By Any Memes Necessary :: KA5SH on the Culture-Pushing Art of Making Memes
In a world poisoned by fake news, there’s only one remaining medium of truth left on the spectrum: The Meme. Pure and uninfluenced by the treacherous world that it exists in, the meme has touched millions in need of something to relate to. We had the golden opportunity to talk to one of the meme’s preeminent wizards, the young KA5SH placed on this planet in the vein of Gandalf to help shape humanity’s progress towards the utopian future that memes represent—one where we all empathize with each other [Ed. note: he’s the originator of the “i fuck with the vision fam let’s build” meme you’ve been seeing everywhere]. “Even though it seems so minuscule, sometimes I sit and think about a meme for days before I even make it because I’m trying to make the most relatable content that’s just funny for everyone,” says KA5SH.
In his first group art show at Junior High gallery, by any memes necessary, described as a “meme-centric art show about empathy and coping,” KA5SH gathered an ensemble of fighters to combat the darkness in the world (including @gothshakira—most artists at the show were prominent feminist meme-makers). The show was just over a week ago, and covered by both Dazed and Vice, but before it opened, we got a chance to talk to KA5SH about the divide between black and white Twitter, ownership in the world of memes, and where content creators stand in an uncertain future for the new medium.
Senay: Tell everyone who you are.
KA5SH: My name is is KA5SH K-A-5-S-H and I’m an internet artist and rapper.
So you came into notoriety originally through your music. Can you talk about how you started in music and then how you went from music being your main focus to now your relationship with internet art?
I first started off doing a solo thing as Kash Ketchum and that wasn’t really popping. I sucked, it wasn’t good. So then I started a rap group called Weirdo and that was really cool we were punk-trap what we considered ourselves we were really avant-garde all this screaming and yelling and stuff. We had a good run but we hit a cap where we just weren’t getting a pass where everyone else in the underground was.
“I realized since internet culture was changing, people weren’t just looking for you to just put out music—they wanted you to be a one-stop shop for all the content.”
You feel like it had a relationship with where you were geographically?
Yeah, yeah, totally I’m from Fayetteville, North Carolina. There wasn’t a place for us, we were weird! We were all the weird kids and no one really got what we were doing. So we would have to travel far out of town just to find shows for us but we were getting kicked out of venues because we were weird and no one understood what we were doing... I feel like eventually I got frustrated with everything and just moved out here and went solo.
I realized since internet culture was changing, people weren’t just looking for you to just put out music—they wanted you to be a one-stop shop for all the content. So what I realized that memes were a thing that was slowly taking off. I saw accounts like Sean Kingston and people who weren’t super relevant but were posting memes all the time so I was like I’m going to get into this because micro content in between me dropping music. So then I learned that I was good at it because I was already funny so I kinda just started getting obsessed with it just the like high seeing myself getting a whole bunch of likes and all these shares that I wouldn’t normally get off of music.
Can you talk about your trajectory from when you were in North Carolina to now?
It’s huge, my life changed 100%. Prior to April [2016 when I moved to Los Angeles], I was working at this place called HH Greg and before that I was working at Sears as an appliance salesman and I hated my life, my band fucking sucked, and my girlfriend of 5 years had broke up with me. You know, life just fucking sucked. I realized I had no reason to keep doing what I was doing. I needed to make a change. Nothing good was coming out of Fayetteville. I had tried everything I had tried putting shows on for myself and everyone and nothing was popping off. So I had exhausted every kind of resource that I had so I knew that it was time for me to try something different. I remember the last day that I worked at HH Greg, I wasn’t even working, I was just sitting in the back watching Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World and someone was like, “Why are you still even here? What are you doing? Get out of here!” So I did and I was like, fuck it, just gonna buy my ticket, and then I did.
So earlier you were talking about content. Does it surprise you that you meet popular social personalities who don’t make their own content or steal it or they just have other people doing it outright?
I hate people who steal content from other people who make it. Because this is coming from our brains—this is real life work for us, this is labor. Even though it seems so minuscule, sometimes I sit and think about a meme for days before I even make it because I’m trying to make the most relatable content that’s just funny for everyone. People DM me all the time saying these memes are getting me through hard times so thanks for what you’re doing. So it’s like making many art pieces and someone [comes along and] is like, “Hey, I made this,” and then they get all the credit for it.
Since we’re talking about memes, what is a meme?
For me, a meme is me taking a situation that has happened to me or that I’ve observed and since I can’t figure out a way to talk about it in a way that people would understand, I make a meme out of it and then I’m able to get that thought off or that situation off, and then I’m like, “Okay, this happens.” Basically all of my memes that I make come from real life—either things that have happened to me or things that I’ve witnessed and that’s where I create my content from.
I ask because I think with memes, it’s interesting as a medium because it’s something in relation to this generation, especially [since] it’s the only time I’ve seen open dialogue about ownership within art. With memes, how do you feel that artists should be compensated for creating them? And how do artists define that it’s their meme?
