In front of hundreds of fans in his hometown of Phoenix on May 4, Pariah Pete took the stage at the Van Buren to open for Dreamville Records rap duo EARTHGANG. It was one of the greatest moments of his career to date, but he wasn’t nervous.
“I was the first, so it wasn’t completely full, but there were still loads of people there,” he said. Phoenix New Times recently. And, man, I fucking killed him.”
In fourth grade, Pete remembers rapping in front of his mirror, pretending to entertain crowds of thousands. At age 4, he could rap every word to 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”; at 16, he was writing songs to beats by J Dilla and Madlib.
“Before I even imagined myself making music, I always imagined myself being in the spotlight,” said the 22-year-old rapper, who prefers his nickname Pariah Pete to his first and last name.
He started performing as Pariah Pete in 2017 and quickly became the youngest member of local rap collective 20 Pounds (Jalopy Bungus, Shrub Head, MA$TERMIND, Sk8zen, Nawlidge Nick, Crust).
Pete’s life has apparently always been closely tied to the Phoenix art scene. He went to high school with members of the indie rock band Breakup Shoes, recently received a gift set from the Buffalo Exchange thrift store, and spends most of his days working as a barback at the Crescent Ballroom.
Despite his tangible Phoenix pride, Pete, the son of Polish immigrants, was born in Burlington, Vermont.
“Vermont ain’t got no shit besides Ben and Jerry’s, Bernie Sanders and Pariah Pete, bro,” he said with a shrug and a laugh. “Those are the three best people to come out of fucking Vermont.”
Pete has a permanent chip on his shoulder and his musical influence comes from everywhere. His playlist includes Gil Scott-Heron, Ethiopian jazz and Nirvana. MF DOOM is the only rapper he says he’s ever tried to emulate.
Pete’s backing band The Mercuries, consisting of Jacob Unterreiner, Gus Campbell, Malik Nelson and Carly Bates, helped broaden his musical palette. Unterreiner approached Pete with the idea of performing together after a show at the Nile Theater where Unterreiner had just performed with Jalopy Bungus.
“Within a few reps, the chemistry was just super real,” said Pete, who now writes most of his songs alongside his Mercuries bandmates.
In July, Pariah Pete and The Mercuries released their first co-written single, “Sunkissed,” and the song represents a sonic shift parallel to the East Coast rap and alternative hip-hop he was most influenced by growing up. . His lyricism brings out his best songwriting quality: the ability to balance boastfulness and emotional directness.
“I think sometimes it’s easier to be vulnerable on a record than to be vulnerable in real life,” he said. “I feel like it’s kind of my safe space…writing songs was my first version of therapy.”
As an independent artist, Pete’s following has grown thanks to the transparency of his music and his social media presence. He frequently shares milestones, grateful direct messages and behind-the-scenes content via his Instagram and TikTok accounts.
“It’s weird living in a capitalist consumer society where my relationship with music and art is so different from my relationship with distribution and promotion,” he said. “Sometimes we have the impression of juggling between two worlds.”
Working as his own marketing team, Pete personally delivered tickets for almost all of his headlining shows this year, driving for hours, sometimes selling 30-40 tickets in one evening. The idea originally came during his time with 20 pounds.
“When I’m in ticket sales mode, that’s the only thing that matters,” he said, recalling his most recent experience driving through the Valley delivering tickets for his April show at the Valley Bar. “Not only were the gas prices crazy, man, but my car was leaking gas and I had no air conditioning.”
Pete’s biggest goal is to inspire by savoring the milestones along the way. The livelier it gets is about its fans who have continued to make music themselves. One of his earliest fans contacted him recently to tell him he was planning his first show.
“That’s so much more meaningful to me than fucking 100,000 games or a numerical honor,” Pete said.
Now, a week before his 23rd birthday, Pariah Pete has a lot to celebrate. Alongside The Mercuries, he is emerging from a sold-out show at The Nash and preparing for an August 24 concert opening for Brainstory at the Valley Bar.