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10: Keith Ape

Photo By Aaron Miller

“I’m A Zombie…Drank Too Much Crap Codeine”

Many have questioned the meaning of life. What should we do with our existence? How should we conduct ourselves in this journey? What does it all mean? The knowledge of death cements the fact that we can’t postpone things forever, which in turn motivates us to appreciate ourselves and the presence of others. To live life to the fullest and to exist without regret to the best of our abilities.


Few societies today understand this more than in the Korean culture. Korean philosophy advocates basic insights about human nature and its ways of communal life, coupled with the constitution of the reality that is life and death. It’s characterized by the view that relationships are more important than the entities themselves. This world view has produced a paragon for other cultures and societies, interms of admiration and imitation. South Korea is a land of unity, with its architecture designed to display the relationship between nature and harmony.

Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul, South Korea

The beautiful landscapes underpin the efficiency and high-level of innovation from South Korean talent. They have built a well-structured economy, belonging to the G-20 group, ranking tenth nominally. But the most intriguing aspect for this piece, in my view, is life expectancy. According to the WHO’s data published in 2020, South Korea ranks at number three in the world for this; perhaps a by-product of the a forementioned philosophy and conduct embraced by their people.


In spite of this,there are those who don’t completely adhere to these teachings and concepts. The self-proclaimed “problem children” have blazed their own trail, in support of one another’s mind and spirit going against the grain. The name of this group? “The Cohort.” And their biggest star? Keith Ape.

Keith Ape, Okasian and AM.KA¥ of The Cohort

Real name Dongheon Lee, Keith Ape was born on December 25th 1993 in Bundang, South Korea. From an early age, his family realised that he wasn’t the typical Korean progeny they expected.

“People told me when I was growing up that I was a troubled child”

Luckily enough, his parents were artistic in nature. While his mother painted, his father taught music as a professor. Keith Ape would drop out of high school in search of a way to hone his chaotic nature; this way was music. Like many “problem children,” they all tend to listen to hip-hop from an early age, with his first influence being Nas. He would take to this path, working hard to release as much music as possible under the moniker “Kid Ash.” Then, he had his viral breakthrough “잊지마 “ or “It G Ma.”

Complex magazine stated:

“This is a ground-breaking moment in convergence culture, in which a kid from Seoul crosses continents to link up with homies from Atlanta, L.A., and Harlem, all in the name of hip-hop.”

The track broke into Spotify’s Global Top 10 Most Viral Tracks chart and Hype Machine’s Twitter chart as the hashtag #ITGMA trended globally on the day of release. The release was the first to put “The Cohort” on the map. Several members contributed to the track, all displaying distinct aspects of the group. From fast and relentless to slow and methodical, the sound was almost identical to the track U Guessed It,” which landed Keith Ape in legal trouble and social media criticism.

OG Maco wrote on Twitter:

"I'm aware of the Koreans that mocked me and took my sauce”

"I'm not impressed. I'm not inspired. I think it's kinda lame. To each his own. I didn't have grills or extra jackets and lean cups, so why did they? Black stereotypes. Lame."

OG Maco claimed that the song was a mockery of him and others, using black stereotypes to sell music and increase exposure. He managed to start receiving royalties at the end of the year and ended the dispute between the two newly crowned underground kings. He wouldn’t let this temporary setback halt the massive momentum he was gaining,  which would continue at SXSW ‘15, the pinnacle of the underground festival music scene in the United States.

This wasn’t the only iconic performance that Keith Ape would have, his SOB performance in Manhattan went down as one of the top shows of the year, as proclaimed by The New York Times:

Before Keith Ape, South Korea and hip hop may have never appeared in the same sentence outside the country's borders. Instead, South Korea's burgeoning entertainment industry had only been known for K-pop and soap operas. The “Idol” industry is a force of nature. K-pop has become increasingly popular among people of all ages. The acts break records, covering music charts, dominating the global entertainment markets, and winning the hearts of fans due to their overflowing talent and charisma. The genre grew by 44.8% in 2020, the fastest rate by any genre market thanks to “cookie cutter” or traditional groups like “BLACKPINK”and “BTS”, the antithesis of The Cohort.

K-pop super group BTS

Keith Ape didn’t subscribe to this doctrine in the mid-2010s, he made it his mission to prove that artists from the Korean industry weren’t all two-dimensional:

“I’m glad I got to show the world that Korea has music like this too….This isn’t that K-pop, you feel me?”

A few years down the line, he would release his debut album “Born Again.” The common consensus from the hip-hop community was that Keith Ape had not achieved any longevity after his viral hit, labelling him a one hit wonder. This was his attempt to silence the critics. The technical aspect to Ape’s delivery is remarkable, with cultural fusion throughout the project. Ape and all the fuck-the-system rappers featured here each have their own regional sound to rebel against and they all delivered.

Cover Art for Keith Apes "Born Again"

“Rebel Life, We Go Hard”


Staying true to The Cohort motto of “Rebel Life, We Go Hard”, he would live a lifestyle of excess and instability. Which would culminate in a confusing Instagram caption stating he had three to six months to live. His doctor stated:

“If you continue living this lifestyle, you’re estimated to live 6 months, at the maximum, if you don’t change your ways”

His avid fans, at the time, were fearful of the news, discussing what the illness could be, or if the post was a marketing strategy for his new mixtape. No one had any idea what to think and he wouldn’t disclose any more information. He’s alive and well now and still releases new music for his fervent fanbase.

Overall, Keith Ape is a believer in the “Live Fast,Die Young” philosophy. From the Soundcloud style rage tracks he makes to the alleged drug and alcohol abuse that almost caused an untimely death.  Together with his crewmates, the disobedience that some Korean youth exhibit demonstrates the defiance that a strict, functional society can cause. However positive and productive a nation of people can be, there will always be a minority that will want to choose their own path regardless of the consequences. This is Keith Ape, the problem child of South Korea.

Written by: @Arriv3r

Edited by: @Whosaria