In front of hundreds of fans in his hometown of Phoenix on May 4, Pariah Pete
stepped on stage at the Van Buren to open up for Dreamville Records rap duo EARTHGANG. It was one of the biggest moments of his career to date, but he wasn’t nervous.
"I was on first, so it wasn't fully packed out, but there was still a massive amount of people there," he told Phoenix New Times
recently. And, dude, I fucking killed it."
In the fourth grade, Pete remembers rapping in front of his mirror, pretending to emcee for crowds of thousands. At age 4, he could rap every word to “In Da Club” by 50 Cent; by age 16, he was writing songs to beats from J Dilla and Madlib.
“Even before I envisioned myself actually making music, I always envisioned myself being in that spotlight,” said the 22-year-old rapper, who prefers his moniker Pariah Pete over his first and last name.
He first started performing as Pariah Pete in 2017, and soon became the youngest member of the local rap collective 20 Pounds (Jalopy Bungus, Shrub Head, MA$TERMIND, Sk8zen, Nawlidge Nick, Crust).
Pete’s life has seemingly always been tightly intertwined with the Phoenix arts scene. He went to high school with members of indie rock band Breakup Shoes, was recently mailed a gift box by thrift store Buffalo Exchange, and spends most of his days working as a barback at Crescent Ballroom.
Despite his tangible Phoenix pride, Pete, the son of Polish immigrants, was born in Burlington, Vermont.
“Vermont doesn't have shit besides Ben and Jerry's, Bernie Sanders and Pariah Pete, bro,” he said with a shrug and a laugh. “That's the top three finest people coming out of fuckin’ Vermont.”
Pariah Pete has built a fan base with his magnetism and grassroots relationship with his followers.
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 said he’s ever tried to emulate.
Pete’s backing band, The Mercuries, composed of Jacob Unterreiner, Gus Campbell, Malik Nelson and Carly Bates, has helped expand his musical palette. Unterreiner approached Pete with the idea of performing together after a Nile Theater show where Unterreiner had just performed with Jalopy Bungus.
“Within a few rehearsals, 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 single written together, “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. Its lyricism brings out his best songwriting quality: the ability to balance braggadocio and emotional candor.
“I think being vulnerable on a record is easier than being vulnerable in real life sometimes,” he said. “I feel like that is kind of my safe space … writing songs was my first version of therapy.”
As an independent artist, Pete’s audience has grown thanks to the transparency of both his music and social media presence. He frequently shares milestones, grateful direct messages and behind-the-scenes content through his Instagram
“It's weird living in a capitalistic consumer society where my relationship with music and art is so far different than my relationship with distributing it and promoting it,” he said. “It sometimes feels like you’re juggling in two worlds.”
Working as his own one-man marketing crew, Pete personally delivered tickets to almost all his headlining shows this year, driving around for hours, sometimes hand-selling between 30 and 40 tickets in one evening. The idea originally came during his time with 20 Pounds.
“When I'm in ticket-selling mode, that’s the only thing that matters,” he said, remembering his most recent experience driving around the Valley delivering tickets to his April show at Valley Bar. “Not only were the gas prices crazy, dude, my car was leaking gasoline and I had no AC.”
Pete’s biggest goal is to inspire by relishing the milestones along the way. The most animated he gets is talking about fans of his who have gone on to make music themselves. One of his earliest fans reached out recently to tell him he’s putting together his first show.
“That’s so much more meaningful to me than fucking 100,000 plays or some numerical accolade,” Pete said.
Now one week before his 23rd birthday, Pariah Pete has a lot to celebrate. Alongside The Mercuries, he’s coming off a sold-out headlining show at The Nash, and is preparing for an August 24 gig opening for Brainstory at Valley Bar.