With the massive rise of the viral video and song “It G Ma” by Korean up and comer Keith Ape creating what is currently regarded as a racial controversy by many, I decided to dive a little deeper into the issue at hand, rather than simply believing that cultural appropriation of Hip-Hop and Black culture is the main culprit seen throughout this new Rap phenomenon. It is no news to the world to see that the exportation of Korean culture is becoming a serious influencer in pop culture, with artists like 2NE1’s CL and Big Bang’s Taeyang and G-Dragon breaking out into the U.S. music scene with their solo debuts. As Korea has globalized over the years, the continuation of the exportation of a new sort of cultural meshing has sprouted, where K-Rap and K-Pop are just the beginning in what is regarded as the “Hallyu Wave” (the increased popularity of South Korean culture worldwide). However, Keith Ape’s “It G Ma” was something that no South Korean musician has been able to develop, becoming an instantaneously viral hit that obviously pays homage to OG Maco’s famed track titled “U Guessed It”, which lays down an incredibly minimalist structure, with heavy bass lines, small piano melodies, and lyrics that honestly, don’t necessarily impress, but wreak havoc on the dance floor. However, the controversy behind “It G Ma” is one that I was personally surprised by, where an outraged community seemed to believe that “It G Ma” was appropriating black hip-hop culture in a bad, and unhealthy light, where OG Maco himself claimed it to be “racist as shit”. But first, it’s important to look at Korean culture in general, and to realize the actual motives behind the music video and the song itself, while at the same time, attempting to understand this newly globalizing cultural force, before simply saying or coming to the conclusion that Keith Ape’s “It G Ma” is surely a racist, culturally appropriated mess.
Firstly, It’s rather easy to assume (by Western standards), that social boundaries can be easily broken, where in the West we’ve come to the realization of a globalized community where many nationalities and ethnicities prosper together, where we recognize (or at least try to recognize) that different cultural and societal boundaries need to be put in place to ensure equality and fairness. This didn’t just take 10 or 15 years to create, it took hundreds, and it’s clear that today we still have issues in these parts of the world in terms of enforcing equality and fairness, simply look at the Ferguson case that rattled the US last year. In Korea, globalization is at the starting point, where foreigners are still looked incredibly down upon, where the intermingling of cultures is almost as vague as it is acknowledged, and where it is incredibly unusual to walk around in Seoul, the world’s third largest city, and find a group of other-than-Asian folk walking the streets. It’s not uncommon for even me, a part Korean man, to be yelled at for being a foreigner, where the older generation still is a nationalistic and ethnic force that can be seen as harrowing and rather suffocating to the younger generation, who are at the forefront of Korea’s newly emerging globalization. The point here is, Korea is a newly globalizing country that hasn’t been exposed to “the other”, where as the insularity of Korea and it’s newly globalizing generation have essentially become xenophobic due to only recently being able to interact with these newfound cultures. While OG Maco might have had a point with Keith Ape and his featuring artists wearing long oversized coats and “acting black”, you also have to realize that this isn’t just a Korean video. Keith Ape managed to feature two Japanese artists in ‘It G Ma’, Kohh and Loota. The thing here is that, Japanese streetwear culture has been exposed to these similar Hip-Hop ideals since the rise of Hip-Hop in the 80s and 90s, and their rising Streetwear culture coincides hand in hand with hip-hop, because Streetwear is, essentially, a part of Hip-Hop culture. Surely OG Maco can throw out the idea that Keith Ape was holistically appropriating hip-hop culture through the idea that they are “wearing baggy clothes”, or looking like they’re acting gangster by wearing grills etc., but that in itself in an insular view when we are talking about a newly emerging globalizing culture that OG Maco seems to know so little of – He wears BAPE, doesn’t he realize where that originated? Japan, not the United States, and it’s been a huge part of Hip-Hop artist wardrobes for Years, with Weezy consistently decking himself out in the baggiest of BAPE-wear since the early 2000s, where Kanye and Pharell have both largely been apart of Japanese streetwear culture, where Kanye himself found Kid Cudi in a Bape store, eventually signing him to GOOD Music. The aethestic Keith Ape applies in the video with baggy clothing isn’t anything new to either Japan or Korean culture, and has been around for many, many years.
