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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

“Escape to North Korea” is the Best (and Only) Rap Video Ever Shot in the DPRK

by | January 11th, 2014 | 10:14 am
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Add it to the list of successful Kickstarter campaigns. With “Escape to North Korea”, DC rappers Pacman and Peso have just delivered on their pledge to make the first rap video ever shot in the DPRK. You can watch it below, or head over to the Guardian which also includes a pretty entertaining debrief with the artists.

“Escape” is actually just the first (well, technically second) MV from their multi-country trip. A video for “Ballin’”, reportedly shot with hawks and Mongolian models in Ulaanbaatar, is slated to come out in a couple weeks, with a couple more shot in China to follow suit.

Why Mongolia, you ask? It turns out that their $5,100 Kickstarter investor James Passin, the American who bought Mongolia, hosted them. Passin, a hedge fund manager for Firebird Management, is apparently just really into hip hop and heard about the campaign from a college friend. Oh yeah, and then there’s his company’s DPRK connection: Firebird partly owns the Mongolian firm HBOil, which in turn just acquired 20% of North Korea’s state-owned Korean Oil Exploration Corporation. On top of that, Passin also sits on the board of directors for BDSec JSC. Coincidentally, this is the very same brokerage that we reported tempting investors with 2,500% returns for hitching their wagons to HBOil’s foray into the DPRK petroleum industry.

But enough on that strange footnote. There are a multitude of reasons why this project could have failed, but I think “Escape” works. Yes, the shoot was certainly constrained; the crew had to operate semi-covertly while being ferried around on a Young Pioneers tour. But both trip coordinator Michael Bassett and FHTMG founder Ramsey Aburdene reported few problems filming on location and minimal tampering from minders. With some clever editing, transforming even a DPRK tour’s more mundane aspects (a North Korean war film playing on the tour bus TVs, etc.), the final product is a polished, bona fide music video with a pretty good beat.

So, Pacman and Peso now have a world’s first under their belt, a couple interviews in WaPo and the Guardian, and over 100,000 views on their Youtube page as of Friday afternoon– all the while avoiding pitfalls like calling Kim Jong Un their “friend for life”. Where do things go from here? Aburdene is bullish on the duo’s prospects, but acknowledges that even if things fizzle Pacman and Peso will keep doing what they do. Nonetheless, it sounded like a pretty wild adventure, and what at first seemed a stab in the dark for attention may actually fuel a career.

Even if all this does peter out, I think it’s safe to say that “Escape” will be the best rap video ever shot in North Korea for a while to come.