This year’s Hennessy’s VS Class was a marvel to watch. The participants were class acts, and they certainly raised the bar and left quite a room in the shoes for the next edition to fill. Wonderful performances all round, and2 of the participants I was rooting for ended up taking the 1st and 2nd place.

I first heard about PDSTRN when a colleague sent a Twitter link to the WhatsApp group in early or mid-2021 – fickle memory. The freestyle verse was the one where he held up a book while he delivered cold direct bars. I thought to myself, “Darn! This moorefvcker ken Rap!” I ended it there because lots of “moorefvckers ken Rap,” and I was only interested in those making a career out of it (or at least trying to).

The next time he would hit my radar again was on the 2022 VS Class. His confidence, demeanour, gesticulation, delivery, and, might I add, cockiness by which he decimated most of his opponents bought me over – I’m not even a fan of battle rap. It didn’t end there. The cat can also make music. He rides beats effortlessly, switches between th Canadian accent to the Nigerian accent, pidgin, and Yoruba, EFFORTLESSLY. And he sings too – talk about being the full package.

During the cause of the interview, I realised underneath all that fortitude and self-assurance he left on the VS Class stage is a man dealing with social anxiety, a not-so-regular background, addiction, and a drive to be the best PDSTRN he can deliver whenever called on. Here is the PDSTRN‘s story, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Congratulations on winning this year’s VS Class, Champ. How do you feel being the 0001 out of a thousand rappers?

I feel like there’s this big boulder on my back! I mean, there’s this huge weight on my shoulders, but I’m not dwelling on that because I’m still the same PDSTRN before Hennessy (VS Class), and I’m still doing what I’ve been doing before that; creating. On the flip side, it’s amazing! I feel amazing! I walk up on the street, and people recognise me from TV… It’s wonderful! This Hennessy VS Class was something I wanted to take off my checklist. Fortunately, alhamdulillah, it happened.

Technically, I’ve auditioned for Hennessy VS Class four times, but I only got called up three times. The first audition was way back in 2016, or… it was 2016/1017. I really can’t remember the year. And, trust me, the video quality was trash, the audio was trash, and I wasn’t loud enough because I didn’t want my dad to know I rapped at the time. I Don’t even think they saw that one. Then I came back in 2019, and fortunately, I got picked for the radio rounds, but I got bodied in the first round. Then I came back in 2021.

Word on the street is this is your 3rd time competing – 3rd time is always a charm. Can you regale us on your experience the other times you participated?

2021 was very funny. It was exciting because, from 2019, I was already building up because I wanted to come in 2020, but the pandemic happened, so it was moved to 2021. So I wanted to come back and was preparing for it, and I didn’t know they were going to change it from the radio rounds to a stage with lights and everything. On getting there, I was prepared – I had already practiced my verses, I did my breathing exercises, everything – but walking up to that stage and standing in front of Alex, M.I, and V (Vector), I couldn’t make it past the first 4 bars. They gave me a second chance, but I still choked. It was very embarrassing and humiliating for me.

I remember after that thing happened, I went straight to the washroom and just sat on the floor, and I started bawling because I knew that I had it, but I didn’t know what happened until later on when I realised that I had this thing called performance anxiety and social anxiety. I sought professional help and started seeing a therapist. Yeah, I’m working through that.

You had a dope wardrobe going for you in the VS Class. Who’s your Fashion Icon, and why?

I don’t have a Fashion Icon. I literally just, always on the internet; I’m always watching fashion films, I’m always watching fashion shows, I’m always watching styling videos. You pick up a thing or two here and there and merge ‘em together to make up your style. But if I could pick some of my fashion icons, I would say, Virgil (Abloh), Ye (Kanye West), Saint John, Lucas Abbot, Shakka d Badmon – I don’t think you know him, he’s from a group called PAQ Official, and they do fashion styling. Yeah! So those are the people that I look at in terms of my fashion style.

Smooth seas never made great sailors, they say. Who were the emcees/femcees in the VS Class series with you that made you work on your skill set?

