LargeUp Interview: Paebak on Island Rap + ‘Rock City’

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Words by Jesse Serwer, Photos by Justin Pallack
Paebak

We hear a great deal of hip-hop from the Caribbean here at LargeUp HQ, and the reality is very little of it holds any appeal for listeners beyond the region, or even on the next island. Hailing from St. Thomas, USVI, Paebak is definitely the exception. We were immediately drawn to his style and swagger on “VI OGs,” an upbeat homage to Rock City’s hustling heritage, and he kept our attention with the rest of the tracks on his History mixtape.

Balancing the personal with the political (and the party), Paebak makes music that speaks to the VI massive, and the world, in equal measure. For this reason and more, we selected him as one of just two rappers on our 2014 Artists to Watch list featuring up-and-coming artists from across the Caribbean.

We invited Paebak to our radio program The LargeUp Sessions during a stay in New York City in November and spent some time chopping it up with him at our Brooklyn office. Here’s what he had to say.

LargeUp:  “VI OGs” was the first song we heard by you and right away, we saw here’s a guy who has his own sound, and a story to tell. Tell us a little about that record…

Paebak: We really, really put a lot of work into that record, making sure it was the right record to put out first, to represent the VI. That’s where we’re from, and what we represent. There’s a lot of rappers in New York, there’s a lot of rappers on the West Coast, in the South, but there’s only a few of us in the Virgin Islands, or in the islands period, that make substantial hip-hop music. To just make hip-hop music isn’t enough—to represent what you are, and where you come from, and the people in that place that you come from, to represent their story and not just your story — that’s the mission.

A lot of people in the world didn’t know about Brooklyn until they started listening to Jay Z, Biggie Smalls. We wouldn’t know anything about Compton if it wasn’t for Eazy-E [and] Ice Cube telling you what they had to deal with everyday, from the good to the bad. That’s pretty much my homework right now, and the homework of the whole team—we’re just trying to tell our story, and let people know that this American island has a story that hasn’t been told, and needs to be told.

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