Underground Report (Pigeon John, Musab, Redcloud)

posted June 08, 2007 12:00:00 AM CDT | 5 comments

This months Underground Report is inspirational, if not surprising. In our interviews with three underground emcees, we were able to find answers to some incredibly pressing questions:

How did one rapper survive a chaotic childhood to become a positive MC?
Whats wrong with Nas, Pac, Big, and Jay being the top 4 MCs ever?
What caused a split with the Rhymesayers?
How is a genius Muslim rapper also a real-life pimp?
How did a gangster become a Christian rapper?

Read on to find answers to these and many, many more questions. Weve included a couple of videos for those who arent familiar but even if you havent heard of the acts, their stories may surprise or inspire you.

(To go straight to Musab: The Rejuvenation of a Pimp, CLICK HERE)
(To go to Redcloud: Saved, CLICK HERE)

Pigeon John: Be Yourself

All these dudes tellin lies for the fame and wealth.
Id rather kick back and just be myself.
-Pigeon John Do the Pigeon

This quote serves as a motto for Pigeon Johns status in the game. Hes always stood out for his unique style, for and simply being Pigeon. Hes also able to draw from different slices of life. This ability to adapt to change is not something he was born with. It was gained as a child, due to difficult circumstances layered on top of racial discrimination, awkwardness and the fact that he had to witness abuse. His upbringing not only helped him react to drastic transitions, it also prepared him for the rigors of poverty, struggle, love and life. Now, armed with a new view on Hip-Hop, race and more, hes out to show a different side of the culture.

His unique journey began in Omaha, Nebraska, where he spent his early years. But when he was 5, he began to make a slew of back-and-forth trips to California. Thats where Pigeon got to experience racism and an understanding of a troubled family life.

That got me used to adapting to any scenery. As kids, it wouldnt even be weird if we were woken up in the middle of the night and said Were leaving right now. We had to pack all of our stuff and a couple of sheets and hop in the car and just drive through the night, not knowing where were going, he explains.

But more than this, he had to adapt to different stereotypes placed on him. Being bi-racial, he began to experience racism from two different parts of the country, as he sang on his first album.

I grew up in Nebraska. In the 4th Grade
I was the darkest thing in town, and I had it made.
But all the kids in school, you knowCalled me nigger
The very next year, I moved to Inglewood.
A little change of scenery but it was all good.
Over here, all the kids at school called me honky
Went home to my mother and she said Son, be.
Be yourself.
-Pigeon John, "B"

This was also a time when John witnessed abuse, drug use and financial hardship that his mother had to endure.

My mom was young and wild. Sometimes, wed be skipping rent. Sometimes, shed be in love with a young man who lived in L.A. Wed just be moving a lot. A lot of partying, a lot of drugs he says of his mothers early problems. He also saw a man do a lot of dirt to his mother. But, as he noted in his poetry book "The South Bay Blues" and in this interview, he holds no real hatred for him or his mother. When speaking with me, he opened up about this "man".

Growing up and seeing him do a lot of dirt to my momAnd he was young himself, a lot of drugs, a lot of verbal and physical abuse and stuff like that like stealing moneyBut seeing him grow out of that and stop the drugs and the drinking and kind of get his life straight- It really opened my mind to kind of, almost forgive him for the stuff he did when he was younger and see him in a hopeful way like maybe things can change and get better, he confides.

In the midst of this perplexing childhood, John was able to find solace in music.

I think what really got me over it was Hip-Hop and writing songs and going to The Good Life Caf, he adds. The Good Life, a legendary spot in Los Angeles for influential artists of the area including Jurassic 5, Freestyle Fellowship and Black Eyed Peas, heavily frowned upon biting and openly displayed distaste by booing biters off the stage. This forced him to find his own style.

I gave up trying to be someone else. That helped me say Im Pigeon John. And I accepted who I was racially, and who I was socially and artisticallyall of thatmy past, what made me up. And I started celebrating that, in my music and in my life.

He was forced to find his niche. After all, what MC would want to hear Please Pass The Mic!? Or an onslaught of boos?

Honing his skills, he began recording and performing for his first album Pigeon John Is Clueless, made from demos, which led to his first professional record in Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister. Both LPs received critical notoriety, as well as a national underground buzz. Slowly but surely, his stock kept rising as PJ kept touring, grinding over stages across the nation next to the likes of Atmosphere, Brother Ali and The Living Legends.

