Pedestrian

To start, "Pedestrian" is a name that, by cloaking itself in an adjective suggesting commonness, seems to resist the utility of naming. Let it be said, then:

When an artist is devoted to conscientiously shirking the requirements of character and name, his promotional bio can only be but so complete. But then, to what extent are these obligatory sketches useful, anyway? Would the county and calendar date of his birth interest anyone? Do his motivations for chasing rap's ghosts over drums really matter? Has the most precisely written bit of biography ever helped anyone unlock even one measure of a song?

Well, possibly. To that end, in a 2004 interview for a Swedish website, Pedestrian explained:

"I began rapping at 18 or 19 because I had been aimlessly writing raps since I was 15. I wrote raps because that was essentially the only poetic form I was exposed to until I was in my early twenties. I only started rapping because, having dropped out of high school and avoided college for some years, the idea of scrawling down words so that they might rot on paper seemed frivolous, even absurd. Vocalizing was, for me, an extension of the impulse to write, rapping the only conceivable life for writing."

After crisscrossing the country in Greyhounds and U-hauls, among other passenger seats, throughout his teens, Pedestrian, a native of both southern Virginia and southern California, eventually moved to San Francisco in 1998 with longtime close friend sole and together they began to implement what they had jointly dreamed up as "anticon." Pedestrian's ceaseless traveling and rare appetite for rap had made him, for a time in the mid-90's, one of the leading figures in the cassette tape trading of experimental and independent hip-hop. The spirit of those tapes, their outright hostility toward the music industry and joyous trampling of genre boundaries--became a major influence on the anticon aesthetic. Indeed, in a 2003 interview, Pedestrian remembered his "early illusion that anticon was striking out on behalf of underground and under-appreciated rap," and elsewhere, on MTV Europe's "This is Our Music" program, Pedestrian has suggested that anticon should be considered both an "artistic" and an "anti-corporate" endeavor.

Pedestrian's fascination with ignored and forgotten music has over the years expanded into an outright obsession with pre-WWII North American folk and gospel music, traces and quotations of which surface throughout his album. This fixation has also led to Pedestrian's side career as Evangelist J.B. Best (which is his real name, incidentally), a secular preacher who weaves together poems, folk tales, and gravel-voiced exhortations. A few live performances of Evangelist Best's "Sermon on the Subject of Death" are excerpted on his album, and a sermon-as-leftist soliloquy, "Resurrection Morning Sermon," was featured on the 12" for his first single, "The Toss & Turn."

Pedestrian has also written, under a variety of names, features and reviews for Vice, URB, and Straight No Chaser and though he quit music writing in 2000, he composes occasional columns for a prominent Bay Area weekly and in late 2003 published an well-regarded analysis of the intersections of rape, race and religion in John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban" ("Black Like Me: John Walker Lindh's Hip-Hop Daze," ).

So that we might fulfill a bio's inevitable shortlist of the artist-in-question's influences: Pedestrian routinely nods to his "holy quartet" of L.A. rapper Mikah 9, folk revivalist and radical Woody Guthrie, the great poet, Galway Kinnell, and Swedish genius Ingmar Bergman. And perhaps the most vital influence of all is the one made perfectly clear in Pedestrian's challenge, "any white American approaching rap needs to be extraordinarily interested in the larger African-American culture that produced it in the gut of a profoundly racist country. Period."

Background can only go so far in explaining one's work, however, and this is particularly true for an artist who's described his discography as a series of "tiny stinging regrets" and even included a typewritten formal apology with one release. It might be more useful to conclude with what amounts to Pedestrian reciting a divine ordinance of his own authorship:

"My music is purely personal in the sense that it's almost never about me, it's really an anti-diary in that way, instead it's generally about how it's possible to take on any voice as long as it's done sensitively enough and with the principle that Galway Kinnell powerfully describes as 'the dream of all poems and the text of all loves,' which is 'tenderness towards existence.'"