This Friday, June 12, Los Angeles MC and best friend to rap fans everywhere Pigeon John plays Operation: Heal the Heroes, a benefit for Wounded Heroes of America at DiPiazza's in Long Beach. Also featuring Sen Dog, Left Alone, DJ Hydroe and more, it’s another big moment in what’s fast becoming an eventful summer for John as he continues to promote his latest album, last year's Encino Man. L.A. Weekly spoke to him about becoming a part of the event, his music being used in current Pizza Hut and Taco Bell commercials, and how having a sense of humor has helped him keep his career on track since his early days at the Good Life Cafe.
How did you get involved with Operation: Heal the Heroes?
A friend of mine, DJ Hydroe, knew Sen Dog and the person putting it on.
Is this the first time you’ve done a performance for this cause?
Yeah, very first time.
The other big thing you have going on right now is your song “The Bomb” in the new Pizza Hut commercial. How did that come about?
I believe my music publishers shopped my song around, and it just happens like that. They pitched the song, the people from Pizza Hut dug it, and it fit the vibe. I got lucky.
You’ve had some previous, literal commercial success, with your songs featured in video games as well as ads for Nestle Crunch and Levi’s in the early 2000s. Since that was during the height of the indie-rap underground purist moment, did you face any sort of backlash?
You know what? It happened right after I remember talking to [Will.i.am] of the Black Eyed Peas around the same time of their Dr. Pepper commercial. He equated it back to the RCA days where the RCA label would release music, not because they would like the music, but because the music would sell the record player. It was art selling the product. The foundation of this recording industry is working with ad agencies and working with product. They did such a good job that, with their logo, I can picture the dog looking at the record player right now.
Then [Will.i.am] said to skip the labels and go straight to the ad agency as a label. After that, it made it a bit more fun. … There was never a backlash and I think the songs they chose, “The Bomb” and “Hey You” [for an ad by Pizza Hut sister brand Taco Bell] were already pop-minded songs that filled out naturally for me. When it’s natural and not taking itself too serious, that’s when a backlash really can’t happen. It’s like getting mad at Jerry Seinfeld. It had some success and it’s been really cool.
Interestingly enough, the first time I heard The Beach Boys was in a Sunkist commercial. But I didn’t know I was listening to The Beach Boys. Obviously, I knew as time went on, but I look back and find that interesting. I think if you like the song, there’s a wall between you and the song and the product is right in the middle. If you still like the song, it’s a genuine connection. It’s an innocent way to get introduced to a song if the person likes it.
You mention the song is light-hearted and you have had a sense of humor in your work. When you came up through the historic and notoriously tough Good Life Cafe scene, did that sense of humor help you or work against you?
I think that whole Good Life process was just people challenging each other to find their own original voices. Every week you would shed a layer of skin to finally get to your own voice. They celebrated originality and all of the rappers, even if they had a similar vibe, were different. Like, superhero different. It took me a year to get there because I was very influenced by BDP, De La Soul; I pretty much rapped just like my hip-hop loves. I thought I was OK amongst my friends, but when I went to Good Life I realized I was far from it. Just being around there, it chopped me up and I chopped them up.
After about a year I made a song called “You Don’t Have to Go to High School to Be an MC” off of a Biz Markie loop and when I did that song, it was really me doing a song by myself for the fun of it. That’s when I [saw] heads looking up and thought, “Oh, that’s me! That’s who I am! Now I know how to put it into a song in an interesting way.”
Pigeon John performs at DiPiazza's in Long Beach as part of the Operation: Heal the Heroes benefit on Friday, June 12. Tickets and more info at www.dipiazzas.com.