THE COMPLETE ORAL HISTORY
OF PIGEONS & PLANES
PIGEONS & PLANES IS 10 YEARS OLD.
IN 2008, P&P CAME TO LIFE AS A SIMPLE BLOGSPOT PAGE IN JACOB MOORE’S BEDROOM
IN BRADENTON, FLORIDA. SINCE THEN, IT HAS GROWN IN WAYS THAT WE NEVER COULD HAVE PREDICTED
AND HELPED BRING TOGETHER A CLOSE-KNIT COMMUNITY OBSESSED WITH DISCOVERING GOOD MUSIC.
IN CELEBRATION OF OUR TENTH ANNIVERSARY, WE TOOK A LOOK BACK AT THE HISTORY OF P&P,
STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTHS OF THE PEOPLE WHO MADE IT HAPPEN.
THIS IS THE COMPLETE ORAL HISTORY OF PIGEONS & PLANES (AS TOLD TO ERIC SKELTON AND DEE LOCKETT )
Jacob Moore (Founder, Editor-In-Chief)
I didn’t even know what a blog was when I started Pigeons & Planes.
I studied finance in college and never had any plan. I wasn’t a good student and I didn't really know why I was doing finance. When I graduated college, it was during the peak of the financial crisis, and I couldn't get a job. I was just depressed. I didn't have any clue what I wanted to do and the only thing that I've always been very sure of is that I love music more than anything.
I remember thinking, “How do I start taking steps to be involved in music?” So I reached out to Eskay, who ran Nah Right, and asked if there was any way I could help him. He responded and said, "Yeah, but I'm really particular about who I work with." I sent him some writing samples that hadn't been published anywhere. After that, he stopped responding, That’s kind of what spurred the whole thing. I was like, “How hard is it to start a blog?” After asking around, I found Blogger. You could literally take ten minutes and make a site by just uploading a picture for the header and choosing one of their formats. It was super simple to build a really basic blogspot blog. I remember I had to choose a name on the spot, so I thought about it for a few minutes and came up with Pigeons & Planes.
From the very beginning, I wanted to cover everything. I wanted to cover underground artists and mainstream artists, and I wanted to cover indie rock and hip-hop. So for the name, I was just trying to think of two different things that had something in common. Pigeons and planes both fly, but in a lot of other ways they're very different. To me, the pigeon represents this wild animal that mostly lives in cities that aren't built for them. They eat leftovers and pizza crust and whatever they can get. It's a struggle to survive. Then, planes represent human engineering and big business. So indie artists are the pigeons and mainstream artists are the planes. But at the end of the day, they both fly.
For the first few months, nobody was reading the site. It was like my girlfriend and my mom. I didn't care much about journalism or professionalism, it was just about the music. It was just this fun hobby. But after a couple months, I got obsessed with it.
I would look at traffic every day and see, "Oh, we got 100 views today." And then the next day, "Oh, we got 120." I remember checking analytics before we were even getting 1,000 visitors a day. Just being like, "Holy shit, this is reaching 1,000 people." I used to go to Apple stores, open every screen, and put Pigeons & Planes on the home page. That was one of my favorite early marketing tactics. Then I would go to YouTube and find any popular video. I'd comment, "Pigeons & Planes. Google it." I did that hundreds of times a day. I don’t know how effective that was, but at the time I thought it was really important to the early growth.
Frank Ramz (Contributing Writer)
When I joined P&P, Jacob was providing all of the content and the site was small but very special and intimate, so the readers felt more connected with him. When I came on, I remember a handful of people not feeling me, but I gained their respect in time. I had never thought about being a music blogger, but Jacob gave me the opportunity to discover something that I didn’t know I loved to do. I remember getting upset when I wasn’t home and music was coming out, so I’d run my ass home to post shit.
Alex Gardner (Managing Editor)
I don't know exactly how I found Pigeons & Planes, but I do remember that I was immediately drawn to the personal tone and the quirkiness of the site, as well as the variety of music that would get posted. Jacob wasn’t afraid to place someone like Lil Wayne next to Lykke Li, and I really liked that. P&P was always fun to read and although back then it was a little less professional than it is now, I always enjoyed Jacob's ramblings.
Joyce Ng (Contributing Writer)
When I first found P&P, I remember reading this post from Jacob where he interrupts himself halfway through a post about a Death Cab song to talk about Nicki Minaj’s ass. That's when I figured out that Pigeons was my favorite blog. It’s just humorous and real. It’s got soul. It’s very interactive in that way, like P&P is a friend.
Ernest Baker (Writer at Complex)
Jacob had one of the more interesting sites that I was reading at the time and he added a level of personality and personal opinion that made me care about who the person behind the blog might be. That was compounded by the fact that he had this mysterious persona, “Confusion.”
When I started blogging, having a pseudonym was the norm. Everyone posted under different names: Eskay, Legend, Shake, Miss Info. Right after high school I met this kid Kenny who used to be into graffiti. I never got into that world too deep, but I fucked around with him and I used to tag “Confusion.” That name just stuck with me for a few years.
I read back on some of those things from the early days and I'm embarrassed now. But part of it was, I was so isolated. Now I feel this sense of responsibility to fact check and make sure we're covering things responsibly, but back then, nobody knew who I was and nobody was reading. I enjoyed doing it, and I didn’t have anyone telling me, "You should chill out with saying this crazy stuff." There was no accountability, so I think I felt a freedom to do whatever I wanted. I just had fun with it.
"I used to go to Apple stores, open every screen, and put Pigeons & Planes on the home page. That was one of my favorite early marketing tactics. Then I would go to YouTube and find any popular video. I'd comment, 'Pigeons & Planes. Google it.'"
