true. It’s amazing. I’m focused on making new music everyday!
How old are you and what’s your background?
I’m 22 and from Bundang, a suburb of Seoul. I dropped out of highschool when I was 17 to jump in the hip hop game. It’s been a topsy turvy journey but things are panning out. I moved to LA a few months ago.
Do you drink beer?
I drink a lot Makgeolli (a cloudy, sweet, unfiltered Korean rice wine – 막걸리)! I drink beers too, of course!
You are new to LA. What’s it like being a Korean transplant here in the City of Angels?
Yeah, I moved to LA a few months back. It’s been hard as fuck. My English is suck but I’m learnin.’ I was like an ape for a while (just like my name) and was feelin’ really isolated and lonely. The transition has been hard as fuck but now things are better. My management is mad supportive, so that’s a cool thing. The best part of being in LA is I get to hang with mentors and musical inspirations—some of the same artists I listened to and admired while growing up.
Your English isn’t so bad. Are you planning to rap more in English?
Yeah, I wanna rap in English as much as possible and mix it up with Korean and Japanese references. I think America—and the rest of Asia—has a fetish for Korean ‘hybrid rap’. I wanna push out more of that hybrid style.
What is your rap all about and what’s your namesake taken from?
My rap? It’s a personal and spiritual art form. Sometimes I feel like I’m possessed by some psychic spirit. I should’ve been a moo-dang (a Korean Shaman – 신교) because I feel I can channel musical and aesthetic energies. I represent the deep aquatic—the underwater squad—ya know. I got my name from Keith Haring (my parents are in the arts: my dad is a music professor, my mom is a painter). My dad’s favorite artist was Keith Haring. I added ‘Ape’ because it’s my ‘spirit animal.’
What was a key artistic influence while you were growing up?
I listened mainly to South Korean hip-hop before being exposed to Nas’s epic album, “Illmatic.” Nas is so dope! Then I got obsessed with NYC legends: Wu-Tang, Mob Deep, Onynx, AZ, etc. The more I checked out American hip-hop online, the more I became obsessed with its raw and rowdier vibes, especially music from the South. I love that ATL trap sound. I also love Bart Simpson.
What’s the deal with OG Maco?
It’s all good! We’re cool.
Who are some of your current influences and future collaborations?
Chad Hugo, King Krule, Chief Keef, Young Thug, Southside of 808 Mafia, JayAllDay, Bryan Cha$e, Sung-jin Park, KOHH, Skrillex, CL, Artdealer, etc.
What are your immediate goals?
I wanna make rap history and be one of the Asians who are changing up the game. I have a chance to make somthin’ pop so I’m gonna try my best to be the best Asian MC.
잊지 마, 잊지 마, 우리가 이찌방（一番）
It G Ma, It G Ma, Uri ga Ichiban.
Don’t forget, don’t forget that we are Ichiban.
Orca ninjas going rambo!