In 2004, he finally released a book of poems, the aforementioned "South Bay Blues", followed up by an album, Pigeon John Sings The Blues. And suddenly, the press came knocking. With critical praise from Entertainment Weekly, Spin and various other publications, Johns years of hard work in the UG seemed to be working to his advantage. But he never stopped the grueling tours or hard work ethic, which led to an encounter with Lyrics Born during one of his many tour dates.

LB witnessed PJs live act and quickly swooped Pigeon up to Quannum Records. Around the same time, he appeared in a Nestle Crunch commercial, and things finally looked optimistic for the young boy from Nebraska.

But before penning his Quannum debut, he had a life changing trip to Africa which opened his mind, eyes and spirit.

That was a beautiful experience Theres culture, unity, wealth, theres poverty, theres business, theres full entire black cities, which Ive never seen in my life. This was beautiful but it also made me real sad [for] American black people, because, I think slavery created years of disarray and I dont think its ever going to be the same...And it seems like its the only people that are in disarray. Like you have a lot of Jewish people that went through World War II and everything, but there seems to be a lot more unity and theres actual areas and they work together. [Many other races] all stick together pretty much. And its real sad because in Africa, there is a culture and they are sticking together. It paints a real clear picture of how far we are as American black people.

This trip also made him further aware of the impact that the mic has on future generations.

They way I raise my kids and the way my kids raise their kidsI think that is the only way to really change things. That comes back to how we present ourselves in our music, how we present ourselves when people are looking and how we present ourselves when people are not looking. I think its real important to really stop with the negative implications. I think its one thing to tell the truth, like if a person comes from a drug background and to be him or herself with no editing at all, just being real. But when it crosses the line to glorifying that, then I think it just repeats the cycle over and over again, he adds.

Furthermore, John goes on to explain how he feels todays Hip-Hop lends itself, in some way, to this disarray.

If you ask Who are your favorite MCs? Usually, its Jay-Z, Biggie, Nas, Tupac And if you look at them, they are all black, all affiliated with drugs, crime, pimping and so forth. In history, when you look back [and ask] Whos the King of Rock? or Whos the King of that Jazz element? Sooner or later, its going to be Who was the King of that Hip-Hop movement? And all of them were drug dealers, pimps, and the stereotypical black male. Thats very dangerous and thats happening right now. And dudes that dont affiliate themselves with that dont have any street cred and really dont get affiliated with the top 5 or 10 MCs."

Currently, PJ claims there are some signs of change.

Theres a chance that it changes, but the slice of the pie is very slim. That slice is Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, PharrellIts a very thin slice, so hopefully it grows.

When I remind him that even Skateboard P references drugs and guns in his rhymes, he explains why some MCs are determined to travel that route.

I know that he is talking about that, because hes a skater so I think every skater knows a skater. Hes saying that so he can have more street cred. Busta Rhymes is, too. A lot of the stuff is like What are you talking about? Where did this come from? Its obvious. To me, that seems a little corny. To now, all of a sudden...[Says Sarcastically] Oh wow! Okay, drugs, guns and if I mess with you-I get killed. Okay, I didnt know that! You used to be in Leaders of the New School, Im sorry.

I dont think thats ever going to really change. Im not really trying to change it but I think people just dont need to do that.

As he mentions in "Do The Pigeon", this made him feel a need to shine a light on these brand new jigaboos.

When I see a video or when I see videos of the same kind of thing, I understand that these are young black people trying to make it. Sometimes they exaggerate a little to make it. My worry is when [others] see that. My cousins in Nebraska [for instance], theres not a lot of black people out there, so their example of black people is movies and videos. Its almost like were training [others] to be like This is how we act, this is how all of us act and we does our thang. And we just smile and we all in debt and we dont even care and we just chillinAnd when you go back to an unified black people, thats almost the foundation of it ...But black people are entertained, America is entertained but at the end, fools are still broke, broken and will be for another 100 years, he notes.

Believing this, he set off on his album with intentions, not to preach or to sound too anti-gangsta, but to show people that there are other sides to life. He isnt crunk, iced out, drug-affiliated or willing to degrade women. Hes that different slice of Hip-Hop. Hes not trying to impress you with his gat, mack skills or his bragging. Hes singing, rapping and sending out his message via rhymes and poems. Hes underground but poised for a mainstream push and most importantly, hes taken his mothers advice. Hes just Pigeon John.