- Jacob Moore (Pigeons & Planes Editor-In-Chief)
Jenn Kaytin Robinson (Contributing Writer)
I don’t remember what it was, but I randomly tweeted at Jacob and was like, "Let me be your friend." It wasn’t even like, "I wanna write for you." I just asked, "What is your name?’" Because his name on the site was Confusion, and I didn’t know anything about him. So I tweeted him and he immediately answered. We talked back and forth for a while and he was like, “Write for me!”
Brendan Klinkenberg (Contributing Writer)
I was a serious P&P fan. I was in the journalism school at Northwestern and was thinking I wanted to be a music writer. So I randomly reached out to Jacob my sophomore year and he emailed me back pretty quickly, then I got started. That was basically it, it happened fast. I sent him a sample of songs I’d been listening to but I don’t think he ever listened to them. It was more like, "Let's see what you can do."
I’d been reading the site for fun while I was at university in Bristol, England studying politics and French. I can remember reading one post where Jacob was saying, "We always seem to be two or three months behind the UK on new music. This song has been popular for like three months in the UK, and I’ve only just heard of it." I had minimal music writing experience, but I thought I may as well reach out to him because I’m from the UK and I love music.
So I emailed him, said that I loved the website, and that I thought there was local English and European music that he was missing out on. After just a couple of emails, I had a login, a password, and an account. I had to decide on my blog name and chose Constant Gardner. Then very quickly afterwards, I was doing my first post.
Graham Corrigan (Senior Editor)
I think I’m the only one to meet Jacob IRL before starting work on the site. Jon Tanners and I were recording a music podcast, and he told me about his friend’s music blog. A couple of weeks later, Tanners invited me to a lunch he hosted before Gov Ball 2013. That’s where I met the squad—I talked to Jacob a little bit, and we played a little piano, but I mostly remember Joyce cooking up amazing waffles with fancy whipped cream and some sort of fruit compote on the side.
I'm pretty weird. I feel like I am kind of anti-social and I hate networking, but I do love people and I love trying to work with people to come up with cool things. I could talk about music all day, so that's the one situation where I was actually happy to connect with people. I realized there were people out there who were interested in the same things as me and who wanted to make an impact doing creative things, so finding people on the same page has always been a big priority. When we all got together, we fed off each other and became more of a family who all wanted the same things and were all working towards the same goal.
Noah Callahan-Bever (Former Chief Content Officer at Complex)
In the summer of 2010, Rich Antoniello, the CEO of Complex, approached me because he wanted to diversify Complex’s portfolio and get more good indie music blogs in the network. I hit one of the guys who worked here, Ernest Baker, and asked him for a shortlist of places he was finding music. He sent maybe four or five and from that list, Pigeons & Planes was the best of them.
As P&P came on my radar, I noticed how consistent Jacob was about posting. So when we were looking for music writers, I was like, "Yo, we gotta talk to Jacob. I don’t know how busy he is, but if we can get him working for Complex Music as well as doing Pigeons & Planes, I think he’d be super on top of it." He was writing for us for a few months and then he came by the office and I just liked his whole demeanor and vibe.
Jacob had expressed interest in taking a full-time job at Complex and we had a hire available during mid-summer of 2011. I was talking to Rich about it and I was like, "I think we’re going to offer a job to Jacob from Pigeons & Planes." He said, "A job to do what?" And I was like, "Write, he’s really good at blah, blah, blah." He told me, "Well, if we want to offer him a job, why don’t we offer him a job to run the site and we’ll buy the site. Do you believe in it?" I was like, "Absolutely, I love the site I think it’s great. I think it’s small enough that there’s enormous growth potential but they’re doing all of the fundamental things right." Rich said, "Alright, let’s just sit down and talk to him."
So the next time Jacob came through, I introduced him to Rich. We just kicked him the idea and he was like, "I would absolutely love to do that." It was sort of kismet. We had this moment where it was like, here’s this site that has an incredible brand, great personality, and is small enough that it’s a huge investment opportunity for us. It gives this guy an opportunity to have the best of both worlds with the security of a real job but also getting to work on the brand that he came up with.
I never thought that deal was even a possibility, but suddenly it was like I could actually do this as a full-time job. To be completely honest, before that happened, I was in a pretty negative space. I didn't have a clue what my next step was. I had all these dreams of doing something I loved but I didn't have a way in and I didn't have time to just sit around. I had basically accepted the fact that I'd have to give up on doing something I loved and take some shitty job that I knew I'd hate. And then this happened. Leaving the office after that meeting was such a great feeling.
It was weird because I saw people’s reactions in the comments like, "Oh no, you’re selling out. Whatever, you’re just doing it for the money now." But it didn’t change us. Sell out? Do you see the shit we post? But people still get weird about any small thing joining a bigger thing. I didn’t just do this because I want to make a bunch of money off blogging. The simplest way I can say it is like this: This helped me focus all my energy into something that I love. It’s not a bad thing.
Once we applied the Complex best practices and procedures to Pigeons & Planes, we started seeing the growth immediately. I think by the end of that year, he had doubled the traffic in maybe four or five months. Then Brent Rollins did a super nice logo with the pigeon thing when we applied a redesign.
Brent Rollins (Former Creative Director at Complex)
When Complex acquired Pigeons & Planes, one of the goals was to try to figure out how to give it a new look. I remember Jacob already had some nice visual languages in place, so we pulled some of that over for the redesign. At the time, the trend was to do all of this Ye Olde artisanal stuff where everything was referencing some bygone era. I'm old enough now to notice things like that are trends, so I was intentionally not doing that. The whole look of the pigeon icon was completely the antithesis of what was going on design-wise at the time. It ended up looking like a logo that you might see on the tail of a plane or something.
