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Pigeon John

Some of us have been waiting a long time to have the opportunity to shoot a Take Away Show with a rap band. Though we’ve taken many musicians into the street, those who created and sing hip-hop – the urban music – were mostly born there.

The one condition was that we find someone who would fit. Someone who would play the game, disregard the risks, and drop his flow against the concrete with no safety net. One take. Someone young and cool enough to get rid of the block party clichés.

We found this person in Pigeon John, a mythical product of Good Life Café. Disrespectful and accomplished in the difficult art of self-derision since his first album (Pigeon John is Clueless , 2001), Pigeon John recounts little daily instances and numerous adventures rather than gangsta’s life. This guy from Inglewood played our game. His latest opus is Pigeon John & The Summertime Pool Party , which features nothing less than collaborations with Brother Ali and J-live. It’s signed on Quannum Records (Blackalicious, Lyrics Born, Curumin, etc.).

Under October’s rain in the Lower East Side, far from the Californian sun, we could fight the grayness only with a sense of proportion and a beatboxing accomplice – Davey Rockit. Of course, when you think “Take Away Show”, you think of undressing songs. The stripping in this case is all the more spectacular because this kind of hip-hop uses only well-chosen samples as their instruments (and the first one is “Hey” by the Pixies). What’s left is only the essential elements: a playful voice, sometimes twangy, and a strong sense of derision which shows as much through the lyrics as through the guy’s movements.

The same guy who addresses both the ladies and the nerds, who cannot help but take opposing views on everything (“I make the ladies drool – not really but it sounds cool” ), dropped the single from his latest album – “Freaks, Freaks” – under a bus shelter. A jazzy béret on his head and an umbrella in his hand. A unique audience.

Sometimes, a Take Away Show works thanks to people who settle unexpectedly on the film. Usually, little kids. However – for once – here was an old Mexican guy who invited himself and improvised while the other two provided the beat. Of course, he speaks very quickly about motherfuckers and big dicks amongst indifferent teens waiting for the bus and passers-by struggling against the wind. Okay, but he does it under Pigeon John’s malicious stare, the guy who was rapping “underground hip-hop means no women” a few minutes before.

What’s new in this session is that the camera itself turned into an instrument. The guys staged a mugging right in front of a NYPD car. Anecdotal and brash just like 13-year-old can be, but telling, still. We could have met a more technical MC than Pigeon John, or a more genius beatboxer than Davey, but we couldn’t have met cooler or funnier guys. Not real wankers, nor too cynical, nor wholly ironic: just guys who carry along with them a certain human warmth, a bit like Mos Def would, on records as well as on screens in any theater near you.

At last, when they go freestyle – a hip-hop compulsory exercise – it’s on a huge bridge that stretches into the distance, in the middle of rods in a row as far as the eye can see. The lyrics, beautifully absurd, and the gait of those guys walking under a cloudy sky, remind us of what music was supposed to be doing originally: put some joy in the grayness and the concrete, capture again those inhuman spaces thanks to a united language. Unity, peace, & having fun. All of that was at the beginning of the ‘80s, and for a short moment, we thought it was only yesterday. Thanks for the time-travel, guys.

Translated by Nora