Pat Junior makes self-effacing hip-hop. When you press play on the New York-born, North Carolina-based artist’s newest album, I Thought I Knew, brace yourself to be met with the heaviest questions of ordinary life. All over the album, Pat takes his masculinity (“Paranoia/The Healing”) and failures (“I’ll Admit”) to task. I Thought I Knew is a vulnerable feat, with the heart of the album capturing catharsis across 11 concise tracks. What does it sound like to honestly look in the mirror and say, “I’m not sure I like this reflection?” It sounds like Pat Junior’s meaty and convincing raps.
Every bar on I Thought I Knew propels forward on its own merit and the strength of Pat’s ability to flay himself open. It’s not a bloody affair, but a surgical one, as on “Some Days,” where Pat, 30, picks apart his mood swings. We are granted a precise look into the mind of a man who is still learning what manhood means to him.
“I’ve learned, as a man, it’s okay not to be okay,” Pat tells me over the phone. “There’s this—especially as a Black man—unsaid rule that if you’re hurt by something, you can’t let anybody see it. You’re supposed to wear that weight on your shoulder and not share that burden with too many people—or anybody. I’m learning multiple people in my circle need to know what I need. That’s how friendships work.”
Amidst all his learning, Pat Junior has managed to protect his heart and nurture his energy. I Thought I Knew is equal parts pain and healing, with an emphasis on healing. The album serves as a promise of better days. Pat realizes the music is bigger than him and hopes to be a light for his listeners. His mission is noble, and his music speaks for itself.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Who inspired your love of hip-hop?
Pat Junior: My mom introduced me to hip-hop at a young age. She was into poetry, and she shared a lot of her poetry [with] me. As far as music is concerned, I came up mainly on A Tribe Called Quest, because my mom was a huge fan. Of course, Biggie, Pac. Some of the more famous, introspective MCs. Also, a lot of Mos Def. Erykah Badu.
When did you decide to try your hand at rapping?
Ah, man! I remember in middle school, it started me with me having this tape recorder, and I would put [in] cassettes that already had material on them that were re-recordable, or blank. A friend of mine gave me a CD of instrumentals. I would put the CD in my boombox, then take the tape recorder, and being inspired [by] my mom’s poetry; I started freestyling over those [beats]. I would hit record on the cassette recorder while the boombox was playing, and record demos. I was making my own mixtapes, per se. I would share them with my mom, and she was like, “This is good, this is cool.” I slowed down with it and got more into poetry and spoken word. In high school, I ended up putting out my first mixtape. I sold out of them at school. That was my start in hip-hop music.
What was your “hip-hop or bust” moment?
I’ve had this estranged relationship with music up until five years ago. I started in church, and I remember being discouraged from doing hip-hop music because it was deemed to be devil’s music. I stopped doing it for some years and mainly focused on spoken word. When I got married in 2010, I picked [music] back up again. After coming into my own as a person, I’m like, “There’s nothing wrong with this at all.”
In the beginning, I just saw it as a way of expression. It wasn’t until 2016, when I released my first album, Learning To Live In A Day… I had been married for almost seven years, and I had gotten laid off from four jobs. From that standpoint, I wrestled with music: “Is this music thing for me?” When I put out the album, and I saw how much it was embraced, I knew that was one of my ways to express myself.
Let’s talk about the new album, I Thought I Knew. That’s a great title. When did you realize you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do?
The new album is a sequel, per se. I’m always learning, but it was a year and some change ago when I realized I thought I learned some things, but I didn’t learn shit. I can be better. I Thought I Knew is a telling of “I thought I knew about myself. I thought I knew how to handle rejection,” stemming from my father leaving my mother after my first birthday. I thought I knew how to forgive people [for] being hurt by them. I thought I knew how to forgive without being bitter. This is all within a year. I was going through this process of growing and healing.
To give complete context, on the last track, “Conversations With My Pastor,” that’s what started this whole thing: My pastor seeing the things I was going through and me expressing to him that I’m growing numb to the bullshit. I’m a loving person and being taken advantage of... being betrayed by people who I thought were my friend—I thought I knew how to handle that. I told him I’m just growing numb to it. You hear that across the album. There’s pain in the beginning, and there’s a change of mind. Then you hear the healing process across the second half of the album.
You wrestle with your demons pretty openly on this project. Any fear being so direct about your struggles?
Oh, man! In the beginning, yes. I’ve had people tell me, in my past music, “Man, you’re so transparent.” I’m an honest person. I know when to guard my heart and protect myself, but at the same time, [when] you get to know me, I’m an open person. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time [proving] I’m masterful with my pen. While I was trying to prove I could rap, a lot of my struggles were blended with metaphors. You had to dig deep for what I was saying. [On] this project… At first, I was like, “Nah! I don’t know if I wanna share that.” Because that might make people look at me differently.
My project isn’t all about me—somebody’s gonna hear this. Once I got past that fear of people thinking differently about me, I was like, “I’m just gonna go ‘head and tell-all.” It’s not about me. This is my music, yes, but I want this project to touch other people in a good way.
What did you learn about yourself as a man while writing I Thought I Knew?
That’s a great question. I’ve learned, as a man, it’s okay not to be okay. I mention this on the album, too. There’s this—especially as a Black man—unsaid rule that if you’re hurt by something, you can’t let anybody see it. You’re supposed to wear that weight on your shoulder and not share that burden with too many people—or anybody. I’m learning multiple people in my circle need to know what I need. That’s how friendships work.
It’s so special to be able to step into kindness.
Definitely, and it feels great! My marriage has taught me a lot. It humbled me. It’s like when I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I’m the person where if I know I fucked up, I seek forgiveness. I also learned that everybody’s not like that. Some people are not quick to say, “I’m sorry,” and that’s okay! I shouldn’t be offended; I should be patient. As you can hear from the album—emotionally, spiritually, mentally, I’m in a much better place, and I’m thankful for it.