If you don’t follow Los Angeles’ underground hip-hop scene, you may not be familiar with Pigeon John. You may be more familiar with the Volkswagen commercial with the two guys seat-dancing in the backseat, which featured his song “The Bomb,” the lead track from his thoroughly enjoyable new album, Dragon Slayer.
As opposed to the bombast of Kanye West, Pigeon John (born John Kenneth Durkin) takes his love of Hank Williams, the Beach Boys and Run-DMC and comes up with an album in which he plays to his own strengths, not to those genre conventions that are so well-worn by now.
First, he mixes in singing with his raps, which helps make the album feel more cohesively musical than most mainstream hip-hop offerings. Another important quality is that John is a great storyteller, one who’s not afraid to poke fun at himself. He has an atypical point of view, as in “So Gangster,” where, over a beat that brings to mind a Western, he says he’s “got Hawthorne [California, his hometown] backin’ me up” and raps about when he’s “bangin’ some Depeche Mode” in his truck.
It all speaks to a far different orientation than that of someone like Kanye. While Kanye is rockin’ stadiums with “the power to make your life so exciting,” Pigeon John has more everyday concerns: “I’m not tryna ball in the Lambo/I’m tryna keep my little nephew in some clean clothes,” he says in “Buttersoft Seats.”
“Davey Rockit” is a poignant tale of paternal rage at a dream deferred, and how it affected and inspired the man’s son. And every married man will get a chuckle out of “To Do List.” Dude’s wife goes out of town and leaves him a list of things to do around the house, but he chooses to hang with his boys. Both hilarity and calamity (when the wife returns) ensue.
Pigeon John’s Dragon Slayer, like Shad’s TSOL, works because he’s taken his experiences and spun them into short stories to which everyone can relate. It’s a welcome break from hip-hop’s lyrical orthodoxy.
This review originally appeared on TheRoot.com on December 15, 2010.