Washington rappers breaking new ground, to make video in North Korea
Young artists hope unusual trip will yield record deal, despite anxiety about their first plane ride
The Guardian in Washington
Pacman and Peso have never travelled much beyond the impoverished suburbs of Washington where they live.
But after a successful internet fundraising drive, the unsigned hip-hop duo will embark next Saturday on a trip with an unlikely destination, for a video shoot they hope will jump-start their career - North Korea.
After raising US$10,400 from their Kickstarter campaign, they will first fly to China, and then on to Pyongyang, where they plan to film songs such as God Bless Amerika on a party bus.
Neither of them has flown on an aircraft, or even travelled more than a short distance from the US capital. They say they only recently discovered North Korea was a foreign country.
Comparisons are inevitably being made with Dennis Rodman, the former basketball player whose visits to North Korea resulted in an unlikely friendship with the dynastic leader, Kim Jong-un. But Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, artists in search of a record deal that will lift them out of poverty, are on the cusp of a very different kind of adventure.
The trip has been facilitated by Mike Bassett, 34, an Iraq war veteran who was stationed in South Korea for seven years. Bassett has co-ordinated several cultural exchanges with North Korea and travelled extensively in the country since restrictions were eased in 2010.
He insists North Korea is misunderstood, and says Pacman and Peso will be treated with courtesy. Still, he has felt it necessary to provide the young rappers with some cultural advice, and instructed them to amend some of their lyrics.
At their leaving party in Washington on Thursday, the pair provided well-wishers an introduction to their debut mix-tape.
Once or twice, the crowd broke out into chants of "North Korea". But no one really seemed to know exactly why the pair were travelling to the dictatorship, least of all Pacman and Peso.
"I'm a thrill-seeker, I don't fear nothing," said Pacman, a smiley, baby-faced teenager, whose real name is Anthony Bobb.
Pacman said people kept telling him not to go. "Me personally, I don't pay too much to politics, so I can't say what is right."
His serious-looking partner Peso was more reticent. "I'm excited - the only thing I'm not excited about is the plane."
He added: "We're changing the game. Nobody has shot a video in North Korea like we're about to do."
Asked if he was worried for his safety, Peso, whose real name is Dontray Ennis, replied: "You don't think this is a dangerous place to be living at right now? There's your answer then."
But beneath the bravado, there appears to be at least a hint of anxiety on the part of the two young rappers, who are being carried along by the momentum.
At one point during a pre-show interview, Peso seemed only half-joking when he talked about the pair maybe being killed in North Korea.
"If we don't die, it will probably be a big life-changer," he said.
He looked a little uncertain before adding: "Can I ask you a question? What do you think is going to happen when we go over there?"