From the first note of the album, it had me. I knew Encino Man would prove to keep PJ in my pantheon. But, I must first say that with each release it becomes harder to call him a hip hop artist. If nothing else, I think the term remains appropriate due to his roots and the lack of something better to call his sound.
Pigeon’s sing-song flow remains at times, but here (like we began to see more in Dragon Slayer) PJ is often a singer more than a rapper… or not even a rapper at all. Fans of artists like Santigold, Kid Cudi, and Theophilus London should have a tough time not falling in love with this latest Pigeon John output.
While tracks like “It’s On Tonight” are fun hip hop romps, there are tracks like “All the Roads” where there are virtually no hints of hip hop. Fans of Pigeon shouldn’t be surprised at all, seeing as he has been moving in this direction more and more as his career has progressed (not to mention all of his pop, rock and R&B references even in his early career). “Oh Yeah” (video below) is basically just a 2014 take on a Mississippi Delta Blues riff as legit as anything on Electric Mud. Then there’s the B-52 tinged “What Are We Gonna Do?” that feels like it belongs along side “Rock Lobster”. So, in short, the album, like John’s influences and interests, is diverse.
Another key component on the album is reunification with the LAS fam. Sareem Poems (fka “Sharlock Poems”) contributes, Flynn Adam (also PJ’s partner in Rootbeer) makes an appearance, and even Great Jason drops a verse. This is something it seems we should get used to, with PJ making appearances on the last 2 Cookbook EPs, a few reunion shows in the bag, and an upcoming LA Symphony album.
Keep in mind, that this version of LAS is decidedly less CCM and decided more, for lack of a better word, real. The collective’s members have all grown up, some in different directions and some on similar paths that they’d previously set on. But, this isn’t a reunion of the same kids who were forced to cater to the Christian market. These last two PJ albums, the recent work of Poems and Cookbook, and even the more Christian flavored work of Joey, all point the listener in a direction much different than what one will expect from the CCM rappers and artists.
So, in summary, Encino Man is a natural progression from Dragon Slayer, in some ways even stronger and in many ways more progressive for Pigeon John as a artist. And while this long time fan is not quite sure it will be able to beat out Dragon Slayer, I’ve been vibing on it a ton and will say one thing for sure: PIGEON JOHN IS BETTER THAN 95% OR MORE OF THE HIP HOP MOST PEOPLE LISTEN TO. And, while it’s still early, this album is neck and neck with the new Pharoahe Monch and PJ’s friends Grouch and Eligh’s epic triple album for the title of best hip hop album of 2014.