In the past few years, the Triangle’s music scene has undergone a surge in the realm of hip-hop. In a post-“Raise Up” ecosystem, Rapsody has linked up with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre, G Yamazawa has gone viral with his track “North Cack,” and The Beast’s emcee, Pierce Freelon, is running for mayor of Durham. But with all the commotion in the area, what other potentially abundant hip-hop seeds are germinating in the Triangle?

One answer lies with Patrick Darius Mix Jr., also known as P.A.T. Junior. The twenty-eight-year-old rapper is connecting the dots within the swiftly expanding Triangle hip-hop scene, manifesting its progress and unity through his own music and by producing instrumentals that he makes available to other aspiring artists.

Mix was born in Brooklyn, New York, but has called Raleigh home since his teens. Though many career-minded hip-hop artists move up into bigger markets with more thoroughly developed hip-hop scenes, Mix has deliberately stayed in his adopted hometown.

“The Raleigh-Durham area, I see it as a place to recharge artistically. I love the culture around here,” he says. “There’s so many dope artists, not just in music, to work with, collaborate with, converse with. That has definitely helped me in my artistic journey.”

On his most recent full-length record, last August’s Learning to Live (In a Day), Mix demonstrates that there’s room for mature messages and introspection in contemporary hip-hop. Rather than the usual repetitive drug references or carbon-copied flows, Mix tackles topics like his own growth as a man, his relationship with his wife, and, most significantly, how his faith played a role in his development as an artist.

Gospel music has long been in Mix’s blood, even if it doesn’t always directly come through in his work. His mother provided his introduction to A Tribe Called Quest, but she also introduced him to the gospel music he heard at church; his uncle played alongside star gospel singers Hezekiah Walker and Timothy Wright. Though Mix could once identify his music with Christian hip-hop, as with the tracks “better days.” and “lighter.,” he noticed how the association with the subgenre kept him from reaching listeners outside the Christian community. He started molding his music to have a more secular appeal, a decision that stemmed from Mix’s understanding of his faith.

“Didn’t Jesus sit with people who didn’t believe the same way that he did and show love?” Mix posits. He doesn’t see any reason to separate his messages into a nichehe just wants to make an authentic appeal to his audiences.

Those audiences have gotten bigger of late, thanks in large part to the power of Learning to Live (In a Day). It was strong enough to catch the attention of Oddisee, a Washington, D.C., hip-hop artist whose shape-shifting work has secured his reputation as one of the decade’s most skilled “indie” rappers. The record also netted Mix a coveted invitation to perform at A3C, the largest hip-hop festival in the United States, held each October in Atlanta.

But even as he’s started to step up toward national recognition, Mix has maintained a strong local footing. Noting that “hip-hop/urban” showcases mostly featured the same handful of artists on their bills, Mix knew he wanted a much larger platform. To get some advice, Mix turned to Joshua Gunn, aka J Gunn, one of just a few North Carolina hip-hop artists making a splash outside of his home state.

“He asked me what my ceiling was, what is the height that I wanted to reach,” Mix recalls.

Surprisingly, that height wasn’t the major-label superstar dream of most ambitious young artists. Rather, Mix told Gunn he wanted to attain a similar moderate level of recognition as Oddisee.

“[Oddisee]’s living a comfortable life, making good enough money to take care of his family, but he can go out in public and still be able to live his life,” Mix says.

Mix is using his live sets as his main tool to get to that level, building a more engaging presentation to win over crowds. Rather than rapping over his own lyrics, which is a common tactic for rap artists, Mix treats his voice as an instrument that’s part of an ensemble, alongside other vocalists, a d.j., and a drum kit. That approach has translated to a broad and multicultural appeal for Mix’s local audiences, and he seems poised to get the leg up that he wants.

KRS-One, the legendary hip-hop artist and educator, once claimed that “hip-hop culture is all culture,” an assertion that’s becoming increasingly true locally as hip-hop continues to gain a stronger footing, thanks to the work of Mix and his peers. But as Mix puts it on his June EP, black & mild, there’s only one direction for him to go: always forward.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Junior Year”