After Keith Ape stormed VFiles’ SS16 runway with his viral tune, we take a look at his rise to underground notoriety
If the audience at VFiles’ NFYW show weren’t previously aware of break-out Korean rapper and Atlanta trap adopter Keith Ape, then they were certainly wiser upon leaving. The 21-year-old stormed the catwalk mid-show to perform the track that put him on the international map, “It G Ma”, with braids flying and his name lit on the back wall in typography borrowed from Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Accompanied by Brooklyn rapper Ken Rebel in place of Ape’s usual posse, The Cohort (also know as the Underwater Squad), the front rows looked slightly baffled by Keith's diminutive, rather manic presence. Who could blame them – it was only nine months ago that “It G Ma” blew up out of the Korean underground and into American kids' Vines, pushing the hazy, visually aggressive music video up to 13 million views and right into a shitstorm of appropriation accusations and plagiarism rows.
As a partnership between Korean and Japanese rappers, most of the Viners didn’t understand a word and would only scream “IT G MA” repeatedly but, somehow, it stuck. Then snowballed. Eventually it took Ape and his crew out of Seoul and over to the States where they made peace with OG Maco (whose song "U Guessed It" had been Ape’s inspiration), played a handful of shows and did what many a K-hip-hop performer could only dream of: not only infiltrating the hip-hop/trap scene, but being accepted by its more switched on players.
It’s why Ape has moved to LA to work, namely with 808 Mafia’s Southside, and how “It G Ma” came to be re-released with A$AP Ferg, Waka Flocka, Father and Korean-American rapper Dumbfoundead. While that might have seemed a sly fuck-you to those unhappy with his new grills and plaits, it’s effectively shot the artist (formerly known as Kid Ash) onto hip hop’s radar like a flame thrower. Whether that flame burns even brighter over the next 12 months will have to wait until new material arrives, but if it does, that startled NYFW front row is going to regret not Instagramming the hell out of that catwalk moment.