PIGEON JOHN STANDS ON HIS OWN TWO FEET AND WRITES FROM ANOTHER PERSON’S MINDSTATE, HE TELLS RIP NICHOLSON.
PIGEON JOHN interviewed @ 14.00 AEST – Friday, April 29, 2011
For Street Press Australia & Rip2Shredz Press
Words by RIP NICHOLSON
Images courtesy of Matt Wignall
Most recent album Dragon Slayer has revealed the soul of MC Pigeon John, a record that has challenged him as the writer, artist and producer and one that seems to be the most satisfying for (Pigeon) John Dunkin. This skateboard nerd was not about to front his hip hop with the stereotypes of the reality rap that consumed culture around him. He’d rather impress the Beach Boys, model his hip hop after the Native Tongues movement and perform like the Tin Pan Alley/Vaudeville acts of the early 20th century.
“I knew from the giddy-up – even in skateboard culture – that you had to be yourself and there’s no way you’re gonna fake it, at all,” says Dunkin, who grew up inside L.A.’s Hawthorne and Inglewood districts. “My paths didn’t lead my life to the gangs or the late night parties, 40 ounces in the hood stuff. My path went through the youth group, skateboarding and girls at the mall. So when I started writing for myself I knew that I had to be real and keep it honest, so it just came out pretty naturally.”
His story began in the early ‘90s at the Good Life Cafe in South Central LA alongside those who would become The Pharcyde, Jurassic 5, Freestyle Fellowship and Black Eyed Peas. He honed his skills at the open-mic nights and took favour with the east coast classics of whom he felt more of a connection to than the local acts cropping up.
“The golden age of hip hop – A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Jungle Brothers – that’s my holy trinity. They were a connection for skaters living out on the west coast,” explains Dunkin. “We weren’t gangsters or jocks, just nerds on skateboards. When we heard De La Soul it felt like they were us already. At that time everybody in New York had that one style. Them coming from the suburbs just outside of New York, they had a different take and the same with us growing up outside of the city, we really related to that.”
Dunkin aligned himself with the Brainwash Projects and later LA Symphony, gaining a reputable status through their underground releases and by 2002 his debut solo LP, Pigeon John Is Clueless, came out with plenty of praise in hip hop print. His fourth LP, Pigeon John And The Summertime Pool Party, was released in 2006 on Quannum Projects (home to Lyrics Born, DJ Shadow, Lateef The Truthspeaker and Blackalicious), which was a move that later proved pivotal for Dunkin’s career.
For 2010’s Dragon Slayer, the Pigeon had flown the coop, away from the sampling and the electronic musical instrument Music Production Center (MPC) work, Dunkin employed French producer Herve Salters (General Electriks) to help him record and chop up the instrumentation of the album.
“Being a student of hip hop, most of the time is spent on the MPC or for hours listening to records. In the same fashion as Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head where they picked up the instruments because they were influenced by the records they were sampling on Paul’s Boutique. They figured instead of trying to get their sound, let’s try and be better than them. Let’s really play baseball. So with this one I really wanted to stand on my own two feet.
“It takes a long time for a person to know himself, especially if he’s stripped from everything he’s stood upon. It’s almost like black is white and white is black and all the rules are totally different. I wanted to write from this point of view, the way a writer does it in a novel. It can get so freakin’ extreme where you’re in the writer’s mind, I really wanted to try and do that with my music,” admits Dunkin, after penning one of the most soul-baring albums of his catalogue. “It’s taken a long time for me to get out of myself and write in another person’s mindstate. From an artistic point the possibilities are endless, but I just scraped the surface, to be honest.”