There are few things that made me more happy than seeing Brent’s redesign of the logo and giving that to Jacob and watching him get super duper excited.
The logo was sick. I think he made like one rough sketch of it and showed me and I was just like, "Yes!" I feel like I never thought of Pigeons & Planes as a brand before that. It was just this website that I was trying to constantly promote and grow. It's crazy how different you feel once you have a logo. I was so happy to get that and feel like now we have this symbol that represents something bigger than just a website. It's a brand. We could make stickers and put it on shirts. We could have an identity. Before that, I remember the branding I did was just stealing pictures off Google and writing "Pigeons & Planes" on them. That was me thinking I was building a brand.
The fact that people have tattoos of the logo is kinda crazy to me. It's cool because that means the brand really means something to people. It's crazy to come up with something that people want to tattoo on themselves. The brand is important to people and it means something to them.
After P&P got settled as part of the Complex family, Jacob and I started talking about it potentially becoming a full-time job for me. As things started to line up, it became clear that this might actually work out. I didn't book my flights until I actually had a contract from Complex Media, though, because I'd never met Jacob in person! I’m not sure we'd even talked, we'd solely Gchatted. I think my mom thought it was pretty weird that I was moving to New York to work with someone who I'd never met.
It’s funny because I realized when I arrived in New York that I’d never actually sat down and thought through the pros and cons of moving here and taking the job. That dawned on me in the cab from JFK airport to Jacob's apartment. I loved writing for Pigeons & Planes, and it had become such a big part of my life, so as soon as there was a possibility of a job, I was just like, "Yes! Definitely!" I jumped at the opportunity.
When I arrived in New York, I stayed on Jacob’s couch for two or three weeks while I found a place to live for myself. And he was just like, "Take your time to find somewhere. Don't rush, you can stay on the couch." Having a colleague or a boss who's also just a very good friend, that's the best possible work environment.
"People still get weird about any small thing joining a bigger thing. I didn’t just do this because I want to make a bunch of money off blogging. The simplest way I can say it is like this: this helped me focus all my energy into something that I love.
It’s not a bad thing.
- Jacob Moore (Pigeons & Planes Editor-In-Chief)
We decided early on that if we didn't have something positive to say about an artist or a song, we just wouldn't cover it. There's so much exciting music out there, why waste time on negativity? If you make the effort to search and listen, there's always something inspiring that you haven’t heard yet. So instead of spending hours writing a take-down review, we'd much rather spend our time talking about music we love.
We wanted to be a place that truly discovers artists and supports them. I think that's never changed and it's kind of rooted in the fact that we came from the blog world. It wasn't journalism and criticism. I didn't go to Nah Right and 2DopeBoyz so I could read an explanation of why an album is not good. I went there to find new music I liked. So that was always the mission, and that's never changed. Our mission is to curate good stuff. You won’t see us trying to take down artists or talk about how terrible an album is—that's not the goal.
I've started to think about it like a museum. We're curating all this music that we think is interesting and good. To me, that makes sense. Why would you go into a museum and see a bunch of amazing art next to shitty art with an explanation of why it's shitty? There's no point in that. So I think that mission has become even more clear: We’re always going to be artist-friendly and we're always going to support the things we like. There's way too much music and we can't cover everything, so we're just going to ignore the stuff we don't like.
Katie Kelly (Contributing Writer)
We worked hard to make P&P a platform where we could share new artists in a way that made it feel like your friend was putting you on. I mean yes, we were knowledgeable about the content, sure, but more importantly we were always so fucking excited about finding a new artist, and that hasn't changed this whole time. It's so cool to see that same feel in all our new artist posts to this day.
Adrienne Black (Contributing Writer, Social Media Editor)
I think P&P is one of the only places that will really give a totally unknown artist a chance. If you only have one song and we really fuck with it, we'll post it and be like, "You know what, this kid has potential, and I think you should pay attention."
It's rare for media outlets to devote a lot of time or space to brand new artists, because they don't get the same traffic as the bigger names. But if you take a longer-term view, you realize that you can build up a reputation for discovering them.
There's something magical that happens when you take somebody totally unknown and put them right next to a star. It plays well on both ends. The established artist looks cooler being next to these up-and-comers, and the up-and-comers get credibility being next to the stars.
It's just so gratifying to find something that you think is worthy of being heard by a bunch of people, and being able to actually make sure that happens. That's still my favorite thing about Pigeons & Planes, and it's still my favorite thing to do. I don't get excited about huge interviews with famous people, I get excited when I find some amazing 17-year-old artist who's making music in his or her bedroom. I know that I can put this person in a position to be heard. Seeing where they take that is so exciting to me.
Sydney Gore (Contributing Writer)
Since interning at P&P, I've worked at all these other places [Billboard, The Fader, MTV, Nylon, Highsnobiety]. And whenever I've been in a room and people talk about what sites they go to and where they turn to discover music, there's not been one time where I didn't hear P&P's name come up. I think that shows the power of this brand and what Jacob and everyone who has been working with him has been doing.
Smino (P&P Best New Artists of 2015)
Pigeons & Planes ain't some everyday, cookie cutter, bullshit ass, post to hype shit blogs. Them niggas usually post the shit that you gon’ hear about in a couple years, before you hear about it. They got that juice. They was fuckin’ with me before anybody else was when I put out S!CK S!CK S!CK. They really help elevated me to other different media outlets who was kinda sleepin on me.
