What happens when an equally accomplished producer and rapper from rural North Carolina join forces? In the case of Phocuz and J-Mac, it’s making a record that impresses legendary West Coast rapper The Game.

In early May, in preparation for their second collaborative studio project, titled Vibes R Eternal, Vol. 2, Phocuz & J-Mac released “Limousine Dark Tints,” which featured fellow North Carolina emcee Chriz Millz and rap legend The Game. The J-Mac-produced summertime track, best described as lo-fi meets trap, follows traditional hip-hop themes like braggadocious bars that boast about toughness, cars, wealth, women, and success. And as expected, The Game’s raspy tone and subdued delivery over J-Mac’s elegant piano riffs are what take the track up a notch. But both Phocuz and J-Mac are no strangers to holding their own when working with high-profile artists.

Raised in Elizabeth City, Phocuz (Brandon Bryant) attended North Carolina Central University, where he earned a reputation as the “freestyle king,” a title that had previously been given to Little Brother’s Phonte during his time on the same campus. Years later in his career, Phocuz has already worked with superproducer 9th Wonder and Swift, a Durham native who saw success as a Def Jam and Epic Records signee in 2017. Phocuz’s relationship with Swift then afforded him opportunities to write for the likes of Dr. Dre, Diddy, and other hip-hop legends in need of fresh material.

J-Mac (John David McCall), meanwhile, is a well-known producer in the Triangle area from Edenton. He has earned production credits on work by Snoop Dogg, Ghostface Killah, G-Unit, Sean Price, Yung Berg, and more. J-Mac’s work has also landed spots on ESPN and NBC Sports.

Despite growing up in different environments with two disparate experiences, hip-hop forged a relationship between these two North Carolina natives.

“When I met Phocuz at 9th Wonder’s studio, he had a charisma about him that automatically had me assuming he was probably a dope artist,” J-Mac says. “I first heard him rap when 9th did the ‘B-Ball Tryouts’ track, where he was only keeping the best verses. I stayed and listened to Phocuz record his verse and was just super impressed with his style, metaphors, and swagger on the track.”

Phocuz was just as impressed with J-Mac.

“He had hella soul beats and he respected the culture,” Phocuz says.

The two first collaborated in 2017 on a joint project (Vibes R Eternal), but timing didn’t allow for the right marketing promotion and rollout the project needed to thrive in hip-hop’s oversaturated digital ecosystem. J-Mac got married, became a father, sold his house in North Raleigh, and moved back to his hometown. Phocuz, meanwhile, was prioritizing spending time with his daughter who had just moved back to Greensboro.

“We didn’t do any shows [or] didn’t perform the project anywhere,” J-Mac says. “We really didn’t do anything other than just kind of put it out online.”

This time around, things are a bit different. For one, the duo has a new secret sauce for getting the word out: publicist Andre Barnes, who has worked with a number of both established and emerging regional artists including The Foreign Exchange and Little Brother. On June 24, they released the album.

Vibes R Eternal, Vol. 2 is influenced by the duo’s real-life experiences and doesn’t shy away from references to America’s current political state. The diverse production provided by J-Mac strays away from a cohesive sonic sound throughout and instead matches the various moods, lyrical flows, and narratives that Phocuz brings. In addition to The Game, the project includes guest verses from Jamla’s GQ, White Dave, Chopps, and J. Arrr.

As we wrapped up the conversation, J-Mac summed up the intent of the project perfectly: “I think a lot of the political undertones in the project that come out are very much something that me and Phocuz share, him as a [Black] male and me as a [white] male. Our experiences are very different, but they’re also very similar, and we would stand together to fight for the greater good.”

Vibes R Eternal, Vol. 2 is currently available on various streaming platforms.

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