In an industry where many artists ride the bandwagon ride with gimmicks or unoriginal personas as fuel, Pigeon John defies definition and proves his individuality. While the average person may buck to the pressure, Pigeon John ascends over the sometimes generic world of hip-hop while facing the stereotypes of race and environment. Years of experience, mixed in with original styles and a sense of humor became his fuel to rise above all that is mundane and boring.
Son of an African-American father and a Caucasian mother, Pigeon John experienced racism from both Black and white people. As he moved from Nebraska to California, he continued to be lost in the confusion of an identity crisis and only found solace in musical expression. When he drifted towards places like The Good Life, he began to hone his skills in the same open-mic venue that had opened doors for The Pharcyde, Freestyle Fellowship, and Kurupt. As he shopped around for deals, John once again faced the dilemma of his identity. Labels wanted him to be either a Black guy who made hip-hop or a white guy who sang with a guitar. As a man who was both, Pigeon John refused to deny any part of his true, multi-faceted character. He found his footing in the racially blind arms of melody and a sense of peace within musical collaborations. He became a member of The Brainwash Project, (an L.A. group including bTwice) as well as the highly respected L.A. Symphony. Although his future was bright, his solo career did not look promising due to his feedback from labels as being “unmarketable”. Eventually, Pigeon John could not commit fulltime to a group and took a risk when he decided to pursue his solo career.
Solo albums by Pigeon John have always been special slices of his life. His debut album, “Pigeon John Is Clueless” was a self-released opus filled with an awkward humor and an engaging vulnerability. Songs like “Cheerleaders” and “Eviction Notice” possess bittersweet humor and universal themes. Syntax Records eventually distributed the “Pigeon John Is Clueless” LP with bonus tracks. In 2003, Basement Records signed the artist and released his magnificent sophomore album, “Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister”. While the humor may have been the LP’s first aspect that gained the listener’s attention, the “Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister” also possessed a sweet sincerity and a poignant honesty, which gave the music a respectable substance. The song, “Identity Crisis” expressed his struggle of being unaccepted by both races. “Emily” was a sad tale about the continuing cycle of fathers who abandon their families. “Life Goes On” (featuring Abstract Rude) was a potent anthem that moved listeners through hard days while “Hello Everybody” was just a fun joint. Just when listeners thought he could not improve on his discography, Pigeon John released 2005’s “Pigeon John Sings The Blues” on Basement Records. A darker and mellower collection, “Pigeon John Sings The Blues” contains 10 new tracks, 3 remixes from the “Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister” LP, and 2 enhanced-CD videos (“Hello Everybody” and “Life Goes On”). “Nothing Without You” and “She Cooks Me Oatmeal” are excellent tracks where John soulfully sings his heart out about his love and appreciation for the woman in his life. Beautifully sad yet triumphantly emotional, “The Grand Ol’ Waltz” instills faith and peace in listeners. Even though the opening track, “Upside Down Rotten" has a mellow style, John adds a party vibe as he sings about how he is going to “turn this party upside down.” Finally, fans and the music industry are giving Pigeon John some much deserved respect. Quannum Records (home of Lyrics Born and Blackalicious) recently signed Pigeon John and plan to release his next LP.
On the day before Easter Sunday in 2005, we had a stirring, insightful, and intellectual conversation. Yes, Pigeon John is taking off and music is the wind behind his flight. He is venturing away from his longtime home, Basement Records. He is abandoning his insecurities. He is also fighting against the banality of music while ascending to creative greatness. Have a nice flight, Pigeon John!
MVRemix: What goes on?
Pigeon John: I’m in Gainesville, Florida. I’m on tour with Living Legends and Jedi Mind Tricks. Oh yeah!
MVRemix: Your new album is called ‘Pigeon John Sings The Blues’. Tell us about it.
Pigeon John: On this one, I wanted to take the more laid back approach with writing the songs. With hip-hop being my basis for all the songs I write, it is obvious that is what I grew up listening to. But, for these songs, they way they came out, they were originally songs to accompany a book of poetry that I’m putting out with this small publishing company. Basement Records got wind of it and they told me that they wanted to put it out. At first, that wasn’t what I wanted to come out. For people who are already into Pigeon John, this is a different side to Pigeon John. Basement got excited and started pumping it up. ‘Pigeon John Sings The Blues’ is almost like the dark side of ‘Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister’. It is the more somber side. I made it during the same time frame as ‘Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister’, but the songs did not fit in with the ‘Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister’ LP. In my mind, I wanted to make a chill out record that was not so much funny or quirky. It’s more headphone music. I wanted to give it to my fans already into me. I’m a little self-conscious about it. A lot of times, this may be the first impression of Pigeon John for some people. It is kind of out of my hands. Also, I was listening to a lot of hip-hop in the clubs and on the radio, and its all hype. That’s a huge part of hip-hop. It came from the clubs and everything. I wanted to make hip-hop that you could listen to in the morning or after the club. You would not want to pop in M.O.P. at 9 a.m.
