We were the first.

And when I say “we,” I mean us: Korean-Americans.

We were the early adopters of “IT G MA,” in that first week after Keith Ape’s explosive song and music video dropped out of nowhere on New Year’s Day. I don’t have exact YouTube stats on this, but I’d venture to say that people like me—Korean-Americans, a.k.a. gyopos (people of Korean descent living outside of Korea)—dominated the first 301+ of the nearly 10 million views that the video has now amassed. (I do have YouTube stats that show that almost 60 percent of total views originated in America, compared to only 10 percent in South Korea.)  

Few of us had heard of Keith Ape before Jan. 1, yet “IT G MA” quickly became an instant share. I found the song to be catchy (and derivative, sure), but it was the raw energy of the video and its cultural signifiers—Keith’s paper mask, the green bottle of makgeolli (milky, carbonated rice wine) he clutches like a 40, the flashing won (Korean currency) symbols—that resonated most. Korean shit. Cool Korean shit. And the phrase “IT G MA” itself: 잊지마. Don’t forget. Fitting.  

Ethnic pride is one of the reasons that you’re reading about Keith Ape in Complex and also why Complex produced and premiered the “IT G MA Remix” video. (More on that later.) But it’s not the main reason. Hip-hop circa 2015 has two main tiers: the elite 1 percent of megastars (and those futilely trying to join them) and a huge abyss of has-been rappers. There’s a widening third class, though: an Internet full of enthusiastic upstarts who try to get noticed via novelty, or skill, or simply a relentless DIY IDGAF mentality. The ones who get noticed, like Keith Ape, combine all three.

So Keith and the Cohort crew (Seoul), much as Awful Records (Atlanta) and the Sad Boys (Stockholm) before them, have vaulted from regional obscurity to blogosphere fame. This new class of standouts represents hip-hop’s strange new world, where homegrown creativity and unabashed appropriation incubate on your broadband connection.

And, though I might be biased, I have a feeling that the kid from South Korea will be the biggest of them all.

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