Fozter.YP, Barelyanyhook, Teddy. Yeah! Those guys, especially Fozter and Barelyanyhook. They’re exceptionally amazing rappers. I’ve had a chance to work with both of them individually after the VS Class and these individuals are fucking talented. They’re amazing. These are people that I’ve listened to before running into them on Hennessy (VS Class). Fozter did the Monster Challenge thing, and Bro! He was rapping for about what? 4mins? And he was just going crazy. [chuckles]To me, that’s like “Ye!” [chuckles]. And Barelyanyhook, when I moved back fully, in the underground, he was one of those guys on top, so I’ve known Barelyanyhook’s pen game to be fucking top-notch from the jump!

Again, none of these guys actually had me working on my skill set. I think I’ve been working on my skill set since 2016, when I did my first Hennessy (VS Class). I’ve been working on the flow, delivery, cadence, and other things on my own. And when the pandemic hit, it gave me more time to work on my bars. Because everyone was inside, lots of challenges were happening. In a week, there are 2 to 3 challenges; I’m just writing my verses, improving and getting better.

How did you go about honing their skills?

That is literally what I just said. I listened to a lot of rap music. I listened to a lot of music that isn’t necessarily rap in terms of delivery. I’m a very big (J) Cole fan! To me, J. Cole has everything, from lyricism, cadence, the flow to delivery, etc. I studied… You’ve got to study the greats to be as good. Day in and Day out in the 2020 pandemic, I’m bumping Drake, I’m bumping Cole, and I’m learning more and more about this thing I love so much that is called Rap. Again, I take it seriously.

What’s your next move – getting a deal, radio tour, feature spree, and/or new music/projects? 

Right now, I really can’t tell you my next move. I’m just gonna say, “watch me grow.” And watch everything unfold because what’s the fun in telling you my next move? It’s not gonna give you the thrill as much as you seeing it unfolding and unravelling for yourself. But definitely getting a shit ton of PDSTRN music before the end of the year. That’s certain.

Seems a Benjamin Button timeline is going on. Let’s revert to the norm. How about some PDSTRN Origin gist? 

So my full name is Bennet Abraham Obeya. Born to Nigerian parents from Benue State and Moms from Cross River. I moved to Toronto, Canada, when I was like 7/8, then moved back to Naij in 2018. I come from a very decentralised background. That means my parents were separated, so I just moved in with my Grand Ma when I was born. I spent the budding stages of my life with my grandma until I moved to Toronto to meet my mom. It really was tough growing up. It was tough in the sense that I bounced around a lot. In the summer, I’m in Lagos, and in Lagos, I’m either at my dad’s or my grandma’s. When my mom had me, she had to go back still and hustle, and my parents weren’t really together. It was very toxic there. So most of the time, I’m always at my grandma’s.

It was very crazy and wild that I used to play rock-paper-scissor with myself to guess where I was going to end up for the weekend. It really wasn’t the best childhood, and I can’t even remember most of it because it was very nomadic.

Music was the only thing that I could feel was mine. It gave me an identity because growing up, and my grandma had these CDs of Congo Rumba music. That was my earliest introduction to music cos she used to play a lot of it around the house. That was the only thing that felt whole to me. Whenever I heard those songs, it felt like I belonged inside one of the audio. Whenever there were problems inside the crib or in the family, I would turn everything off and listen to the music and find myself.

What first got you into music, and how did you come about your stage name, PDSTRN?

The first thing that got me into music was when I first heard Eminem and Jay-Z’s Renegade, but before that, I grew up… not in a musical household because no one else practised music, but in a music-loving household. So my grandma used to play a lot of Baba Ara and Congo Rumba. My aunt used to have these books… Do you remember these books back in the day that had all these lyrics of popping songs? She had these books and would memorise the lyrics. And my mum used to be a video vixen for like Blackky and used to work at Channels (TV)… She used to work the show where they interviewed a lot of actors, celebrities and shit like that. So, I was around entertainment and listened to a lot of music.

Also, my grandma attended CCC (Celestial Church of Christ), my aunt was in the choir, and the kids my age were in the choir, so I had to join cos of peer pressure [chuckles]. It was at CCC that I started learning about singing and how to use my voice and instruments.