So that’s what’s been the conversation in regards to monetizing memes. Most of the content is from copyrighted material or stock photos or pictures of other people. But it’s stuff we’ve found off of the internet, so there’s the idea of open domain so it’s like, who really owns it? I can’t remember this artist’s name but he had a gallery show where he took Instagram screenshots—
“Even though it seems so minuscule, sometimes I sit and think about a meme for days before I even make it because I’m trying to make the most relatable content that’s just funny for everyone.”
You’re referencing Richard Prince.
Yeah! Richard Prince. So basically it would be the same thing that he’s doing. I own this now because it’s mine, and that means that I own it, right?
Do you think that memes haven’t been monetized yet is because of the lack of respect for the medium?
And that’s why I wanted to do the art show because I wanted us to be seen as actual people and not just coming out of nowhere. There’s people who are creating content all the time that’s being shared all over. And they have specific styles and ways that they write things so its mini, short art pieces that are being consumed by the masses. So I would like for people to take it more serious in the aspect of people actually doing their own thing.
So talk about your art show and how you curated it.
My art show is called by any memes necessary and its opening night is February 10th at Junior High in Hollywood. It started off as a joke out of me being frustrated with people not taking memers—I mean, content creators—seriously—
You can call yourself a memer.
Yeah, I don’t know what the proper word for what everyone wants to be called. I just want to be an artist. I think rappers have the same thing; they don’t want to be called rappers because they [think] that it puts them in a box. “I’m an artist, I’m not a rapper”—like they denounce the rap thing. I like to be a rapper. I was joking on Facebook I’m going to make a art show and put memes in it and people are going to call me an artist. And the owner of Junior High, Faith, hit me up like, “Yo, let’s do this I’m down.” And then I met her the next day, we bounced off ideas, and then we picked a date, and now it’s happening Friday.
Now that this is actually happening, I want to do more. So I centered it around the feminist meme accounts because that’s like a special brand of art to me. They are taking their emotional trauma and things that have happened to them and just making these long-form paragraphs that are able to be relatable to people and it helps people get through bad things that have happened to them and I wanted to put that in the forefront, because what they’re doing is crazy, they’re really smart.
I tried and I’m not good at that. I’m not good at the long-form meme format. So I got @sensualmemes, @gothshakira, @bunnymemes, @scariestbugever, and @tequilafunrise. @gothshakira is the founder of that format and the rest of them are like the pioneers of that format, they’re the biggest ones. And then I got my friend @versace_tamagotchi, Jack [Wagner], because he’s super good at memes, he’s got his own style outside of everyone else that I wanted to showcase. I’ve got a good team of people to be a part of this.
A long-form meme by @gothshakira
So you want to move around and showcase this?
Yeah, because there’s different subcultures of memes. There’s “ghetto” memes, there’s memes that black people create. I want to do a whole show that’s black memes and black content because we are the content creators of the whole thing—of all pop culture—and I want to do a future show centered on the whole thing. We’re the reason why songs get popular. We’re the reason why people love certain clothes and hate certain clothes—we’re in control of everything so I’d love to do a whole focus on black internet culture and I’d like to do that next.
We were talking about monetizing memes. One way I’ve seen that successfully done is through merch. So can you talk about the importance of merch as a internet artist, as well as the merch you’re making?
Yes! Merchandise is like the most important thing because everyone wants to wear the moment that connected them with an artist. They want to represent the artist that they love. And I feel like memers should do the same thing... The only problem is I see memers making shirts out of memes and since meme culture is so fast, sometimes it’s not going to be relevant next week. So if you make a “Cash Me Outside” shirt, that’s funny this week, but next month I would never care about that shirt, and that would be stupid, and I never want to be reminded of that memory! Like if you tried to sell me a Ken Bone shirt, I’d punch you in the face. I forgot that guy existed until just now. He had a good run for like a week.
Oftentimes the real-time effect of memes comes and it goes. How do you stay on top of that and can you talk about moments where you’ve missed it?
I stay on top of it by constantly being on the internet—
How much time do you put into the internet a day?
Honestly, I would say 15 hours a day. On and on doing stuff and just being on my phone. Trying to integrate it into my regular life just so that it feels more [seamless] and everyone isn’t annoyed with me being on the phone so that I can document it. Yeah, I would say 15 hours a day. As far as missing things? It sucks because you get FOMO like that where you don’t go on the internet for a day and now there’s a whole new thing and you have no clue. That happened in the beginning with the migos memes for “raindrop / drop top” when it started popping on black Twitter.
Because everything is in real time. If you ever had a thought, you should immediately put it out. Would you agree? And why?
Because we all share a collective conscious; we’re all consuming the same content so someone is going to be sharing the same thought as you. And you have to be the first one to get it off. If you don’t, you’re going to be like, “Fuck! I missed the thought.” I was the first person to make the George Michael meme which probably wasn’t in good taste but it was funny as fuck. I know I was the first one [to make it].
How has the impact of someone like the Fat Jew [@thefatjewish] positively and negatively impacted meme culture?
I don’t like that guy because he doesn’t create his own content. Well, I think he does now, but it fucking sucks. Him existing [creates] other accounts like that because they know they can just steal content from other accounts that are making it and just build your account up with stolen content.
Who else steals?
