It’s an auspicious coincidence that Trap Ketchum – the Pokémon-themed debut project from video game YouTuber extraordinaire Shofu – shared a release date with In Tongues, the first commercial EP from lo-fi singer-songwriter Joji. Besides the obvious common ground the two share as musicians, their similarities extend to the fact that both of their day jobs make use of YouTube as a platform for content distribution – with Joji being most widely known for his devious Filthy Frank persona. When it comes to the ways in which both elements of their work interact with each other, however, there couldn’t be clearer a divide.
Joji’s approach to his musical output so far has marked a clear separation between the two avenues of his creative mindset. When it comes to his music, the erratic attributes of his alter ego are displaced in favour of deep introspection and a level of human empathy one might not think he was capable of going off the gross nature of his video content alone. Shofu, on the other hand, embraces every aspect of his online footprint – his audacious and witty personality comes into full effect, and he’s dropping references to Pokémon and runnings gags from his videos at every ample opportunity. Of course, the key difference here is that in his case there is no persona or character per se – quite simply, he’s a guy with a vested interest in rap and Pokémon who’s made a living off doing both and gives zero fucks to anybody who might feel some type of way about it.
Establishing his channel in 2006 – although his earliest public videos at the time of writing are dated 2009 – Shofu has been steadily releasing the labours of his love for Pokémon and rap music alongside uploading various Pokémon playthroughs and online battles against other players. In doing so, he’s accumulated a dedicated audience of over half a million subscribers – a clear indicator that there’s a market for Pokémon-themed rap music, even if the combination never personally crossed your mind.
His most notable concoction of the two thus far comes in the form of the Pokémon Cypher – a gargantuan rap phenomenon that sees himself and creators that share his passion rattle off sophisticated Pokébars and punchlines over an assortment of frenetic beats that flip and sample music from the franchise. The latest iteration – professionally shot in 2016 at the Pokémon Worlds event by videographer Jakob Owens (KYLE, Futuristic, ILoveMemphis) – amassed almost $8k in crowdfunding support and has racked up an impressive 1.5 million views since its initial upload. Given the amount of effort he’s put into turning his hobbies into a consistent source of income over the years, it’s pretty satisfying to see all the hard work pay off for Shofu – and judging by the way in which the final product turned out, it looks like Trap Ketchum is set to take it one step further.
Whilst the sheer length and intense nature of the Pokémon Cypher might intimidate those who solely harbour an interest in either rap or Pokémon, however, Trap Ketchum is a record that – whether consciously or unconsciously – caters to a much broader audience. Much like the Pokédex serves as a compendium of knowledge relating to all types of Pokémon species, Trap Ketchum compiles multiple subsets of hip hop and subsequently delivers a masterclass in how to execute them. Lead single ‘Verlisify’ lives up to the project’s ingenious title, utilising the same gritty Lee Fields sample that drives Travi$ Scott‘s ‘Antidote’ and topping it off with an equally as memorable hook. ‘Champion Flow’ harkens back to the nerdy stylings of Camp-era Childish Gambino, whereas ‘Pokémon Diamonds’ would fit snugly on a Lil Uzi Vert or Lil Yachty record – pairing a playful, bubblegum-flavoured beat with Shofu and the track’s collaborator Detox The Kid‘s back-and-forth, autotune-drenched bars. Comparing Shofu to Ditto – a gelatinous blob that mimics other Pokémon, if you’re unaware – might seem like a cheap and easy comparison to make, but it’s probably the most accurate considering how easily he tackles the many different facets of Trap Ketchum.
It’s not only the technical proficiency on show that Shofu deserves credit for, though. There’s multiple levels of appeal and understanding to Trap Ketchum, and yet each is built substantially enough that it can keep its target hooked. For those with a disinterest in rap music – the kind of people who might raise the age-old argument that rappers talk about nothing but “bitches, money and clothes” – lines like “we thirty deep like Ash’s Tauros” do wonders to make the songs relevant to their own interests. For those who can’t tell the difference between a Squirtle and a Bulbasaur but know their Kanye from their Kendrick, the aptitude and versatility on display throughout each and every offering is more than enough to warrant admiration. And as for those who adore both, well, let’s just say it’s the equivalent to encountering a rare shiny Pokémon after 600 painstaking random encounters and leave it at that.
When you make a success out of something you have such an obvious enthusiasm for, there will always be naysayers intent on discrediting and attempting to delegitimise your achievements. It’s not difficult to imagine keyboard warriors or quote unquote ‘serious’ rappers laughing off a mixtape themed around Pokémon based on the premise alone – but it’s unlikely such trifling opinions will ever phase Shofu. Minutes into Trap Ketchum, he remarks that “they probably hatin’ because I rap about Pokémon better than they rap about anything”. With a 17-song barrage loaded with skilful wordplay, flow versatility and a better understanding as to what a chorus is than 90% of rappers clogging up the internet right now firmly under his belt, you better be packing some serious credentials – and at LEAST eight badges – if you insist on challenging him on that claim.