Neither had Pacman nor Peso had ever been far from D.C., but in December the young rappers — born Anthony Bobb, 19, and Dontray Ennis, 20 — made their first trip abroad. But instead of traveling to well-known locale, the two opted for a more infamous location: North Korea.
The trip to the totalitarian country was the brainchild of Ramsey Aburdene, a 25-year-old who works in commercial lending by day and music promotion by night. After connecting the two young rappers last year, he decided that a clever hook for their nascent music careers would be a video filmed on location in the isolated country.
“In this day and age you can’t just make a song and release it unless you’ve got the most amazing, incredible voice anyone has ever heard. You kinda have to do cool stuff. I’m a big consumer of music, so I know what I like, and I like when there’s a story behind the music,” he says.
Aburdene started advertising the trip in the summer months of 2013, and eventually appealed to the Internet for donations to cover the $6,000 that the trip would cost. Using Kickstarter, he didn’t only reach his goal, but exceeded it, taking in $10,400.
The group traveled to China, Mongolia and Hong Kong before making it into North Korea, where over the course of five days they filmed in Pyongyang and near the militarized border with South Korea.
“It was cold, but it was amazing,” says Peso, who originally hails from Landover, Md. He says that the duo worked day in and day out to finish the video, which was filmed without the aid of the music for the rappers to sing along to.
And despite the country’s iron-fisted ruler and frigid winter weather, Pacman, who was raised in Southeast D.C., says they were able to talk to regular Koreans.
“The tour guide that we had would translate, so if we wanted to interact with someone, we could. It wasn’t like, ‘No, don’t talk to them,’ or anything like that,” he says.
Still, Aburdene, who has traveled extensively, admits that North Korea may not be a tourist experience for everyone. “If you’re going to go in there and say negative things about Kim Jong Un, then yes, it’s very dangerous. If you’re going in for tourist purposes, it’s not dangerous. It’s not a leisurely vacation, it’s a cultural experience. You have to be adventurous,” he says.
The video for the song, “Escape to North Korea,” was released on Jan. 7, and the pre-trip publicity and unorthodox story behind it has helped bring it over 165,000 views. It also made Kickstarter’s best-of-2013 list.
Aburdene says he’s happy with the trip and the video, and hopes that Pacman and Peso can eventually make a living off of their music. He also says that future trips might be in the works, including to the West Bank and Gaza, and rejects criticisms that this was a Dennis Rodman-style publicity stunt.
“Part of the plan was to get a lot of publicity if we could get it, but it wasn’t just an empty publicity stunt. We were actually trying to be positive, have positive interactions, see things for ourselves, and shake people’s pre-conceived notions a little bit,” he says.
The duo hopes to release more videos from the trip, using footage from the stops in China and Mongolia.