So I’ll let ya’ll know up front this is going to be a long one. There are soooo many things to address but I promise it won’t be all text. I enjoyed researching all of this a bit more in depth and I hope it’s educational and thought-provoking.
Anywho, the subject of this blog-post-turned-research-paper is “It G Ma’ a single released a little over a month ago produced by Korean rapper Keith Ape. It G Ma is a clever romanization of 잊지마 meaning ‘never forget’. Many articles online were quick to deem Keith Ape the “Korean OG Maco” and refer to It G Ma as the “Asian version” of OG Maco’s ‘U Guessed It’. You can watch OG Maco’s music video and It G Ma below. Make sure to watch It G Ma with the English closed captions provided.
The internet has been blowing up over this song for the past couple of weeks and black Twitter is primarily responsible for the song’s explosion. If you’ve seen any tweets mentioning It G Ma a lot of them are directed at a @CHRT_JAYALLDAY, who’s Twitter bio is shown below:
Yes that’s right, he is the rapper on the first verse of It G Ma as well as the manager/business guru (or self-proclaimed H.N.I.C.) of The Cohort, the South Korean rap group Keith Ape is a part of. Many people however have been tweeting at JayAllDay with all kinds of hype about his track:
Vine in particular has been central to the song’s rise in popularity in America. One tweet I found shared the link to It G Ma on Soundcloud and stated” I found the whole song to that vine lmao”. I have to admit, the Vines that have resulted from the Western world discovering It G Ma have been pretty great.
A article on Fader takes a brief look at the growing global awareness of Korean hip hop in recent years. It references a Youtube comment on It G Ma that encapsulates the experience of many international fans upon discovering a hot K-hip hop track: “This goes so f***ing hard even when I don’t understand a single word in Korean D************N”.
(Also, wait…Keith Ape is 21?! Just a year younger than OG Maco. I knew these guys were young but dang…)
JayAllDay also had some things to say about music, particularly hip hop, being a bridge between cultures and expressed hope that fans of It G Ma would get educated about Korea:
Before getting into the sticky appropriation vs. appreciation stuff, there is one burning question that I plan to address:
HAHA okay to answer this question, I figured some context was needed. Keith Ape is actually formerly known as Kid Ash. He is a part of The Cohort, a group of rap artists under Hilite Records who made their debut in 2013.
For some unknown reason (probably explained in this interview that I can’t fully understand with my limited Korean proficiency) The Cohort chose the killer whale as their official symbol/mascot and those orca noises you hear in parts of It G Ma are found on a lot of their tracks. Random but unique. And now you know what an “underwater squad” is as well 🙂
Here is a collection of some of Keith Ape’s work in collaboration with the rest of the Cohort, back when he was known as Kid Ash. I admit I really liked the Cohort’s debut album, the Orca-Tape, released in October of 2013, and have listened to it quite a bit. Time (music video featured below) is probably my favorite track.
As Kid Ash became Keith Ape, we do see him change a little (mostly hair and addition of the grill) with his release of ‘Hot Ninja’ (a remix of Bobby Shmurda’s song) leading up to It G Ma:
Now that we have a better idea of what an “orca ninja” might be (or not), let’s move on. The author of an article on a site called OogeeWoogee (a unique news outlet for a critical perspective on hip hop globally), shares their opinion addressing OG Maco’s tweets claiming cultural appropriation. While admitting that the creators of It G Ma walk a fine line between appreciation/appropriation in this instance, the author (like myself) believes that OG Maco’s language is a bit strong. Here is what OG Maco had to say:
The biggest window into this issue as far as public opinion goes is the comment sections unfortunately. While they can give insight into what people are truly thinking we have to take opinions people express semi-anonymously with a grain of salt. For example, we know that the problem of blackface has come up in Korean pop culture more than a few times but being mad about It G Ma because (like this Youtube commenter) you feel like you “wouldn’t mind if Asians weren’t [expletive] racists” is well, over-generalizing and problematic.
Dexter Thomas, writer for Noisey under Vice, (on Twitter as @dexdigi) had a convo that sums up my views on this pretty well.
Clearly OG Maco was upset about what he viewed as blatant copying but he also possibly didn’t bother to find out more about the group or investigate the lyrics. Like @Awkwardcute said, the term “mocking” implies a disdain for the original creative source which I don’t think is the case here. This Twitter user also mentions a No Flex Zone remix released by Okasian, another member of The Cohort (found below) which Rae Sremmurd either ignored or doesn’t know about.
