Pat Junior: Gold Fangs on Sunday | [Self-released; July 7]

Pat Junior’s third album, Gold Fangs on Sunday, features the Raleigh hip-hop auteur’s usual closely observed and—to use his favorite term—vulnerable discussions of mental health, self-care, racism, joy, and all platonic forms of love. As always, he raps with old-fashioned clarity and dexterity over consummately modern electronic production. But while the record is the next chapter in his emotional autobiography, picking up where the brooding I Thought I Knew left off in 2019, there’s something different about it, too.

Though Pat’s music is still a lush and rugged array of subtle yet sweeping melodies, ticking drums, and thick, slicing basses, now it feels bright and airy where its predecessor was eerie and close. Beautiful chords rustle through it like fresh air, and celebratory singing cascades like sunlight through tales of growing through pain and healing through friendship.

Despite everything, Pat Junior sounds happy, and in the “Black Beamin’” video, he has a big smile to prove it. It’s still there in the album’s promo art, decked in glinting gold fangs. They represent The Gold Fanged Medjay, a character he created that became so important to him that the words recently became his first tattoo.   

Burnished by the warmth of Durham-based singer DL Zene and the dynamism of Raleigh rapper theDeeepEnd, “Black Beamin’” is the second single from Gold Fangs on Sunday, which also features guest turns from Tyler Donavan, Liion Gamble, Aarik Duncan, Greg Cox, and Mique. The video for “Feels Like,” an irresistible slice of sensuous house with feel-good soul horns, is coming next.

It all started with “Rest!”, which debuted in a video filmed at NorthStar Church of the Arts right before the pandemic. Though Pat made or co-produced most of the record, “Rest!” took shape when a modular synthesis experiment by Byron August—an associate of Pelham & Junior, Pat’s thriving sample design company and burgeoning production team—caught his ear. He didn’t know then that it would be the first single for an ambitious new album. In fact, it was all about slowing down.

“I just had to tell myself to take a break,” Pat says in a Zoom call. “A lot of people don’t realize how difficult it is to run what had become a six-figure business and do music. We’re not just doing sound design; we’re working with some bigger names that have hit us up for original samples. Keeping up with all this stuff can be a challenge sometimes, but I do it, man, by the grace of God.”

Standing still, though, doesn’t seem to be Pat’s forte. Part of the triumphant aura glowing from Gold Fangs on Sunday has to do with the personal growth his music both fosters and chronicles.    

“I see it as miraculous, man, because during 2020, a lot of my peers were not inspired, and here I am making some of the happiest music of my life,” he says, laughing. “I’m just growing as an individual. I’ve been going to therapy, which has been great for me. It’s a blessing to have friends that care about your well-being and state of mind and heart and where you are spiritually and emotionally. I think people get that by now: that I make music where I am in life.”

But the album’s luster has just as much to do with musical growth. It’s the fulfillment of Pat’s long-held desire to assimilate the hyper-vivid sound of the film-score composers he idolizes, such as Joe Hisaishi (of Studio Ghibli fame), Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther), Ólafur Arnalds, and above all, Hans Zimmer. Pat cites “This Fire,” where he climbs a lathed bassline to a glorious climax like Phil Collins crossed with M83, as the epitome of what he’s been after.

“I’ve been wanting to tap into that electronic cinematic sound, but I wasn’t quite sure how to make it hip-hop,” he says. “After I recorded that song, I cried, because I was like, ‘Yo, I’m finally accomplishing what I’ve been aiming for.’ It’s a lot more ambitious, and I’m proud of that, but I dreaded tracking out some sessions that were over 70 tracks.”

Growing up in Raleigh, Pat always had an ear for music. “At the age of eight or nine, I had my mom’s tape recorder and a six-disc CD changer, and I remember burning instrumentals and holding the tape recorder up to the stereo and recording raps,” he says.

But it wasn’t until around 2015, when he was getting a master’s degree in creative writing online from Full Sail University after graduating with honors as an English major at North Carolina Central University, that he had the means to make beats. His tuition included a MacBook Pro with GarageBand. He learned to sample from mentors like D. Steele and J. Pelham, his Pelham & Junior cofounder and all-around creative partner.

“Getting the sample you want, chopping it up, having one track for the high end where you cut out the low end, and one where you cut out the high end for the low end, and then you add drums,” he says. “I started there.”

Founded in 2018, Pelham & Junior sells custom samples and is also starting to function as a production team, with credits, through working with Hit-Boy in LA, on songs like Big Sean’s “Overtime” and Nas’s “King’s Disease.” But Gold Fangs on Sunday is their major debut as a creative unit. It contains some royalty-free samples—that is, not from songs—but much of the music is electronically composed from scratch.

“The chemistry between myself and J. Pelham, it’s crazy,” Pat says. “I will take my phone and hum a piano melody and ask him to turn it into a progression, and somehow he knows exactly what chords I’m hearing in my head.”

Pat’s Zoom background made it look like he was in a video game, which is notable because a video game is where he discovered the Medjay. He was playing Assassin’s Creed Origins, an entry in the adventure franchise about ancient esoteric orders. The main character, a Black man in Ptolemaic Egypt, was part of a group called the Medjay. The demonym has a rich history, and through the game and further research, Pat focused on the image of desert rangers who solved problems in the communities they protected. They wore an emblem to proclaim their role: hence, Pat’s gold fangs.     

“I don’t know if I would qualify if I lived in those times,” he says, laughing, “but I identify with the creed of working for the well-being of others so much. I’m definitely someone who likes to present solutions when problems arrive. I’m definitely a protector.”

But embracing this role hasn’t upset the balance of strength and sensitivity that defines Pat Junior, musically and personally, because he needs a Medjay of his own sometimes, too, and he’s no longer afraid to talk about it.

“It’s not just that I’m strong, and that’s it,” he says. “It’s being the strong friend in my circle but being vulnerable and transparent at the same time. I’m so used to people calling me, but I’ve learned to say, this is what I need, and I realized I can’t be a good friend if I’m not taking care of myself.” 

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