Oh hip hop, you lovable scamp, I was beginning to wonder if our two-decade plus love-affair might be starting to fade. Not surprising if the passion did dampen a bit, these things happen in a long relationship after all. But then we found something to light the flame again. It wasn’t something hokey like bedroom role-play, or ill-conceived, like a plan to take a little break to see if the grass really is greener on the other side. No, none of these trite and true methods were the answer for us, we found our answer literally right at the end of our noses: Canada. You heard me correct friend. If you’re old and grumpy like me, and most of today’s mainstream hip hop sends you reaching for your Tapes & your Walkman, there’s a herd of recent Canadian hip hop releases that might be right up your alley.
Case in point: Pigeon Hole. Pigeon Hole is a duo, Dusty Melo and Marmalade, who call Vancouver home, and are also members of fairly well-known Vancouver hip hop collective Sweatshop Union. It sounds as if the duo has been collaborating since the early 90′s, but the recent release of Age Like Astronauts is their debut full-length album. It was certainly worth the wait though, as now the rest of us get to find out how talented the Hole is, something Sweatshop Union fans have seemingly known for years.
Age Like Astronauts opens with the deliberate Voodoo, and I think it’s a good sign when a fairly simple song such as this - just the beat (a good one too, chunky drums and a kind of old-school Dre-esque Funky Worm synth), the lyrics and a chanted chorus - is as addictive as this one here is. I won’t lie to you, Looptape converted me to a Pigeon Hole fan the first time I heard it. Yes, the beat is awesome (it’s been a while since I’ve said this, but put some solid horns on your track, and I’m roughly 95% in your corner from the jump), it has features from Moka and fellow Sweatshopper Itchy Ron, and they are reminiscing about awesome old school rap topics (with accordingly awesome scratched in samples). But the clincher is the fact that they mention Ill Al Skratch - I bought Creep Wit’ Me on a trip to Boston in the early 90′s, and I have a lasting, if somewhat out of proportion, affection for Ill and Al Skratch.
Light Show has a great, scratchy early 90′s sound, and it features the kind of braggadocios raps that are befitting that era. It also features a D-Sisive cameo, which is all the rage in some Canadian hip hop circles right now, and if you know our history, you know that is a welcome development here at the hill. After hearing You Suck, a humorous lady-friend kiss-off, a couple times, it began to remind me of the Pharcyde, even though I don’t exactly know why I’d say that. Sea Tales offers a cool change of pace, with the MC’s bringing fast flows to a minimal track that doesn’t feature much more than static, wave sound effects, some guitar chords, and some faint, jazzy drumming. And it works, which is rather impressive, considering it’s kind of unorthodox.
The first half of the album is fairly fun-loving, and it kind of feels like a super well-done homage to the 90′s hip hop that folks like myself still clutch tightly to our chests when it’s nostalgia time. But Pigeon Hole shows diversity, and the ability to write good songs about something tangible (you know, rap songs about something other than rapping) on the second half with songs like the bad-boyfriend ode Jercules, Bleed, a lament for the lost souls of their hometown, and the ominous, police-state warning Year of the Tiger.
In short, if you need something to send your hip hop disillusionment packing, Canada is the place to look right now, and you should start with Pigeon Hole and Age Like Astronauts. They’ve got a great debut on their hands, and I guarantee you’ll be spinning it on the regular throughout the summer. I know I will be.
MP3:: Pigeon Hole - Light Show f. D-Sisive