Keith Ape, a hyped rap prospect from the genre-eclectic 88rising house, delivers a consistent sound on his debut EP, Born Again. The technical aspect to Ape’s rapping is phenomenal — and the cultural fusion is eminently fascinating. Ape and all the fuck-the-system rappers featured here each have their own regional sound to rep: With Ape it’s South Korea, Chief Keef it’s Chicago, wifisfuneral it’s NYC. But arguably most important influence here is the Atlanta sound — repped by Young Bans. Obviously, Southern rap has influenced Ape to a high degree, much like his 88 compatriots the Higher Brothers (who’ve been dubbed “the Chinese Migos”). Ape’s songwriting, however, is quite unlike that of his collaborators; he stresses fast-paced, wordy, bilingual bars that feel breathless. Opening salvo “My Wrist Clearer Than Water” is a sinister banger, with slurred ad libs and quicksilver raps that get progressively more intense. “Ninja Turtle” has the closest thing to a memorable hook, and shows Ape really beginning to mix English phrases with his native language in a way that’s totally swaggering.
Ape also finds the perfect collaborator in wifisfuneral’s paradoxically dexterous yet understated flow, while the following track, “Ul-Um,” has dissonant synth chords that foster a general uneasiness, and Keef’s verse on “The Ice Ape” highlights Ape’s predilection for zaniness, a vibe the rapper returns when he begins to almost literally spit by the end of his own verse. Whereas features on other up-and-coming artists’ releases can often take on more prominence than the artist themselves, here that’s no issue; rather, a different problem emerges, which is a sense that Born Again lacks a center. There is hardly a breath on this album for a true-blue, shooting-for-the-fences hook or bridge; it’s simply verse after verse, with subtle hooks that are rapped, not sung. The genre label this provokes, would be somewhere between trap and horrorcore, which isn’t the most “fun” sound, and makes Ape’s appeal be less immediate that that of the Higher Brothers. Still, this EP bridges a difficult cultural gap with admirable poise, and it knows when to quit.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Issue 4