Billie Eilish (P&P Best New Artists of 2017)
Pigeons & Planes have always been at the top of everything. The fact that they have supported me is insane.
Charles Hamilton (First artist ever posted on Pigeons & Planes)
Blogs are meant for sharing, no matter the subject or scale. I saw Pigeons & Planes as young dreamers, just finding their voice.
Eric Isom (Contributing Writer)
I feel so lucky to have come across this kind of environment in this industry. At P&P, you get to watch artists grow firsthand. I remember seeing Smino come into the office with a durag and a weed pen, just chilling. And look at him now, it's nuts. There are so many stories. I remember hearing about 6LACK coming and talking about a bear and now he's one of the next big things. It's always happening. I interviewed Juice WRLD a few months ago, and now he's in a totally different space already.
Jacob is always down to give people a platform and an opportunity. And I’m not just talking about the artists that we cover. He does it for all the writers, too. From the jump, you have the freedom to share your ideas and actually make them come alive. It really is like a family. Even if you just throw out an idea and you're not sure it's good or not, someone else will help you flesh it out and brainstorm with you rather than just telling you it's dumb.
Alex Siber (Contributing Writer)
P&P proved early on that you could do the right things for the right reasons and still find success. If we loved a song, we made room for it on the site. It was never about who you were signed to or who your PR was. My favorite thing in the world was working with an artist who had never done an interview before and treating them like they were a star. The P&P team really created this protective forcefield around the mission, the values, the artist-first mentality that drove everything we did, and it set a powerful example for a lot of people.
Integrity has been something that I have always felt strongly about. We've never taken money for posts and we don't do favors for people just because they're friends or whatever. We take it very seriously that we are always going try to find the best, most interesting new music, and share it in a way that's good for the artist and good for the people finding it.
Growing up, my friends weren't as passionate about music as I was. So when I found this weird little community, it was nice to be able to talk about a song, reference something weird, and have them all understand me. We used to have these super long email chains going. It was just us shooting the shit, and it would be full of the dumbest ideas you've ever heard, but sometimes they would amount to something great.
I think a lot of blogs make the mistake of trying to make everything super uniform with one unified voice. But P&P really gives writers a chance to express our love for music in the weird ways that we want to. I don't know another blog who would let me bake cakes about iconic ass lyrics. Or let John drink a bunch and then review a Taylor Swift album.
"We allowed each other the safety to say any idea that came up. That’s awesome because sometimes those outside-the-box ideas turned into some of our most unique posts."
- Katie Kelly (Contributing Writer)
We used to email each other and be like, "What if we made Grimes a star of a movie and 2 Chainz was in it and so was Justin Bieber?" No one would email you back like, "Wtf are you talking about?" It was always like, "Yeah, yeah, and it's directed by Gucci Mane. Ok, how do we want to start it?" I mean, we rarely posted stuff exactly like that, but we allowed each other the safety to say any idea that came up. That’s awesome because sometimes those outside-the-box ideas turned into some of our most unique posts.
What I really appreciate about P&P is its open forum. You can just throw out shitty ideas, maybe a song you like but don’t know if it belongs on the site. The team will always let you know if you're right or wrong. And more importantly, they’ll let you know if an idea could be construed as offensive or short-sighted.
Jacob, Alex, and Graham gave us the freedom to pull back the curtains a bit and capture what goes into making great art. I remember working on articles that broke down the making of what I loved—Chance The Rapper’s three mixtape covers by Brandon Breaux, Noname’s classic project Telefone, and the culture of the Frank Ocean subreddit just weeks before Blonde dropped. It became this digital home for so many special narratives.
Joe Price (Contributing Writer)
Jacob and Alex have both helped nurture my writing so much without ever being in the same room as me, and for that I'm super thankful. One time they let me write about listening to Lil B for 24 hours. My favorite piece I've ever done for P&P, though, is probably my cover feature with Yung Lean. After following him since the beginning of his career and witnessing his evolution, it was great to speak with him about that shift. Plus, it was my first big interview, and it helped me get over a lot of anxieties in regards to speaking with people.
One time I was feeling completely demoralized and it was the closest I’d ever come to quitting writing. All it took was one email to Jacob for him to change my mind, and ever since I've been so happy that I talked to him before doing anything too dramatic. P&P helped me find a career I was happy with when I was struggling to figure out what it was I wanted to do with my life. If I never got a response to that email I sent all the way back in 2013, I'm not sure what I'd be doing right now, but I know for a fact I would be significantly less happy.
I don’t think I've ever seen another work environment that's like the one we've developed at P&P. We're all friends, we're all very close, we hang out outside of work. That's the only reason P&P has worked for so long, because there were times when it was so much work and not a lot of payoff. I think everybody felt like they were part of a special team, though. That is a big defining quality of what P&P is.
Eric Skelton (Contributing Editor)
Sometimes Jacob will send these long, late-night emails about his grand visions for the future and plans to change the world. Then right away, everyone else will jump in and add their own ideas. I never thought it was possible to get legitimately inspired by a work email thread until I joined this team. We’ve all bought in and we all care about P&P way more than just a job. We all want to leave an impact on the world in our own weird little ways.
Sarah Honda (Brand Manager)
P&P is about music discovery, but really the P&P brand is about people and human connection. So much of the landscape of today’s music industry isn’t about connection. It’s about anonymity, algorithms, and being alone. I’ve always felt that P&P wanted to connect with its audience on a really personal level via storytelling, news coverage, social media, video, and live events. In a world where you can turn on a Spotify playlist and call it a day, P&P wanted to give you something more human, more real. My favorite part about working with P&P was seeing the passion in the team. They really listen to the submissions. It’s inspiring.