Pigeon John And The Summertime Pool Party is in stores and he is working on his new album, as well as the sequel album for Brainwash Projects.

Musab: The Rejuvenation of a Pimp

HHDX: Youve got a new album out. What can people expect from this here?
Musab: They can expect to hear some hot shit, naw mean?

HHDX: Youve definitely got a great history in the underground rap world. What would you say are your top 3 moments in the game and why?
Musab: My top 3 moments of my career? Shit man. My first moment was when I got to play with Redman. At the time, he was like my rap idol. That was my first big show and it was in 94. Lets seeumThats a good question, man because Ive had a lot of good moments. Then, when I released Comparison in 96, when I was using the name Beyond. That was good for me because that was the first album we released on Rhymesayers. Just that record, what it did for underground rap, from coast to coast, is a major move in itself. At the time, I didnt even know how major it was. But now I can look back on it like Man! I was put in the right place, at the right time to have an impact on Hip-Hop. And my third moment is right now. Joining up with Hieroglyphics and my boys over here, because now Im rejuvenated in my career. With this new record, Im squashing everybody man! Im taking over rap.

HHDX: Your bio talks about the pimp game and describes you as a real life mack. Is that something you have done or that you do? How did that influence your life?
Musab: I got a statement that I say: You can only be who you are. Thats what I know. So, growing up around that, its basically who I am. Its part of my DNA. So, it had to influence my music because I just write what I feel. Thats the sole reason Im doing music is to express my emotions. Its my personal iPod. If people can feel it, then thats great.

HHDX: Youre Muslim, right? What kind of internal battle do you face being Muslim and being a pimp?
Musab: I deal with the same internal battle that basically every human being has because we are all created by the same God. Aint nobody walking around perfect. Deep down inside, all humans have this internal battle. I just happen to admit mine.

HHDX: In a statement, I read that creative differences caused you to split a long tenure with Rhymesayers Entertainment. What exactly were the differences that created the friction?
Musab: I would have to say, manI meanlets not get things crossed. Im still cool with the guys over there. I just seen them. Were all good. They came down to the show we played the other night. But the fact still remains that obviously Im the black sheep on Rhymesayers. When you take that roster of artists that are on Rhymesayers, Musab is the black sheep. Everybody Im sure knows that. I guess they felt that they didnt want to deal with the content.

HHDX: You mean the pimp stuff?
Musab: Exactly! I put out my last record in 2002. I got no bad feelings towards it or nothing to an extent that uhI gotta do my thing. Im so busy outside of music that I basically created a vehicle for myself that is so strong that nobody can stop. Not Rhymesayers. Not Sony. Not anybody. What I am on the streets right now is too hot for anybody to handle. Everything you see right now, even this call with you right now is because of my grind. So, yeah, I could pat myself on my back! Rhymesayers just came to a point in their mind, and it never was said, but I had to take it this way, they dont know what to do with my material.

HHDX: Did you ever voice that?
Musab: Yeah, we talked about it. Everybody knows my feelings. Im the type of person that I cant keep what I feel inside.

HHDX: But you still talk to everybody over there?
Musab: Yeah, I have to! Im a co-founder over there, man. Its beyond music. Im not just about to turn my back on something that I helped build, regardless of what it has become today. I still am a major factor in whats going on over there.

HHDX: Are you down with whats going on today?
Musab: (Pause) UmIm down because everybody is eating. I dont knock anybodys hustle. I dont necessarily think all the music is hot coming from over there. My man (Brother) Ali is hot. My man Seans (Slug) hot. Those are friends of mine. But I aint gon sit here and stand back and say I think everybody over theres hot.

HHDX: Tell us about Hiero. How are they treating you? Whats it like over on that side?
Musab: Hiero is the realest crew in rap. Anybody who knows these guys, anybody whos ever met them, anybody whos been blessed to be in their presence knows that this is Hip-Hop in its purest form. I look at HieroThe family environment they have, thats what I want to be with. I dont want to be guessing and pressing about my next move or next album release or nothing like that and thats kind of what was going on over there with Rhymesayers and they know it and everybody knows it.

Redcloud: Saved

Redclouds story isnt your everyday tale. How does a gangster become a Christian? How does a kid who wants to drop out end up graduating with a high grade point average? How does a local Christian rapper get Kurupt and Jayo Felony to appear on his album? His lifes been unpredictable, but hes made good.

His childhood is such a compelling story, that its better if he tells it.

