Party Gangsta 

Hip-hop chameleon Pigeon John cares more about the fun than the cred.

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Pigeon John isn’t a pimp. He doesn’t care about acting hard. He doesn’t go bump it in the club'except maybe to make fun those who do. He doesn’t own hundreds of guns. He doesn’t have nine scars. He’s never sold drugs. And he’s pretty sure that most of the rappers who act like they’re kingpin gangstas, spitting rhymes about murder, mayhem and massive body counts haven’t either.


In fact, the Los Angeles hip-hop mainstay knows a lot of those guys. He grew up with them; shared mic time with them. He knows the only drive-bys they do involve dropping their kids off at preschool. He knows they’re fun to hang out with, have gotten their hearts broken and like to watch cartoons with the little ones after school. And he knows that the gangsta crap is just a pose'and nothing else.


“Why do you think we’re such great actors?” John asks, getting excited. “Why do you think we can go right from the stage to the movies? Because we’ve all been acting for the last 15 years. On the street, you have to act tough so you don’t get jumped. In hip-hop, it’s all about flash. It’s entertainment. It’s like some sort of action movie. If you want a good action movie, you go out and buy a 50 Cent record. It’s got lots of fast cars, shootouts and naked women. But after you get your fix, like most action movies, it’s not something you’re really going to remember.”


Pigeon John, though, you remember'and not just for his stance against mainstream hip-hop. The guy just sticks out. He doesn’t do anything by the rules. “I’m not doing this for money/ Not doing this for fame/ I’m doing this to so I can change the whole freakin’ game,” he rhymes on “Welcome to the Show,” the opener of his latest disc Pigeon John & the Summertime Pool Party. And he means it.


Like most backpackers, he keeps the rhymes positive'sometimes so much so that he’s occasionally tagged as Christian hip-hop, though that’s never been his intent. And he keeps the beats so varied it would make Pharrell sweat, just as easily tossing out a chunky beat coated in Cuban jazz as relaxed, poolside jam or a thick hunk of booty funk.


But what separates John from the rest of the underground is his utter fearlessness. “As long as it sounds natural, I’ll do it,” he says.


So on Summertime Pool Party he can create snarky and fun tracks meant for exactly what the title implies, as well as more street-level jams like the pure L.A. bodyrocker “One for the …” with longtime bud Brother Ali. He can even drop an album of deep blues tracks that splice hip-hop with its true predecessor, last year’s mesmerizing Pigeon John Sings the Blues, mixing of the dark and the everyday with surprising clarity.


John credits his shape-shifting skills to plucking his tracks right from his life. And that honesty'both a party emcee willing to make fun of himself and all who take themselves too seriously, and as the serious rapper rhyming about real problems and average situations'has earned him an expanding fan base, one he never really expected.


“I’ve been utterly surprised,” he says. “You know, with Sings the Blues, that record started out as an EP that came with book of poems just for sale on my Website. I liked it, but I tried to downplay it. But then the label got hold of it and released it, and people loved it. I was just surprised. I just did an in-store at Stacks Vinyl, this real hip-hop record store, and people were calling out for ‘She Cooks Me Oatmeal,’ this sing-song track about my wife making me breakfast. I couldn’t believe it.”


Yet even with growing success, as well as his recent label shift to hip-hop haven Quannum Projects, home of DJ Shadow and Lyrics Born, John still knows he’s not going to be accepted by the hip-hop mainstream. He doesn’t play the mainstream game, doesn’t try to be more than he is, which is an average guy with some serious talent. And that’s cool with him. He doesn’t want to be anything other than his chameleon self.


“I just don’t care about things like street cred anymore,” John says. “I know where I came from, and I don’t really care what people think. I don’t really worry about what the fans of Nas think about my songs. When I get excited about a song, when I feel it start to take off by itself, then that’s all I need.”


668 S. State
Sunday, Sept. 24
9 p.m.

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Jeff Inman

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