Khal (Contributing Writer)
Being an old man, and working on the outskirts of the big hip-hop blog boom of the late 00's, I came across so many sites that were carbon copies of each other. Not only does P&P have the knack for discovering artists, they made sure to deliver these discoveries in different ways. Even with the same budget, I couldn't imagine other outlets dropping stuff like the "Evil Jinx" series, or any of the wild memes that have come from the site, be it All Michael Cera Everything or rappers' outstretched hands reaching towards a dog. It's obviously hilarious, criminally underrated, and so unique that no one else could possibly try to compete on that level.
Jon Tanners (Contributing Writer)
Pigeons & Planes has always been about capturing a certain kind of truth about artists. I think that's why P&P has endured as a brand, because there is a genuine love there. We were usually earlier on shit than most other people, and we had a perspective on it that gave people a way in to things that might otherwise be difficult to access. We were able to frame new artists in ways that made sense. That passion helped introduce people to new artists who they might not have otherwise given a chance.
At the very core of P&P's identity is trying to break the mold and making sure we don't get stuck in a rut. So when John Walaszek started emailing us fake movie script ideas and all these strange stories, we had a sense that he could help make us different.
John Walaszek (Social Media Manager, Content Strategist)
I was taking classes at The Second City and working at a call center in Chicago. I hated my job and spent most of my time there reading blogs. I don’t remember when I first found P&P, but I remember reading the five-year oral history and I was like, "Oh shit, that is a cool group of people, doing something cool.” So I sent Jacob an email called "Pitches and Planes." It was a list of like 10 ideas I had. I was rambling. But Jacob replied and he's just like, "Yes."
I never considered myself a great writer or anything, I just wanted to create things and entertain. So I was writing features pretty regularly, but kept throwing out different ideas and doing stuff that kind of opened up a new path. I was looking at the social accounts like, "We should share this on Twitter. We should tweet this picture with a caption.” That wasn’t really happening before on the Twitter account. It was just links and Jacob's random thoughts. We didn’t even have an Instagram account. I figured if we’re going to do music discovery better than everyone, we should do social media better than everyone too.
John's memes were a big turning point for us.
I remember seeing those memes where there’s a video clip, but you cut out someone's head and put it over another head. I was just like, “How? I have to be able to make these.” So I got a bootleg version of Photoshop and figured it out. The first one I made was Obama shaking Future's hand with Drake in the background. I was so proud of this wobbly GIF and I remember even Jacob was like, “Holy shit.” It was like cracking into this world of making content that wasn’t just a post on the site. These things would do numbers and hit into other levels of Twitter, not just the music discovery area.
The website had been at the core of everything for such a long time. But we saw how creative John was and he had all these ideas that didn't necessarily fit into the traditional web content format. We had done things that went viral before, like when we texted Drake lyrics to our exes. But even that was an editorial post that we put on the website. Understanding that social could be its own platform and its own tool was a vital realization.
P&P has always had such a great sense of humor, and we started bringing that to the socials. So we were doing more of the pictures with captions, and the GIFS, but the next logical progression was adding music. Whenever we found a song that was fun or had a memorable hook or whatever, we would try to make a little video out of it. The P&P Vine account is a classic. It’s still up there and I suggest everyone go and look, because there are some gems on there. The pig video was an iconic moment. I saw the pig on Reddit and was just like, “Here's this pig dancing, what's a funny song to put behind it? ‘Work.’" I just slapped two things together, but that video went viral and got over 40 million views on Facebook in two days. I remember Reese Witherspoon was posting it and BuzzFeed did a story on it. If you search it on YouTube, there are local news reporters talking about it. It was just like, “Wow, we can really reach anyone.”
After that we wanted to go viral every day. It sounds stupid and superficial, but it feels so good watching a tweet go off. So every day we would meet in the morning and be like, “Let’s go viral today” and try and come up with something. It’s addicting. I’m still chasing that pig video high.
At the time, I was editing all of these using GoPro's editing software. It’s extremely basic. I couldn't do a lot of the editing I wanted to, so all of that stuff was very raw. Then once I got real editing software the video memes evolved into longer-form stuff. The Future "Mask Off" one was really big and the Shawshank one with Kodak Black is one of my favorites. Or Young Thug "With Them" and Almost Famous.
I remember sitting in conference rooms with John, laughing until I'm crying. We've got a similar sense of humor and we’re usually on the same wavelength. At a point, I just realized, damn, this guy can come up with these crazy ideas every single day.
Jacob's always loved Michael Cera. So the whole P&P Michael Cera meme started with a post in 2015 called Rap Instagrams Reimagined With Michael Cera. We just took recent Instagram pictures from Rick Ross, Drake, and Young Thug, and put Michael Cera in them. We’ve always done random Photoshop posts. Like when Snapchat released the hot dog, we did Famous Album Covers But With the Snapchat Hot Dog. Before my time they did Famous Album Covers But Everyone Has Lorde's hair. Stuff like that has always been in P&P's blood.
One day we decided to put Michael Cera on rap album covers for a tweet and it went crazy. It was this huge thing. Then a month later I did another one and it still hit, so Jacob was like, "We should do a Michael Cera thing every week." I was getting kind of sick of it because we can do something like that and it will get ten thousand retweets and all these people are commenting, "This is hilarious, this is so funny, crying laughing emoji." But then there'll be one comment that's like, "Oh my god, this joke is dead." And that's the one that I'll remember. So I was like, “No, people are getting sick of this, we can think of better things than Michael Cera every week.”