"A lot of people out here in L.A. got single moms. But not only did I have a single mother who had me at like 18, she also gave me up for adoption when I was like 8 months. So, I was raised by an entirely different family who started out as my baby sitters and then just ended up taking the parental guidance to raise me. My birth mother slowly stopped coming around and before you know it, the family that was baby sitting me ended up being the family that raised me to this very day.

Growing up in Hawthorne (California) is just really, really, tough. I never got to meet my birth father but the father that raised me, who taught me how to talk, walk and carried me on his shouldershe grew up in Redondo Beach. He was in a gang called Redondo 13. When he had my two older brothers, he moved four blocks east to a city called Lawndale. And the kids of that neighborhood came up to my older brothers and boom, my brothers were up in Lawndale 13.

By the time I came in, he moved to Hawthorne. So, the gangs in Hawthorne hit me up to be part of that set. So, at a very young age, I was exposed to the gang lifestyle, the gang culture by my older brothers, my pops, my cousins, my family. I was getting tattooed by sixth grade. I had already gotten in mad trouble by seventh grade. The street life out here swallowed me up as soon as it could. When youre a kid out here and you feel like you dont belong to nothing and you feel like you dont have a family and you feel like youre on your own and youre questioning your entire existence, and you got these cats out here like Yo, well be your family, homie. We got your back... Loyalty means everything to me. Man, Im just loyal to my crew, my hood and Hawthorne since sixth grade. Thats how I saw it in my older brothers and my Pops and my family. I got jumped into a gang in sixth grade, dude. In 8th grade, I already decided that I wasnt going to go to high school and that I was gonna run the streets and do the business."

But life had other plans. As he explained, he was about to ditch school when a Hip-Hop assembly was held at his school. Little did he know, the assembly would hold inspirational emcees that looked like gang members of his neighborhood. Their message of peace over violence had a deep impact for the students in the school including classmate and current NFL player Dennis Northcutt, who stood up against the gang violence as well that day. When the MCs passed flyers, Redcloud only saw Free Hip-Hop Show. Inspired, a young Redcloud walked to the address on the flyer, unaware that he would arrive at a church.

This introduction to Christianity and God changed his perspective on life and gangs. In a room filled with rival gang members and former gang members, bloods and otherwise, Redcloud found a new family, that he felt was sincere. He felt he was saved.

The new life came at a price.

To get jumped out, I hit up my homeboy Bam-Bam. This dude got the High School cats and the Samoans from high school. Im in 8th grade, getting jumped out by these high school cats. They smashed me up! Half the school was thereIt was terrible, dog. It was like three Mexican dudes and three Samoan cats. You know what Samoan cats look like, dog. They were kicking me when I was down. Just when I thought it was over and I heard them say 'Yo, stop! Hes had enough,' I was ready to get up in a push-up position on the floor. This cat named Stomper stomps on the back of my head right into the concrete and puts this huge knot on my forehead.

They had busted all of my blood vessels/blood capillaries. Just the white of my eyes were blood red. They were both blood red eyes with little black pupils. I looked like a demon. The knot on my head was like freaking Rahman!

That takes forever to heal! Most fools dont have the courage to get jumped out, but I did, man.

While he suffered through ridicule, in the streets and at home, for leaving the gang life behind, he later proved he was a survivor by honing his freestyle battle skills. His success in murking cats in rap battles got the same gangsters who ridiculed him to give him props.

Those props later earned him a record deal with Syntax Records. Through this, he kept proving his skills and sharpening his sword through various lyrical battles. Finally, he reached out to mainstream radio at Power 106 in Los Angeles. He battled on air and won notoriety to the point that Kurupt decided to give the station a ring. Were definitely looking for cats like you on the Row, he said, noting legendary label Death Row. Suge Knight was present as well, showing praise.

Later, Kurupt and Redcloud got to speak about how they went to high school together and a track came out of that connection. Kurupt reached out to Felony and that track was made. His connections with The Visionaries put together another track. Little by little, this new album was formed. With production by Tim from Syntax, Pigeon John and others, the new album comes with a host of new topics most dont speak about, as well as a nice mixture of appealing bounce-driven hits to balance it all out.

Redclouds unique style of complex, yet down-to-earth, every-man rhymes appears on his new LP Hawthornes Most Wanted, full of thought provoking songs, as well as enjoyable West Coast bounce music. For a preview, here are video clips for two tracks off the album.

Boulevard Knights

Tapatio Feat. Pigeon John

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