Expect the unexpected with this guy. Keith Ape is showing us that hip-hop and rap has no boundaries. Hailing from the growing hip-hop community out of Seoul, South Korea, he got his U.S. break with his single “ ???” (“It G Ma”). Although it sounds similar to OG Maco’s “U Guessed It,” Ape puts a Korean-trap flavor to it, featuring other Asian hip-hop rappers: JayAllDay, Loota, Okasian and Kohh. He would later remix the song with American rappers A$AP Ferg, Father, Dumbfounded and Waka Flocka Flame. If you’re wondering what “It G Ma” means it’s a slang term that Ape and his crew, The Cohort Crew, use amongst each other that means “never forget.” It’s the English equivalent to “hey what’s good.”
Born Dongheon Lee, he grew up in Bundang, a slow suburb about an hour from Seoul. At the age of 17, he dropped out of high school and under the name Kid Ash had no other plans but to make music. “I wasn’t doing bad things like smoking cigarettes, riding motorcycles, jacking people’s money,” he tells Complex in an interview. “But I was a problem child.”
He began uploading music to Soundcloud and making videos, but wasn’t too successful. Eventually in 2012, Cohort Crew rapper Okasian was listening to a producer’s beat tape and stumbled upon a track that had Keith’s vocals. “I hit the producer up, like, ‘Who’s this guy?’” Okasian said in a Complex interview. “It was his voice, his flow, his lingo, his accent. He raps like a language. I definitely saw huge potential that’s different from other rappers.”
The song that changed Keith’s life forever wasn’t intended to be an international hit. The Cohort Crew had been vibing to OG Maco’s “You Guessed It” and wanted to make something similar. Cohort member JayAllDay, who lived in Japan for several years got Japanese rappers Kohh and Loota to join him, Keith and Okasian on the track, making it a dope Korean-Japanese collaboration. Producer Junior Chef cooked up the trap beat. “It G Ma” only contains a handful of English phrases, but they are made to grab your attention. The song’s catchy, nonsensical hooks and aggressive trap sound made it popular, and many listeners posted enthusiastic reactions on Vine and YouTube. Keith Ape and The Cohort Crew have been on nearly everyone’s radar since January 2015. Ape is reportedly working day and night on perfecting his craft. He is also working on a collaborative EP with CXSHXNLY produced by Southside of 808 Mafia.
Keith continues to put out his music on Soundcloud. He has been working with many other underground rappers like Robb Bank$, Ken Rebel, Denzel Curry — the list goes on. Be sure to check out all of Keith Ape’s music, old and new and prepare yourself for a dope live show at this year’s JMBLYA. “It G Ma!” (Never Forget!).
Get your tickets here.