But I remember Jacob told me, "If we do one every week, how funny would that be in a year to look back on? Like, yeah, sure people are going to get sick of it after weeks 18, 19, and 20, but then after week 30 they're going to come back around. They're going to be like, ‘Wow those P&P boys consistently did this shit.’” So we definitely ramped it up after that, and it’s taken on its own life within our community where people are expecting it from us when there's a big album cover that comes out. We did a Nicki Minaj one recently and she posted it. Then we did the Drake one and I know Jonah Hill liked it and started following us, so hopefully that's a step closer to getting Cera for something. We’ve heard he’s vaguely familiar with P&P so we have to get him for something. Once that happens, it'll be full circle. It'll be complete and I can retire the Cera memes.
One of the most important things about working for P&P is understanding the tone and understanding the mission. So even when John was coming with these interesting new ideas, we knew they would still fit into what we were trying to do. Even memes can help people discover music.
You can discover music through anything we do, even if it's a meme. There will be a song or reference in there that maybe you hadn’t heard before, so you’ll Google it and discover something new. If you go back to something like the Lil Pump "Movin" meme with the dog, Lil Pump was pretty unknown at the time. I remember Jacob showed me a picture of Lil Pump and it was just him with a machine gun in his mouth. I wanted no part of it at first. I was like, "Nope. This is where I draw the line, I'm not endorsing this." Then I heard "Movin," and I was like, “God dammit, this is cool. I gotta do something with this song.” The top replies to that meme are all like, "Who is this? What song is this?” That was the first exposure to Lil Pump for a lot of people.
The Desiigner “Panda” video was before he was on The Life of Pablo. He was just this New York rapper and Jacob was obsessed with “Panda.” I was like, “Yea this is catchy, let's put it behind some real pandas.” So we posted that and it went crazy. Mark Zuckerberg liked the video. Then Desiigner shows up on Kanye’s album. I’m not saying our video made “Panda” explode like it did, but it definitely introduced a lot of people to the song. Same with “Bad and Boujee,” “No Heart,” and “Mask Off.” All of those videos played a part in the viral success of those songs.
For me, it’s all such a fun way to help build the P&P brand. These things can get thousands of retweets and shares, or even posted by Kanye. And when something goes viral, it always brings in an influx of new followers. Then when they’ve followed the page, they’ll start discovering new music. So everyone's entertained and everyone's winning.
If Pigeons & Planes had ideas to extend the brand into real life, I worked to help make them happen. Start an international music discovery showcase series? No Ceilings has 30 shows, 1 tour, 11 US cities, and 5 shows in London. Make a music discovery zine? We created the No Ceilings zine that included artist-submitted work—illustrations, poetry, and photography. Produce an open mic night? We hosted a P&P Open Mic Night where 30 artists performed, with a line to get in that wrapped around the block. Make merch? P&P was able to launch multiple collections of t-shirts, hats, and fleeces over the years. One of my favorites was “Land/Sea/Air.” We also made a launch video/commercial for the new merch designs.
At SXSW 2014, Complex asked us to curate a Pigeons & Planes day at their house in Austin, which was super exciting. So we booked people we liked at this private house with a garden. We had Lunice, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q. Meg Myers, Dam-Funk, DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, and a few other people. Just seeing how well that went and how much the artists enjoyed it really lit a fire under us to start the No Ceilings concert series.
We've always wanted to support artists. What better way to do that than actually paying them money to play live and giving them a platform to perform their music to people? No Ceilings was an obvious next step.
The first No Ceilings show was in 2014. Al Damashek from Move Forward Music had reached out to us, like, "Hey, you guys have a strong brand, and you're always covering these new artists. I'm doing all these shows in New York, we should do something together.” We had already been thinking about doing more stuff offline, so the timing was perfect.
We put together a bunch of names who we were excited about for the first show. At that time we'd been covering ILoveMakonnen and this was right before Drake remixed “Tuesday.” So we were like, "Okay cool, this guy is quirky, making really interesting music, and he hasn't even played New York yet." His team was down, so we made it happen and got ILoveMakonnen.
Then after we announced the show, Drake remixed “Tuesday,” signed Makonnen, and invited him to go on tour. So suddenly the headliner for our first show couldn't perform anymore, which we totally understood. I mean, he had a chance to go tour with Drake, so no hard feelings, but it was definitely funny and kind of spoke to our scrappy DIY vibe. The show still went great, though. Pell, Daye Jack, Daytrip, and everyone who performed was awesome and the artists were happy. As soon as that first one was done we knew this had to become a series, then it grew from there.
No Ceilings started to become known as this place where you could discover new artists and see people perform for the first time. Pretty soon after we did the first couple shows, high level music industry people like Lyor Cohen, Kevin Liles, J. Cole, Danny Brown, Nigil Mack, El-P, and Dante Ross would show up—not even knowing all the artists sometimes, but just wanting to see who we're co-signing and if these kids can perform. It grew a reputation as a place to see the new talent in New York.
The environment of those shows was always really special to me, because it was full of people who genuinely wanted to give artists a chance and discover something new. I've been to so many shows where you're just sitting through the openers and no one cares, so everyone's talking. But I think No Ceilings had a really supportive community, just because of what Pigeons & Planes was known for and what these shows had come to represent. I saw fans actually paying attention to these artists that they'd never heard of, and then wanting to talk to them after the show. There was just a really good community that developed around it.
