Emo-Rap: A Real Identity Crisis?
Pigeon John is a man of the people. Eschewing complicated rhyme patterns for straight-talking simplicity, the songs on his second solo effort seem to embody the split personality overtaking the character of popular music audiences and charts.
It seems difficult these days to turn on top 40 radio and not feel somewhat disoriented by all those big-beat ghetto rap songs sandwiched between the whiny lyricism of white-boy emo. Its no surprise, then, that artists like Pigeon John would attempt a sort of synthesis between these two opposing musical ideas. The result, at least on this album, however, is that the music seems somehow off-balance, lacking both the stimulating qualities of gut-busting beats and the emotional tug of a delicately orchestrated ballad.
Pigeon John comes off as an artist unsure of his place in the music world and unable to reconcile the heart on his sleeve with the hip-hop in his roots. The best song on the album is, ironically, “Identity Crisis”. The track not only embodies his own sense of being pulled in opposite artistic directions, but it is the only track that also seems to accomplish a sort of synthesis of these two forces. True to hip-hop form, the track opens with an enticing sample, then launches into the hook, a head-bobbing beat backed with a simple but memorable lyric. The verse articulates his emotional problems, his “identity crisis”, and is insightful without being sappy. The emo is melded to the hip-hop framework in a subtle and enticing manner so as to create a song that is both listenable and danceable. It’s also a rare moment on the album when Pigeon John’s delivery doesn’t suffer from a sense of his own insecurities, and his delivery is powerful and original. The song fades out with him sputtering and murmuring as the beat pulls away, a persuasive testimony to the crippling effect of his despair.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album fails to deliver this sort of lyrical originality. In fact, Pigeon John’s own performances on other tracks are dwarfed by those of his guest artists Abstract Rude and Mikah 9. What may in fact be an attempt to keep it real comes off as condescension, and the simplicity and repetitiveness of his rhymes and rhyme structures yields an overall mediocre and forgettable rap album.
There is a sense that Pigeon John is more interested in telling his tale of woe than in weaving a poetic lyric and overall unified rap song that is worth hearing more than once. Indeed, his raps are delivered at a dirgelike pace that seems to weigh down any exuberance in the beat, which more often than not seems to have nothing to do with the lyric itself. The song “Crazy” is a rap that hits at the alienation of consumer culture, yet is supported by a beat composed of mind-numbing drum-machine pulses and incongruous reverb-laden acoustic guitars. The song comes off as schizophrenic, which is indeed crazy, but not nice to listen to.
At other moments on the album, Pigeon John seems to forget himself completely and dives into the world of emo. The song “Alone…” is the premier, though not the only, example of his flights of white-pop fancy (“What is Love?!” and “Orange County” also fall victim). The song can best be imagined as rap-metal à la Linkin Park sans rap, or simply emo with a bad drum machine beat rather than raging guitars and hormone induced drum-kit catharsis. In fact, the song might have even made a good emo single, but for Pigeon John’s inability to really carry a tune. The song finally builds to a nauseating crescendo that drags on well past the listenable limit. It is here that one clearly realizes Pigeon John’s Achilles heel—his penchant for melodrama.
While most of the album is forgettable, and some of it isn’t even listenable, there are moments where Pigeon John really does achieve something, or at least finds his niche. The song “Orginalz” is (again, ironically), a good example of his ability to craft a nice, solid rap song. The lyrics are decent, although he needs a little help from Mikah 9, and the hook is simple and easy to digest. The beat, for once, really shines on this track, and is a really interesting use of traditional western art music timbres in an urban soundscape. Cascades of strings and horns play throughout the track, weaving a complex texture that is enhanced by Mikah 9’s ability to rap around and through them.
This track and a few others make Pigeon John’s latest effort worth a listen, though only a tentative success. There are better emo-rap artists out there (Atmosphere comes to mind), but to a certain extent the issues Pigeon John is grappling with in his lyrics and beats suggests an unresolved conflict ripe with potential.