Then I got into high school and found (Kid) Kudi, and Kudi literally felt like home to me. This was just me still being an average listener and just taking shelter in the kind of music he made and assimilating everything that he spoke about because that was shit I could relate to. One day, I heard Jay-Z and Eminem’s Renegade. I remember I rinsed (replayed) that song like four times, and something at the back of my head told me, “Yo! You can do this shit.” In the next hour, I tried to write out my first 16. It was whack, by the way [laughs]

The journey from writing that first 16, I’ve had a shit ton of names before PDSTRN. So the first time I ever had the confidence to rap to people, I did. Some said, “Okay, that’s cool. That’s fire! But you need to work on your delivery…” constructive criticism. But there was one guy in that crowd who said, “Nah, that shit whack! You sound whack! That shit is so pedestrian.”

I’m like, “The fuck? Who?” I knew he didn’t mean it in a positive way. I knew that shit meant something derogatory, so I looked up the word. I knew what that word meant – as in someone who walks – but then I looked up that word again in the dictionary and saw what it meant; bland, vanilla, boring, uninteresting.

And I said, “Okay! This is what you feel about me? Cool! Errr, you’re gonna hear PDSTRN on the radio, you’re gonna see PDSTRN on your TV screen, and your girlfriend is gonna break up with you if you don’t take her to a PDSTRN show!”

It was me taking that negative thing and turning it into a positive, basically. And on the flip side, everyone has a journey. Everyone is going somewhere. Even the President still has ambitions, and even the top people still have somewhere they’re going to. As long as you’re alive, as long as you’re still living on God’s given earth, there is always a goal you set for you to get somewhere. Life is a journey, a path, and people come on that path. You have to crawl to walk to fly, and most of the time, you do more walking than flying. Whatever industry, whether agriculture, medicine, or entertainment, as long as you’re walking towards your desired goals and ambitions, makes you a PDSTRN.

How long has music been a part of your life?

Since conception. Since I was born. Since I was able to figure out what sounds sound like. Music has always been a part of my life from childhood until now. Music and fashion are the only 2 things I have, the only 2 things that I know will never leave me, and they’ve been with me since I was a child.

How would you describe your style of music?

I would say afro-fusion and afro-soul. There’s a lot of emo-afro in there. My music and sound generally are based on my experiences because that’s the only thing I can speak about that are true. My experiences include women, nicotine, addiction, depression, and anxiety. These are the things that I represent, and rap is just a form of expression. Sometimes I sing, but rapping and singing is just my style of expressing my music. But I would generally categorise my music as emo-afro, afro-fusion, and afro-soul.

What’s the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?

[Laughs] OMOOOOO! There are some things you take to the grave [Laughs]. There are some things that… Ahhhh! [Laughs] you don’t know who’s listening like that’s one of the things I’m never gonna speak on.

If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be and why?

Artistes I would love to collaborate with are Juice (Wrld) and X (XXXtencion), but they’re not with us anymore. But my top five right now will be Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Simi, Adekunle Gold, and Wrld, all for different reasons. But if there’s any artiste these will be the 5 people topping.

Simi – her songwriting, her engineering skills. Like, bruh, I’m listening to her entire catalogue and this woman doesn’t get enough flowers. People don’t give her enough flowers.

Adekunle Gold – the same thing. That man’s pen is on another level.

Wrld – I like the sonics of his music. I like how it sounds and the emotion it evokes inside you.

Billie – We make a similar type of music. I love how she takes the negative, the depression, and the anxiety and makes it into something beautiful worth listening to, something you want to rinse over and over again.

Same thing with Olivia Rodrigo – with heartbreak and pain. These are the things I represent.

These are topics a lot of artiste and people are scared to talk about because they find it controversial and a lot “hmm hmm.” They would rather shift away from that, but artistes like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie wear their emotions on their sleeves. They are not afraid to talk about pain and make the most amazing and beautiful pieces out of it. That is some shit that I admire.

What is the one message you would give to your fans, Champ?

[Laughs] OMOOOOO! Do I have fans yet?! I don’t think I have fans yet. I think people fuck with me because I can rap. To me, I don’t think that’s enough reason to wanna be a fan. But if anyone out there calls themselves my fan right now, I appreciate every single one of them.

One word? “Buckle-up.” Buckle up because once we start dropping, we’re not stopping, and it will be one hell of a ride. I’m ready for it, and they should, too [chuckles].

Thank you so much for doing this Rhyme & Reason®. Thank you so much!

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