Before each No Ceilings show, Jacob was always like, "No one's going to show up. Nobody's going to come. It might be a disaster." I remember he was really worried about this show with Kevin Abstract, Allan Kingdom, London O'Connor, and Well$, but the turnout ended up being amazing. Kevin Abstract was doing solo stuff and was relatively unknown. Now Brockhampton is one of the biggest boy bands in America. That was a favorite memory of mine. It's just a testament to Jacob's good eyes and ears and taste.
The Noname show was cool because J. Cole showed up and watched, but my personal favorite might have been No Ceilings SXSW 2017. We had Denzel Curry, Jazz Cartier, Kodie Shane, Saba, A.CHAL, AJ Tracey, Kamau, SAINt JHN, and Jessie Reyez. Everyone was amazing, but Jazz went nuts. He climbed the rafters and rapped while hanging upside-down from the ceiling, then kicked a security guard in the face and a fight broke out. They turned on the lights and said, "Show's over." Then Denzel got on stage and said, "Fuck that, show's not over, I'm gonna go." It was crazy. That was a really cool moment.
Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins (Lead Video Anchor)
SXSW 2017 was one of the higher moments in my career—some of the most fun I've ever had working. If I was to describe it in detail, you'd probably be like, wow, these guys are derelicts. But that was a highlight. It was mad fun.
The Open Mic Night was amazing, too. We only did that one time, but I thought it was incredible. We connected with Arlene's Grocery and they wanted us to do No Ceilings there. We were thinking about it, but then we were like, "Maybe this is an opportunity to try out Open Mic Night."
We want to be accessible, we want to listen to new artists that nobody's listening to, and we don't care if you have a label, manager, or publicity. I think that ground level music discovery is just something I don't see very much in music anymore, especially from outlets that actually have a big platform. So I feel some responsibility to look out for New York artists and try to foster that kind of community where people can connect with other artists, and get in front of the right people.
We had very low expectations. We came hours early, just to make sure everything was cool, and there was a line wrapped around the block already. We talked to the kids in the front of the line and they had been there for like six hours. They came from Toronto, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and all these places. That was an amazing thing.
We wanted to highlight everything we had done with the No Ceilings shows so far, so me and Sarah came up with the idea to make a No Ceilings zine, which Jonathan then brought to life. That was one of the highlights of my P&P career. There's always something extra special about a physical object, something you can hold.
It's kind of beautiful that all the contributions in the zine are from the artists themselves or photos we took at our shows. That's what it's all about. It's not about some journalist giving their hot take. It's about the music, it's about the artists, it's about the community. That was fun to put together. We had some really cool contributions and great photos. It came out really well.
When it comes to merch, I’ve always wanted to do more collaborations with artists, designers, and other brands. We always wanted to have more than just the logo tees. I think the idea has always been: How do we make this cool, and not just make this lame advertising for the website?
Jonathan Fouabi (Art Director)
We had the logo tees going and that has its own appeal, but I had the desire to approach this as streetwear instead of something like, "Oh you like this website? Get a novelty mug or a novelty T-shirt.”
The first line we did was very much steeped in nostalgia. It had a '90s feel to it and this idea of peace came to me. I think I was mainly influenced by the social and political climate at the time, which is something that a lot of artists speak to in their music. So I figured, why not make something timely that also represented the brand? The first design was the peace plane icon, which was the conventional peace sign meshed with an airplane, which of course is very key to the Pigeons & Planes brand. Then in following collections, it took on a more punk vibe. It took on a more zine kind of aesthetic where the items made up this really cool tapestry that spoke to the brand overall.
To me, Pigeons & Planes represents giving a voice to the underground. For all the visuals I work on with P&P, the things that come to me are not completely polished. It always has some roughness to it. That's why you find that I use a lot of textures and I call on visual language from things that represent the DIY space.
As P&P got more involved with all these other things offline, we tried to make the website more engaging, too. Instead of just posting a bunch of mp3s and sharing the same news stories as everyone else, we started reaching out to the people who were directly involved with the stories we cared about. Every website and social media account can easily share Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” video when it comes out, but we tried to take a little extra time and talk to someone like his dance choreographer, instead. After a while, we realized we could help support behind-the-scenes creatives like music video directors, cover artists, meme-makers, music supervisors, and photographers—not just new artists. That was a fun realization.
Of course, P&P’s focus will always be music discovery, so we made an effort to make new artists introductions feel more special, too. Instead of immediately posting every song we find from new artists, we started to take more time and make sure they were introduced in ways that felt memorable.
We started asking, “What are we bringing to the conversation that's new? What do we actually enjoy and what do we want to cover?” That's been a very nice evolution. P&P is definitely a leaner operation now in terms of the amount of things we post, but we’re just waiting until we have something good to share it—not just vomiting up 250 word carbon copies of something you can find 12 other places.
I still kind of miss the days when I would find something and my immediate urge would be, "I want to share this, I want to talk about it." I miss being able to just throw something out, but I think social media has killed that. Once something is out, you can find it and listen to it straight on social media or YouTube or whatever. It made no sense to keep writing one-paragraph posts that just point people to a song. They don't need to go to the website for that.
So if we believe in an artist, how can we make something that people will look back on in two years and still be able to get something out of it? We wanted to start making our introductions to new artists special, so it’s like, "Oh shit, DRAM is huge now, but look at this first interview from way back then.” And it's not just, "Oh, here's ‘Cha Cha.’"
I think P&P is still one of the best sites around. It still is driven by the same principles and values that it had at the beginning, even as it’s had to adapt to new times. Now, playlists like Rap Caviar on Spotify have become incredibly meaningful to the way that artists break, but a playlist doesn't necessarily dictate a perspective. Pigeons & Planes still has a perspective. I think that's a very rare and vital thing.
