Converse is more gangster than you thought

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Converse / Keith Ape

A surprising collaboration: emerging South Korean trap artist Keith Ape and the immensely popular American shoe brand Converse. What attracts these seemingly opposites? And what does this fashion film/video clip tell us about fashion and music culture in a globalized world?

His original name being Dongheon Lee, Keith Ape changed his stage name to appeal to the English speaking public, which is also the language of his lyrics. This makes sense, since the trap music genre  originated in the Southern United States (Atlanta, Georgia). The term “trap” here referred to the place where drug deals were made and how it is difficult to escape the gangster lifestyle, resulting in lyrics about harsh urban street life, poverty, and violence, supported by either aggressive or mellow beats with lots of bass.

This background is clearly present in the fashion film/video clip. The horror-like aesthetics filled with distorted images simulate an acid trip, capturing the spectator as in trance through both the dreamy visuals and Keith Ape’s low voice and penetrating bass. It strongly reminds of gangster games like Grand Theft Auto with animated shots and prominent visual effects.

The whole viewer experience completely counteracts the everydayness that the Converse shoe has come to represent. Because of it’s casualty it is worn around the entire world and by people from every kind of social groups and ages, wherefore it has become hard to still “stand out” with this safe option. Converse (as part of Nike Inc.) global appeal must have been (economically) attractive for Keith Ape, whilst the “trapper” could offer the brand a more “edgy” image that it might be missing.

But in another light, the film/clip is also contextualizing Converse in the environment it truly belongs nowadays: Asia. In a globalized fashion industry the vast majority of production is outsourced to (South-East) Asia, to be sold mainly in the Western world. Even though there is an increased awareness about the harsh conditions in clothing/apparel factories, this isn’t shown.

Instead, Keith Ape is inspired by gangster cultures as they emerged in various neighborhoods in the US. In fact, OG Maco, an American hip hop artist from Atlanta, has blamed Keith Ape for ‘mocking him by using black stereotypes to sell his music’ (Wikipedia).

And maybe, in a sense, that is because both are quite similar. In a capitalistic society in which the idea of the American dream is the ultimate ideal, African-American people started off as the lower socio-economical classes because of a history of slavery and colonialism. Similarly, the Eastern world is economically and technologically less developed as “the Western world,” making Asia a source of cheap labour and human exploitation. Next to this society’s standard of the American dream, both are thus in a socio-economical disadvantaged position, resulting in a blurring and intertwining of seemingly completely different cultures on opposing sides of the globe.

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