@Fuckjerry doesn’t steal anymore. He credits you if you email him. @Daquan steals my shit. There’s a whole bunch of Instagram accounts who steal my shit like I can go on the explore page and just see all of my memes on there.
Have you ever been contacted by someone you’ve used in a meme?
The Hoobastank meme that I made where you have three Mike’s Hard Lemonades and a Hoobastank song came on? The guy’s wife who’s in that meme is like, “Omg, that’s my husband where did you find this picture?” And I was like, “I don’t know, I honestly can’t remember.” Because @fuckjerry retweeted me so obviously it got a greater reach and then she saw it. She was like, “I don’t even know who this lady is, I’m going to ask my husband.”
What do you want to be remembered as?
As an artist. That’s always what I wanted to be.
“They’re making ‘artisanal black memes’—it’s racist.”
Earlier, we were talking about the cultural differences between black and white internet culture.
Before we were talking about things that I’ve missed, and I remember missing these specific [viral] moments like the penguins that got caught cheating and Chewbacca mom, like things like that. And I was wondering why I kept missing it, and I realized it’s because it was happening on White Twitter and I don’t see those things because they aren’t good. So then, I was thinking about whenever white people get a meme or a joke that came from Black Twitter and they try to put their spin on it, it’s awful because 1. They’re late on it, late as fuck and 2. They don’t understand where it came from, so they don’t understand the roots of it, so whenever they get ahold of it they just make it not funny and awful.
Like I can think of the Pawn Stars guy who did the Bad & Boujee video months—it feels like months—way, way, way too late and it was awful. It made me hate everything about that and that’s what happens whenever white people get black culture—they water it down and make it not funny. They make it consumerable for them; it’s like spicy food.
I’ve noticed that. Another thing I’ve noticed when language is appropriated in relation to memes it’s always cringe-worthy. I think it’s a fair distinction to like something and then to want to do something. I have no problem when white people like black memes. When they try to replicate it, it’s very off.
It comes off racist as fuck, dude. When white people make “ghetto” memes, it’s totally racist. It comes from them making fun of black people and it’s not out of appreciation—it’s just you making fun of us.
It’s funny that you bring that up because one thing that I was really pissed about with memes is, like you know when you make a meme on an Android phone it looks mad different than a meme on an iPhone? Maybe this is anecdotal, but I think most black people who have smart phones have Android phones, and that’s why [black memes] look like that. So then I started noticing big popular meme accounts purposely filtering their memes to look like that. I didn’t notice why they were doing that until I realized, not only that that’s what black people’s memes look like, but more importantly these people want their memes to be perceived as being made by a black person. As a content creator, you’ve noticed that. How do you feel about those moments where you feel that people are trying to blacken their memes?
I hate it, it’s like meme gentrification kind of. They’re making “artisanal black memes”—it’s racist. I want to rant about it. That’s one of the original reasons I got into memes—because there weren’t a lot of black meme creators like in 2013. Well there were, but there weren’t the ones that were running popular accounts or getting recognized for what they were doing. There were just these white people remaking stuff or stealing stuff from black people and then just coming up from there so I wanted to get in there and offset that.
Do you think that the real issue is that we as in the black online community can see the money being made and know that it’s not coming to us? Like if there was no money and this was an actual public and free internet, it would be okay? But the fact that you see people like—
People like The Fat Jew building up his account off of black creators and black memes.
—Making tens of thousands of dollars not even counting sponsors and corporate dates—like is that the real issue? And why do you feel like those bigger business entities don’t necessarily reach out towards blacks?
That’s a million dollar question because we talk about that on Twitter all the time about how Ellen will pick Damn Daniel over the girl who invented “fleek”! Who has like 5K followers and probably makes no money over inventing that word that’s on TV and T-shirts and all this shit.
And Damn Daniel now has a lifetime supply of Vans.
No one gave the fleek girl eyebrow stuff for the rest of her life. She was documenting her making a word that people still use today. 21 Savage just said it, “Diamonds on fleek.” She didn’t get checks for that. She’s not on Ellen for that. And it just sucks because that happens to black people all the time. Since the dawn of time, building America, making all the music, inventing everything, and not getting any credit for it. Like, do you know we invented house music, man? We invented rap, we invented rock, and we’re not getting any real credit for that shit. And it also boils down to content as well—we get the short end of the stick. Even though we’re the reason that you like it.
In much of the way that rock and house music are currently where it is, do you feel like there will be a day where a black meme—whatever that means culturally—will have no relationship with the black community? Like how there are house DJs and house festivals all around the world and there are no black people, no black DJs—
Oh yes! I think that already started happening with Harambe. That’s an example of that. A black meme that started off as a joke with black people going, “Aww, my nigga died,” and then white people started doing it, and then it was completely racist. And they turned it into a joke about a black dude getting killed by the police, and they don’t care about black people at all. And it’s just completely fucking racist! And as a black meme being made by white people, it had no connection to black people at all anymore and it just kept going way too long. I just hate when that happens.
Senay Kenfe is a bad writer, decent street photographer, and aspiring b-list celebrity from Long Beach, California.