And perhaps with No Flex Zone, appropriation wouldn’t have come into question because they were clear on it being a remix and used parts of the original song (although things like alcohol and grills are still present). Total side note: to people wondering about the “F U Seaworld” thrown in there, see the notes on “orca ninja” above.
To be completely honest, I’m from Atlanta and hadn’t heard about OG Maco or ‘U Guessed It’ until articles about It G Ma came out. His fans seem to truly believe in his artistry and claim that ‘U Guessed It’ isn’t representative of most of his work. On the other side, I can say that I’ve been following The Cohort for a while and can say the same about It G Ma. It G Ma is largely a departure from Keith Ape’s usual style. This collaboration between Korean and Japanese rappers is something new to Korea with a style that was obviously and directly inspired by OG Maco. Some people like the guy below (especially other black people familiar with Korean pop or hip hop) immediately recognized the parallel and weren’t bothered by it.
And now I encourage you to read this article by Dexter Thomas here: http://noisey.vice.com/blog/keith-ape-jayallday-loota-okasian-and-kohh-it-g-ma-korean-u-guessed-it. It has several excellent points. We also learn from this article that JayAllDay lived in America for a little while and while not denying the influences of OG Maco’s ‘U Guessed It’ in It G Ma he claims they did not plan to copy it outright.
There are several camps that people fall into. The “both songs are garbage” camp, the “It G Ma is better/an improvement on the original” camp, the “people want to act black but not be black” camp and the “who says trap/clothing/alcohol/grills represent black people” camp. It gets really messy.
On the Eastern front, Dexter Thomas is able to give some insight into specific cultural elements in the video as well as highlight the significance of this collab in light of anti-Korean sentiment in Japan.
On one hand, there are Asian people who are proud of It G Ma and like Dexter Thomas in his article for Noisey, they are excited about the departure from Asian stereotypes that Keith Ape and his crew represent.
But what makes all of this so uncomfortable for us here in the U.S.? Could it be the history of Asian anti-blackness here? Could it be the numerous cases of appropriation perpetuated by non-black artists (like Igloo Australia) in the past year in conjunction with all of the events including New York and Ferguson that made the lack of value of black life painfully clear?
We could wait to see what Keith Ape himself has to say about OG Maco’s response. I would imagine he’d feel a little let down but in the meantime his video has reached a million views in a little over a month, Jermaine Dupri retweeted his song, Kohh and Loota are receiving new found attention from American fans who were ignorant about Japanese rap before and although OG Maco’s upset other fans continue to praise The Cohort and suggest Keith Ape collab with artists here in the U.S.
In response to that tension, that question of whether the artists overseas that borrow so much from hip hop care about black culture beyond the music, there is a glimmer of hope. Not long ago, two artists, B-Free and Reddy, Keith Ape’s label-mates, released a song called ‘I Wish’ that you can listen to below. First it struck me as strange because it was the first Korean Christmas rap track I’d ever heard…and then I heard the following lyrics in English:
“maybe this Christmas man we could get a little peace… tell the police back up i can’t breathe”
“on that note, my heart goes out to people in Ferguson”
Hold the phone…okay, yes, they mention a “bag of weed” in almost the same breath BUT I never thought that I would hear police brutality in America addressed even briefly in a Korean rap song.
As long as hip hop continues to expand globally there will be this tension between appropriation and appreciation, the clear need for education on hip hop’s origins, it’s background and its roots in struggle. I haven’t quite worked out the answers to what, if anything, we should do or what I personally should feel about the grills or the braids amongst other things – specifically in the realm of Korean hip hop…(I think appropriation in K-pop operates a bit differently but that’s not what this blog is for – this blog however is excellent for that – http://black-kpop-fans.tumblr.com/)
If Korean artists are out there performing a song like “I Wish” live, who knows? Maybe someone in the audience will go home and look up “Ferguson” or Google “Eric Garner”. That’s alright with me. Even though Korea is over 6,000 miles away, we can see the internet’s role in connecting people and the potential for progress is huge.
Will a collaboration between OG Maco and Keith Ape and friends ever happen? Probably not. On the basis of lyrical content alone I will probably continue to bump ‘It G Ma’ every once in a while, while being fully aware of OG Maco and the fact that without him It G Ma wouldn’t exist.