UNC senior balances identity and mental health in his raps

By Brandon Callender

To Paakweisi Krentsil, who is better known as “PK,” life is a series of performances. He reacts to the situations that happen to appear in his life. He refuses to let situations tie him up and prevent him from doing what he desires. Instead, Krentsil adapts. He understands how he needs to change himself to succeed, but that comes with its own sacrifices.

Krentsil is Ghanian-American; both of his parents were born and raised in Ghana, while he was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He adopted the moniker PK primarily because it’s what his parents call him, but also because all of his white teachers and classmates in grade school simply could not pronounce his name.

Krentsil, 21, remembers his childhood and adolescent years as being part of what he describes as an “identity crisis.” He grew up in a home where it was always about African culture – he was reminded of his roots and Ghanaian homeland constantly by his parents. But when he left home, he was exposed to African-American culture. He was torn between two separate identities. Krentsil said he struggled in being a minority within a minority – he wanted to be closer to the default. Because of that, he embraced African-American culture more. That is, until he was an upperclassman in high school, when he met another Ghanaian student. Krentsil could not recall a time where he felt more at home.

“It was the first moment where I was like, ‘Okay, this is fine,’” Krentsil said. “I don’t have to do all these things I was doing, like letting people say my name wrong, or being okay with stupid nicknames. People would call me ‘Parcheesi,’ stuff like that. It was that moment where he was like, ‘Say your name the way it’s meant to be said.’”

Now, Krentsil grins when he says his name, exposing all his teeth. He said it to himself for emphasis: “Pah-Kweh-Si.” To him, learning to embrace his culture was just part of growing up. He’s content with the improvements and changes he chose to make. The biggest challenge he’s facing now is discovering his voice as a songwriter. Krentsil, a senior, joined The UNC Cypher during his first year, first as an observer, but later as a participant.

Cypher’s impact

“I think [Cypher] helped me realize what I wanted to actually do musically,” Krentsil said. “I hated freestyling. Didn’t enjoy it because I’m a perfectionist. If I’m going to perform or be in front of people, I want it to be as good as possible.”

Joshua “Rowdy” Rowsey, founder of The UNC Cypher, emphasized the freestyle aspect of rap. Rowsey wanted to see every member of Cypher come up with verses off the top of their head. Krentsil realized that others would end up using similar rhyme schemes or even reuse lines verbatim. That simply wasn’t enough for him. He credited Cypher for helping him get over his performance anxiety – but stressed that it still exists. He said he did not get the chance to develop his voice as a writer there.

During his sophomore and junior years, Krentsil struggled with mental health issues. He remembers periods where he couldn’t leave his bed for days at a time. But he said that these issues existed even before college. He remembers being bullied and having to deal with his dad’s anger issues at the age of five. Krentsil compares the relationship he has with his dad to Earl Sweatshirt’s. He said that Sweatshirt’s second studio album, “I Don’t Like S–, I Don’t Go Outside,” is what allowed him to make it through his sophomore year of college. When asked for a single favorite song by Sweatshirt, Krentsil couldn’t answer. He gave a list of songs, stopping at “Veins,” a song off Sweatshirt’s most recent album. Krentsil repeated Sweatshirt’s words a few times before nodding his head in approval.

“Earl’s so young,” Krentsil said. “He was wilding very young, so he has to be 25 and to have been through all the things that he’s been through. You know, getting sent away [to a boarding school in Samoa], all the addiction stuff he talks about. And now, getting to a point where he has to reconcile with the death of his father. Going through things like that so young, it will age you. You can hear the age in his raps because it’s coming from a place of clarity after having been through all of that.”

Krentsil is fascinated with Sweatshirt, describing him as “lightyears ahead” of his peers. Krentsil desires that quality. He wants to show how he’s aged in his writing too. Krentsil said most of the pieces that he has written have “heavy” tones. However, he’s concerned that currently his voice as a writer sounds too similar to that of Sweatshirt’s.

“As I’ve gotten back to writing raps, I find that like, from me listening to [IDLSIDGO] over and over again and sending it out to friends, they keep saying, ‘Yo, you sound like Earl,’” Krentsil said. “And that’s cool, but I’m not Earl Sweatshirt. I don’t want to be Earl Sweatshirt. I want to be me. I think Mac Miller said this in an interview, but there’s more to life than being sad. It’s about finding ways to write happier things. Giving the entire human experience, or at least my human experience, through the things I say.”

Figuring out his own identity

Krentsil wants to become the same type of honest, personal songwriter as the people he most enjoys listening to. He wants to make people feel something with his words.

“PK calls himself a producer,” Mu’aath Fullenweider said. “People will sometimes take ‘beat maker’ and that equals producer to them. I think a producer is someone who brings a song into fruition. Like a doula. If a baby is being born, the doula is there to help a baby be born. That’s a producer. They make sure the baby is healthy from the inception. I put out a record in January, but I ran it by him several times before mixing it. I’d ask him about [art] direction, what he thought about the sequencing of songs.”

His experiences have allowed him to become the individual he is now – one that does not allow the nihilistic zeitgeist of the decade to get to him. That sentiment bleeds into his own writing, as he has now gotten the chance to write pieces he considers to be happier. He pointed to a spoken word piece he performed last year titled “ILY,” about the journey he had to take for him to begin loving himself.

“It’s cool to be happy,” Krentsil said. “I feel like we wear being jaded and nihilistic as a personality trait and it’s not always like that. It’s okay to smile. To express positive emotion. There’s so much beauty in life. … People should write about these things.”

Edited by Caroline Metzler