U.S. rapper Pras Michel heads to North Korea for wrestling match

SEOUL Thu Aug 28, 2014 10:05am EDT

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SEOUL (Reuters) - American rapper Pras Michel, who topped the charts in the 1990s with his band the 'Fugees', and is a friend of President Barack Obama, heads to North Korea on Friday to watch a wrestling match hosted by a Japanese politician and former pro wrestler.

The trip comes six months after a series of visits to the isolated country by flamboyant NBA star Dennis Rodman, who made headlines when he watched a basketball match and shared drinks and cigars with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Rodman came in for criticism back in the United States over his visits but Michel said he only wanted to explore.

"Honestly, I don't know if Obama knows I'm going to North Korea. He's probably going to know – and at some point the State department is going to know - but this is not a political trip, this is just a human being going there to explore something," Michel told Reuters via telephone from Beijing.

Michel's hip-hop outfit which derived its name from the word "refugees", a nod to the group's Haitian-American makeup, is a favourite of Obama, who once listed their song 'Ready or Not' as his favourite. The two are friends.

"I'm not sure what Dennis' motives were, but he's an athlete and basketball player and I'm an entertainer – there are two different agendas and I'm purely going there to explore," said Michel.

Michel is on a week-long trip of the country where he will watch a wrestling match hosted by Japanese politician Antonio Inoki which features former NFL linebacker Bob Sapp and martial arts displays from Korean and American fighters.

Raised in Brazil, the 6 ft 3 inch (1.91 m) lawmaker Inoki once famously fought against Muhammad Ali in a 1976 exhibition match in Tokyo, and is hosting his second wrestling showdown in North Korea after his 1995 "Collision in Korea" event which saw hundreds of thousands of North Koreans watch one of the largest wrestling events ever.

Michel, who is of Haitian descent, said he had no plans to perform at the match and was going as a fan of wrestling.

"I like doing adventures like this – the thing is you come out of your comfort zone, especially as a Westerner," he said.

"We take a lot of things for granted, so this is one of the things that I'd like to see for myself."

(This story has been refiled to clarify Michel is of Haitian descent in paragraph 9)

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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