The old adage says that if the shoe fits, wear it.
Pigeon John must have a whole lot of shoes.
He's a rapper, singer and writer, a man whose musical stylings evoke comparisons to fellow West Coast b-boys the Pharcyde and Black Eyed Peas. Likening his music's strong sense of melody and humor to that of Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, John finds yet another shoe to try: "Del meets Eddie Murphy ... I like that. I'm going to have to redo [Murphy's one-hit wonder] 'Party All the Time' with Del."
John started out in the early '90s as part of the West Coast's strong underground rap scene, which became known for its brand of "thoughtful hip-hop" that features strong beats fringing smart, politically and socially conscious lyrics.
John doesn't typecast himself musically, however. His second album, Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister, is an exercise in fun and inventive hip-hop, tapping a range of genres. It's an album designed to make you get down as much as make you think.
In fact, John is quick to point out the good, the bad and the ugly of all genres, bemoaning the current state of commercial music.
"I can listen to KROC in L.A. for two hours, and it has summed up the entire season of music. It's as repetitive as any rap or R&B station. The pop-punk thing is pretty much pop with guitars; just replace it with clean clothes and five dancing guys. Or take the Backstreet Boys. Put 'em in black Dickies and give 'em guitars -- you've got your punk. And with rap it's either club or gangsta -- that is it."
Visually, John's a dichotomy of the old and new. A rumpled fedora is a constant companion, and his style is often reminiscent of '40s-era entertainers; he cites Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra as heavy influences. Live performances are invigorating and aim at getting the crowd involved.
"Modern rock 'n' roll [doesn't focus on] engaging the crowd. I always wondered why they seem to be taking the easy route, just looking at their Converse and playing their guitar," muses John. "With hip-hop, it's always like an exercise event. Back when the DJ was the MC, they were only there to get the party more hyper than it was, to engage the crowd. I try to do that, along with a little from the swing era, like Cab Calloway, with his call-and-response. You know, 'hi-dee-hoooo!'"
John's newest product is the EP Pigeon John Sings the Blues, featuring a new, bluesier side of the rapper. With lyrics like "All I wanna do is be Radiohead / and do something ingenious," he calls it his "morning-after music."
That's pretty heavy stuff for a man who counts De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, The Beach Boys, The Beatles and Stevie Wonder among his musical guides. In fact, his goal is to combine them all into one form. John believes it's a sound worth striving for, but isn't sure he's nailed it down.
"Not yet," he laughs. "I'm still working on the potion."
-- Kara Luger
Living Legends Tour featuring Pigeon John, Murs, Aesop, and others
Navajo Hogan, 2817 N. Nevada Ave.
Thursday, April 21, 8:30 p.m., all ages
Tickets: $15; go online to www.groovetickets.com, call 877/71-Groove, or visit any Independent Records.