Anyone know who did the artwork for A-Ha’s Take On Me Video? To this day, I think that looks cool.
Anyhow, an area where Christian artists have struggled to achieve a feeling of legitimacy and respect has been Hip Hop and rap. Within Christian music, it often forced a rap artist to conform more tightly to a rigid set of rules that were unfair even within the standard confines of the CCM scene. A Christian rapper had to be even more “child friendly” than other artists. First albums often were often affairs that made DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince seem edgy and dangerous. I spoke to more than one artist who wanted to express themselves in songs that addressed racism, growing up in rough neighborhoods, and other social issues, only to be told by labels “Maybe on the next album”. If they did talk about a social issues it was along the lines of wait for marriage to have sex.
And then there are artists who find their own creative voice. For instance Pigeon John.
Born in Omoha, Nebraska, his family moved to Inglewood California when he was a child. He was half white, half black, and never really identified with either. In the 90’s he teamed up with friend B-Twice for the act Brainwash Projects. Their 1998 release The Rise and Fall of the Brainwash Projects. It was an enjoyable release, but did not yield a follow-up.
In 1999, they joined up with the collective L.A. Symphony, and continued as part of the underground rap scene with them. While they were open about faith, they were presenting music that was unique and not just aping other more popular artists of the time.
His solo debut in 2000 was Pigeon John is Clueless. I have never heard this disc, I discovered Pigeon John’s solo work with 2003’s Pigeon John is Dating Your Sister. I really enjoyed the vibe of the disc, which struck me as having a slight jazz and pop influence. John’s delivery is breezy and yet tight(especially on tracks like Hello Everybody and Life Goes On). But it is not all a mellow trip, as Deception, Originalz and Identity Crisis are all more energetic tunes. Pigeon John’s delivery is quirky and sing-songy, making him stand out as a rap artist in general, let alone the CCM industry.
This Southern California laid back style opens the next CD Pigeon John Sings the Blues. Without You is a gentle prayer of struggle with being an artist of faith and an artist to the public. “I can gain the world and make some money/but it’s nothing without You/I can change the world and still be a dummy/because it’s nothing without You” rings repeatedly, echoing biblical thoughts on the fleeting nature of fame. The more upbeat Sleeping Giants is about publicists and labels pressuring the artist to be something other than true to his work. The gentle Matter 101 echoes Without You, noting that all his efforts mean little…”I don’t care/if my record sells or if thousands crowd and they yell”, “I Don’t mind, not being know” I don’t mind/Being myself, even if it pulls me from possible wealth” he culminates this by pointing out that “In the end we will all pass away”. Pigeon John thinks. He can write a fun tune, but he is still a thoughtful rapper. That proved true on the 2006 follow-up Pigeon John & the Summertime Pool Party.
“All the fame and wealth, I’d rather just kick back and be myself” he declares on Do the Pigeon. It’s a fun party tune, yet he still shuns the pursuit of fame and fortune. Money Back Guarantee is about trying to get the attention of a girl in a club, a definite dance floor tune (if anyone notices). Higher is one of the most energetic of Pigeon John’s work, and seems to be poking fun at climbing the ladder of hip hop fame. It’s delivery is rapid and intense.
The two tracks that stood out for me were Weight of the World (a criticism of the “American Dream” espoused in popular cultural) And As We Know it (a frank talk with God). “Sometimes I feel weight of the world/and it’s so heavy it’s bringin’ me down/ We have the media telling us who is to blame, but it’s the media that is really runnin’ the game” is just one of the targets in Weight of the worlds call to stop being led by the many vacuous voices telling us what is important.
As We Know It looks out at the sickness we see in the world…war, rape, the holocaust, slavery, the crusade, child molesting and a hot of ills we see every day and he is not comforted. “The fall of Adam and Eve is all it took to leave the whole world shook?” is asked early in the song, and he gets more and more agistated as it seems to make less and less sense. “I’m talkin’ to You/Why aren’t you answering?/ Answer me!/ Every step You take is a frickin’ tragedy!” He does pause towards the end, suggesting that the answers are there and lamenting his limited vision, stating “Without an answer You stretch out your hand/with a look in your eye that you understand/all the pain, all the loss, all the confusion” ending with “It’s okay now.” As one who has struggle with the same confusions and frustrations, I appreciate an artist willing to address it. Without a doubt, I consider all three albums worth getting, and declare that Pigeon John is a Christian musician that does not suck.
Pigeon John is available at both iTunes and EMusic.