MVRemix: What is the meaning or origin behind the name Pigeon John?
Pigeon John: My real name is John. Back in Inglewood, I wanted a cool rap name and I was going by John at the time. It wasn’t too hot. A friend of mine had seen the TV series ‘Roots’ and there is a character named ‘Chicken George’. My friend got the idea and told me that I should call myself ‘Chicken John’. His mom overheard it. We were kids at the time. She poked her head into the kitchen and told me that I looked more like a pigeon. It just kind of stuck.
MVRemix: There is a sincere vulnerability within your music. While many other emcees rap about how they always get women, are never turned down, and can accomplish anything, you rhyme about getting rejected, dissed, and feeling isolated. Was this vulnerability something you consciously added into your music or did it just came out?
Pigeon John: I think it is from me growing up. For me, when I was a kid, I was just finding out who I was. That pretty much defined me for the rest of my life, for the most part. These are key things that happened in Elementary School. I was born in Omaha, Nebraska and experienced racism on the white side. I am half-Black and half-white. It was confusing. I didn’t know my father. My mom is white and all my family is white. My cousins are white. When I moved to Inglewood, California, the whole neighborhood was Black and Latino. Then, I was the whitest person in the neighborhood. I didn’t fit in there. That formed a balancing act. There were these girls who I wanted to get with, but because I didn’t grow up 100% in Inglewood or was exposed to all of that, I didn’t totally fit in. I couldn’t get the fine girls that I wanted. On the other side, if I was dating a girl from Orange County and they found out I was a rapper, they always wanted me to rap. There was this balancing act of not fitting in. That is the foundation of most of my music. I had to try to find myself.
MVRemix: Being both Black and White, did you ever find a level of comfort or are you still struggling with it?
Pigeon John: I definitely found a comfort level pretty much right out of high school. It was when I pretty much started hip-hop and began writing seriously. I just started rhyming. I let people know that I was Pigeon John. This is who I am. I couldn’t change it, so I might as well have fun with it. So, when I started doing that, I noticed that people took it differently. People started accepting me through music. I have an open mind and open heart in the songs and that kind of defines who I am.
MVRemix: What was The Good Life?
Pigeon John: The Good Life was where I first went as an emcee. I heard about it in high school. It was an open mic. At that time, I was just at a level of bedroom hip-hop, showing it to my friends. Everything is good to your friends. I went to The Good Life with my best verse and saw some people I knew there. They were surprised that I was even there. They said, ‘You rap?’. It was in South Central. Back then, to say you are from Hawthorne, made people wonder. ‘Why in the world is this guy claiming Hawthorne?’ people said. It was just not hot. Any suburb of Los Angeles was not hot. When I tried my best verse and did not get a response at all, I quickly realized that I was not good. I came back every Thursday and tried to get better. I tried to be as good as the people who were there. The Pharcyde, Will.I.Am, and all those great dudes spawned the laid back and freestyle of hip-hop. It was pretty much the jazz of hip-hop. It made my skin a lot tougher. Being dissed so many times, I learned how to win over different crowds. If I have to get on stage in front of a bunch of snowboarders in Lake Tahoe, I’ll know what to do. Or, if I’m in New York City, I’ll know what to do.
MVRemix: When you are writing songs, do you have the lyrics prewritten or the themes ready? Or, do you have the music done first and write to the music?
Pigeon John: I definitely hear the music first. I try to hear what is within the music and see how it makes me feel. I try to feel the original idea. A lot of times, the music paints itself a picture and I just try to fill it in with words.
MVRemix: Are you an official member of L.A. Symphony or just an affiliate?
Pigeon John: I was an official member of L.A. Symphony from 1999, when the first record came out to just last year. That was because I was trying to get with Pigeon John. I was doing the solo thing. I was missing dates and they wanted a full time membership. Maybe in the future, we’ll hook back up. We’re still good friends and we still do music together but the touring gets crazy.