Pacman and Peso have never traveled much beyond the impoverished suburbs of Washington where they live. Yet after a successful internet fundraising drive, the unsigned hip-hop duo will on Saturday next week embark 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 have flown on an aircraft, or even traveled more than a short distance from Washington.
Comparisons are inevitably being made with Dennis Rodman, the former basketball player whose visits to North Korea resulted in an unlikely friendship with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. However, Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, unsigned 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, a former Iraq war veteran who was stationed in South Korea for seven years. Bassett has coordinated several cultural exchanges with North Korea and traveled extensively in the country since restrictions were eased in 2010.
At their leaving party in Washington on Thursday, the pair provided well-wishers an introduction to their debut mixtape.
Once or twice, the crowd broke out into chants of “North Korea.”
However, no-one really seemed to know exactly why they the pair were traveling 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 keep 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 said, adding: “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.”
The idea that Pacman and Peso are just as likely to be subject to arbitrary detention, arrest and mistreatment in the streets around their home as Pyongyang has become a theme in the promotion surrounding their trip.
It was the thrust of a piece profiling the pair in the Washington Post, which helped them easily surpass their fundraising goal of US$6,000.
“We’re not trying to be political heroes or anything like that,” said the duo’s manager, Ramsey Aburdene.
“We understand there is terrible stuff going on in North Korea, but there is terrible stuff going on here that people aren’t straight up about,” Aburdene said.
Yet 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?”