Lastly, It G Ma seems to be a track aimed at expanding Korean and Japanese cultural exchange itself, and I find it hard to believe that people will ignore this idea whatever I try to argue. The history of Japan and Korea is obviously not pretty, with Japan colonizing Korea for nearly 40 years, harassing Korean ethnics for years on end, where even today a newly-forming Nationalist outlook in Japan is causing serious concern for Korean politicians and foreign policy, with Japan withdrawing from the ever-so-important 6th Party Talks aimed at diffusing the North Korean nuclear issue. Not only that, but just months ago Nationalistic Japanese stormed many Korean-ethnic neighborhoods in Tokyo chanting “Good Koreans or Bad, Kill Them All”, where the simple existence of Korean ethnics is fueling an essential Race war in what is regarded as one of the most advanced nations in the entire World. A survey done just last year showed that nearly 70% of Japanese people had un-friendly feelings towards Korea and Koreans. But this isn’t just happening in Japan, it’s happening in South Korea as well, where Anti-Japanese protestors have stormed areas with ethnic Japanese individuals, chanting and burning Japanese flags. It’s obvious that the continuation of a hateful past towards each ethnicity is still rife today, and it doesn’t look to be disappearing anytime soon.
The point here is, as crazy as these events seem to be, Keith Ape still managed to create a fluid track with two featuring Japanese artists from the very newly emerging J-Rap scene, where KOHH himself says in the track “"Talking about the past is lame so, Forget about what happened long ago!" most definitely referring to the ongoing ethnic racism he’s viewed in his own country and community as well as what’s being seen abroad in Korea. The song is also titled ‘It G Ma’ or Never Forget in English, and throughout the song we get the idea of never forgetting, be it where these rappers came from, or the history of Korean-Japanese relations, there’s an obvious acknowledgement here of the hopes of cultural reconciliation. Keith Ape seems to be getting around the generational boundaries, attempting to create a community that can hopefully build a friendship between the two heavily opposing cultures and society, rather than the opposite. And with this newly emerging underground hip-hop scene in both Japan and Korea as starting to become recognized, a new type of hip-hop youth is viewing these artists as examples for the future of the art. As someone who understands the history of the ethnic and nationalistic disputes between these two incredibly xenpophobic and insular cultures, it’s rather gratifying to see any type of interaction between Japanese and Korean culture that is positive, rather than negative, and I hope these newly emerging underground Hip-Hop cultures in Japan and Korea continue to grow and set a precedent for both of their cultures back home, where the continuation of cultural intermingling can occur, and the hate can disperse. It’s no easy task, but Keith Ape, JayAllDay, Loota, Okasian, and KOHH seem to be the agents in a large, but very important change, especially as they are seen as superstars by the younger generations who are becoming interested in Western Hip-Hop, etc.
To me, It G Ma surely pays homage to OG Maco’s “U Guessed It” and Hip-Hop culture in general, but I simply don’t understand why Maco is acting like such an ass about it, where his views of a racist appropriation of Black Hip-Hop Culture in ‘It G Ma’ are skewed simply by the fact that he doesn’t even understand the culture behind the video itself. OG Maco simply watched the video, and called it racist, rather than digging into the actual issue he essentially started, and he simply seems jealous by the massive global attention ‘It G Ma’ has received in comparison to his own ‘U Guessed It’ (then again, just this past week Keith Ape took a photo with OG Maco on Instagram, so it looks like OG Maco really couldn’t own up to his accusations after all). If you are in a globalizing world, expect for your culture to become assimilated globally, and expect others to give and take, after all “Imitation is the sincerest form of Flattery” according to famed English writer Charles Caleb Colton, but don’t just assume that the entire world is up to date on social etiquette and boundaries that the West has produced over the course of 200 years. Remember that perspective and acknowledgment is key in forming a proper view on any global matter, and that you can’t apply the same perspective formula to every situation. In my holistic opinion, It G Ma is breaking generational boundaries in an attempt to reconcile between Korea and Japan in a global setting, where artists in two incredibly underground and recently emerging scenes are setting an example for youth interested in Hip-Hop culture so that they can change the continuation of the past, with the hopes of building a stronger inter-cultural relationship instead of the continuous spreading both Korea and Japan are currently applying to each other in the political, national, and ethnic settings – after all, when you’re in the club, you aren’t concerned about what color, ethnicity, or nationality your neighbor is next to you, as long as you both are vibing and dancing to quality music, you’re going to share that experience and enjoy sharing it with whoever is around you instead of worrying about trivial issues that you honestly shouldn’t give a rat’s ass about.
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Written by Torsten
- Written March 29, 2015