Hailing from Inglewood, CA, Pigeon John is one of the most atypical hip-hop artists making music today. In an era when most rappers have slowed down their creative drive, opting for the safe route, risk-takers like John arenâ€™t even concerned with the race. Spearheading a new genre, his most recent release, Summertime Pool Party, will take you on a bizarre ride, fusing influences from The Pharcyde to the Beatles.
Format: Talk about what it was like coming up in the West Coast musically. Describe your experience as a rapper when you were still generally unknown.
Pigeon John: It was a great time going through the Good Life, Project Blowed, in high school and stuff. That was definitely a learning ground there. It was a very magical time, and it made me fall in love with the West Coast. L.A. is a unique city where you can have N.W.A. come out of it as well as The Pharcyde, Freestyle Fellowship — a gang of stuff that comes out of California. Thereâ€™s so many styles that come from that state that we all respect each other, but weâ€™re pushing each other to different things.
Format: What was the scene like at the Good Life CafÃ©?
Pigeon John: For me and my perspective, I read the Miles Davis autobiography and he described this old Jazz place in Harlem and it was before it went downtown or really got big. It was where people went to get their chops down and they would have the kind of battles where if Miles was playing, this young cat could come-up and play with him to see if he could keep up. The way they dress, the way they did music, the girls, the scene, it was hidden, and it was explosive. So, when I read that, it totally reminded me of the Good Life, because there were no rules except that you had to come original. And they were so harsh on you if you sounded like anyone. Even if you sounded good doing it, you would instantly get booed off the stage for sounding like anyone that was popular at the time. It just created this atmosphere where fools really got behind you if you tried something different and really checked you if you came pretty much lazy and try to score someone elseâ€™s hit. It was a very magic time.
For me Mikah 9 was like Miles Davis. He was a tall good looking dude, the girls always liked him and this dude just went on stage and there was no effort in him. He was a genius in what he did. He effected and influenced so many people in hip-hop including Mos Def, Talib Kweli, that whole scene. Years before Leaders of the New School, there are stories where Freestyle Fellowship, when they first came out and they went to New York. That whole shouting stuff, they had this ingenious way to do it and they had a backing jazz band before Digable Planets. Busta Rhymes ran up to him (Mikah 9) afterwards and said â€œdude what kind of style is this,â€ and then low and behold Leaders of the New School came out. So thereâ€™s plenty of stories like that, but thatâ€™s just like a taste of how potent that scene was at the Good Life.
Format: Who are some of your biggest musical influences aside from hip-hop artists?
Pigeon John: A lot of bands have influenced me. I love Bjork, Beck is one of the dopest, Bob Dylan, of course The Beatles, Stevie Wonder. Pedro the Lion, heâ€™s one of my favorite singer songwriter guys. I love singer songwriters that donâ€™t make it and they just live off their advances. Even Jon Brion before the Kanye happened. When he had his deal and it pretty much flopped. That whole scene of singer songwriters whoâ€™ve not totally made it, but I look at the seeds theyâ€™ve planted, and to me, thatâ€™s way more important. I would love to be a seed one day. That would be my goal pretty much.
Format: Summertime Pool Party was released on Quannum. What made you decide to move to that label, and what has the experience like been so far?
Pigeon John: I wanted a stronger label, it just kind of made sense to move that direction. With Basement Records, my second album, Pigeon John is Dating Your Sister, was their first release ever, so we were both learning. The distribution was spotty, a lot of money made and a lot of money lost. It was kind of like an understanding where Quannum has been around for 10 years, and they kind of know the ropes of the business of music. Plus the back catalog is on Basement anyway so it will kind of work best for all of us.
And Iâ€™ve been a fan of the Quannum crew for a while so it was kind of like a no-brainer. I like the label because once again, I could not turn in a track sounding like someone else and I love that. It might be to our fault too because Lyrics Born is absolutely original, Gift of Gab is an original guy, Chief Xcel original producer, Shadow, I donâ€™t even have to say anything. Those guys, whether they sell a lot of units, or whether they donâ€™t, they really do not care. What they care about is breaking ground, so I wanna hang around [those] people.
Format: Your live show is really well put together. How much work goes into developing it, and for people that havenâ€™t seen it, what can they expect when they see you on tour?
Pigeon John: I think it all stemmed from the Good Life. What I pulled from the Good Life was the performance aspect or bringing a song to the crowd and kind of winning over the crowd. I would just come with an original song every week, little dumb songs. It was that and being a Sunday school teacher. The reason why, if you can share a story with a two or three year old, if you can share a story with twenty of them in one room, and youâ€™re the only adult, itâ€™s pretty much just like MCing because their attention is everywhere. Itâ€™s very short, and it definitely reminded me of people in a bar. And I was like â€œdude, this is the freaking same thing.â€ Iâ€™d be telling these stories and if they start going crazy and start screaming, I freaking turn off the lights and then all of a sudden itâ€™s freaking silence. And then after a couple of minutes, they start crying, and then I freakin turn on the lights. All attentionâ€™s on Pigeon John, and then I finish the story. Itâ€™s just like a balancing act like keeping everyone entertained.
Format: Your music is generally light-hearted, full of humor, and positive. You come across as a really easy going person. What are some of things you deal with that cause you to take a step back and get serious?
Pigeon John: I think God has a lot to do with it. The human conversation between God and man, I find very very interesting and I think that every single human on the planet Earth [will] deal with that before he or she dies. I think that common thread that every single human goes through is absolutely romantic so I try to dig into that. That kind of gets me on more of a serious tone, but I never lose humor because I guess Iâ€™m built that way. And I find you canâ€™t have comedy without tragedy, they go kind of hand in hand. When I hear the word humor, I hear tragedy and that is serious, so I think when the clown or the jester is entertaining there is a very thick line of blood in his performance. I like contradicting and not being the serious guy because I think that most rappers are the serious guy or the serious rapper and it gets absolutely boring.
Format: The thing a lot of people enjoy about your music is that it feels really honest, and that a lot of it is also self-deprecating. Is there anything youâ€™ve revealed on record that you had to step back for a second and ask yourself if you wanted to release it?
Pigeon John: Embarrassed yes, but no, never recall it. First thought, best thought, Kerouac. I think if I feel embarrassed, Iâ€™m hitting it right. Whenever Iâ€™m writing a song, and I start laughing, or when the song takes over, I think thatâ€™s when itâ€™s good cuz thatâ€™s when I become a fan of the song.
Format: Youâ€™ve spoken a lot about how you enjoy rapping as part of a crew. If you could get together with any emcees, from any era, for a collaborative album, who would you pick and why?
Pigeon John: Definitely, Iâ€™d say Q-Tip would be the bomb any point. I would love to be in that Native Tongues scene. That would have been hardcore. I would like to form a crew, me, Adrock of the beasties, Q-Tip, and Fatlip, oh shoot. And I would want the whole record to be produced by Rick Rubin, and weâ€™d be called the trucks.