Meet the two rappers planning to shoot a video in North Korea

"Citizen diplomat" helping young rappers to shoot music video in North Korea
September 5th, 2013

Pacman and Peso, two rappers hailing from South East Washington, D.C. and Maryland, had never heard of North Korea until their manager, Ramsey Aburdene, suggested it as a location for a music video. But now they have high hopes of visiting the country, having launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $6000 by September 29 to get them there.

The aspiring rappers, who are described as “two gifted young artists who are fighting to improve their lives and rise above difficult circumstances,” grew up in tough neighborhoods and have had difficult upbringings.

According to the trip fundraiser page “they have dodged bullets (literally), gone to sleep hungry, and seen loved ones die. They both got caught up in the juvenile justice system at a young age which interrupted their educations”.

Luckily, “serendipity has brought about a rare opportunity for the duo to join a one-of-a-kind trip to North Korea where they will be able to shoot a music video that will showcase their talent and create a buzz for themselves”.

But now the duo need to raise money to visit North Korea, for travel, accommodations, food,  and other expenses.

NK News organized a Skype chat with them, to find out more about the project.

Pacman and Peso, ages 18 and 19 respectively, first met Ramsey Aburdene while they were playing basketball in D.C. Ramsey was filming an unrelated project when their friend encouraged the two rappers to freestyle for the film crew. Since then, they’ve been working closely together with Aburdene on the North Korea project.

The rappers want to visit North Korea because it’s different, and it’s “got a lot behind it”, says Pacman. But why the desire to shoot a music video there? “It’s never been done before out there,” says Peso.

Ramsay tells me “the trip was already planned before I met Pacman and Peso…then it finally clicked to bring them along”.

Pacman and Peso are reluctant to comment on U.S.-DPRK relations, with Pacman telling me that he thinks his view of North Korea has been affected by the American media’s portrayal of it. In particular, he compares how North Korea is shown in the media to how African-Americans are seen in the U.S.:

“They subject us the same way where I’m from,” he says, “for me to feed into all that just, yeah, wouldn’t be right”.

They also seem unfazed by North Korea’s strict rules. “Nah we aint worried about nothing,” Peso says, when asked if they are concerned they could get into trouble during their stay.

At this point another of their collaborators, Michael Bassett, a “citizen diplomat” who frequently arranges visits to the DPRK for businessmen and tourists – and was recently kicked in the head by a North Korean Taekwondo  player, emerges to tell me more.

Aburdene contacted Bassett to arrange the trip and plan a strict itinerary, including a ride on a tour bus to take them around the country where they will be joined by a young PhD student from New York.

Bassett said he was interested in bringing Pacman and Peso to the DPRK because they are “from a part of DC that is, in some way, kind of comparable with North Korea”. He adds that hewants to involve them in something called political art – “it’s basically like this cross-cultural type of deal where people get together and dance and stuff like that”.

Michael Bassett’s passion is bridging cultural divides, he says, and he hopes that Pacman and Peso will take some lessons from North Korea back to South East DC:

I thought it’d be great to get these guys to bring some lessons back to their communities,” he says, “just tell people: ‘Why are we fighting? I’ve been to North Korea and you know I can tell you we have things in common, we don’t need to fight with each other.’ You know just stuff like that.”

While the duo say they haven’t heard of any North Korean rap, they say they hope to get the locals into their style of music. “It would be great to see if anyone else is into the type of stuff we’re into,” says Pacman.

But the song they’re writing won’t specifically be about North Korea, Pacman says. “We don’t wanna just make a song about it or of it, and not know what we’re talking about”.

As Pacman goes on to explain that he hopes to learn if people in North Korea like living there or if they would ever want to visit the USA, Peso interjects: “Do they speak a certain language down there? So how would they understand us?”

If you want to support Pacman and Peso in their mission to shoot in North Korea, donate to their Kickstarter here.

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About the Author

Oliver Hotham

Oliver Hotham is an NK News contributor based in London. He has previously worked at the Sunday Times and