"To me, Pigeons & Planes represents giving a voice to the underground. For all the visuals I work on with P&P, the things that come to me are not completely polished. It always has some roughness to it."
- Jonathan Fouabi (Art Director)
There was this big “pivot to video” movement throughout media, and Complex was already ahead of the curve there. They had been doing Complex News, and that initiative trickled down to us. We were excited to try something new, but we had no idea how quickly it would happen.
We knew something was going to happen in 2017, but we didn’t think it would happen, literally at the start of 2017. The new bosses told us, "the goal is to make a video every day, starting January 2. Get in that studio, just crank something out." Collectively, we had little to no experience.
We pushed to work with Jinx, who has great taste, gets our world, is very passionate, and has a lot of experience. So we were really lucky to work with him.
Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins
I found out about my new role with P&P in December 2016 and I was a little apprehensive about it. But Jacob and the gang made it super easy. I was like, ”Oh, these guys are like me.” Everyone there is super into music and really honest about their opinions. With them, it’s more about the craft, the art, and the storyline—and less about the other things that orbit music. They had a purist mindset about everything.
Imagine the dude's room in college who had mad stolen music. Then picture a whole team of that. That’s the P&P crew. So there's a lot of humor, there's a lot of internet know-how, and there's a lot of fandom that comes across. Then you put it all together, and you start to get this really weird mix of people that are going to make interesting daily videos.
I had already done videos every day with Complex News, being a part of getting their daily video operation off the ground. So I pretty much walked on set and was able to go. I came with a certain skill set, but they came with the right amount of a "fuck it" attitude that made everything work. It wasn't like, "Fuck it, we don't care." It was like, “Fuck it, why not?” I'd been doing it so long before that, I had kind of become a machine, but they brought creativity. They had ideas and we would just bounce them off of one another. It was like, alright, what won't Jinx do? What will Jinx do? What does he not know he'll do?
"With them, it’s more about the craft, the art, and the storyline—and less about the other things that orbit music. They had a purist mindset about everything."
- Brandon "Jinx" Jenkins (Lead Video Anchor)
One of my favorite things was being able to work with Jinx, because he's just down to try stuff. He had been doing Complex News for so long and he was so good at it. He could have easily just been, "No, this is how it works, this is what I do." But he would get excited about new ideas, too. We'd be like, "Oh shit, what if you had an evil alter-ego and you're wearing a cloak?" And we didn't have a cloak, so we took a curtain, and he's like, "Fuck it, I'll throw on a curtain." It just kinda worked out. It was just really creative, and everybody felt like they could add their piece.
The first P&P Update was written, shot, edited, and published that day. It was a green screen news piece about the breakout artists of 2017. The sound mix was questionable, our media was ripped from wherever we could find it, and Jinx was purplish. But we got better. Soon we were trying out scripted content, premiering songs, landing interviews, and occasionally breaking news. The fact we published a video every day for a year seems foolishly ambitious in retrospect, but we had a great team: Angel, Xavier, Kajal, Kenya, Jon A, Aneisha, Chuck, Raz, Justin, and of course Jinx quickly became part of the P&P family.
Kajal Patel (Video Director/Producer)
It was like P&P had adopted me. It's super difficult being a woman of color in this industry, so when I first got in the room, I was like, "Okay, a bunch of white guys and little old me." You hear all these horror stories, and I've experienced some of them myself before. You can really be undermined in this field. So at first, I won't even lie, I was nervous. At first I was even afraid to speak up, but they literally took me in. They taught me everything that I had to learn. Them giving me that platform to be able to express myself was really dope. That was a blessing because you don't always get the chance to speak up in a lot of places—especially not in one of your early roles in your career.
That was one of the most hectic times in the history of P&P, but there was also something magical about just going for it and knowing that this was a huge undertaking, but we could do it. We wanted to do it in our way, and try new things. We didn't want to just copy Complex News.
Once we realized that our audience was small and nobody was really watching the videos yet, we decided, why not get weird? Let's start doing some skits and sketches. We were still making artist profiles and experimenting with animation, but the high turnover rate forced us to get creative. The “Cooking with Amine” video that John and I made was an early indication that we could make weird, unique content with a little time and a simple idea.
I started looking over scripts and trying to figure out ways to add the P&P sense of humor to stuff. So we added things like the “on the scene” reporter, and the conspiracy videos. Then I started writing sketches, like “Good Jinx/Evil Jinx,” and “Jinx is Addicted to Migos.” It's always about balance with P&P, so for every few videos we did that showed new artists or reported news, we also figured out a way to take something and make it funny.
Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins
My favorite P&P content was usually the stuff John would do. I think John might be the funniest person in this office. Having comedic timing—I didn't even know that was something we could do in this building the way he was doing it. So that opened up a whole other layer. My favorite moment was when he got P&P kicked off Twitter and he had to figure out what to do with his day.
I think Jinx hated me at first. He would knock out three legit, informative news scripts in a row, and then I’d come in like, “Okay, now put on this cloak and talk like a demon.” He came around eventually, and he likes me now. I think.
P&P has done a lot of great things over the years, whether it’s breaking new artists, shining the light on untold stories in the music industry, providing advice for young artists, or Michael Cera memes, but the best thing P&P has ever done is the "Jinx is Addicted to Migos” skit.
There's one video that's just called, “How Smart Are Dolphins?” and it's just so weird. It doesn't make any sense and it doesn't really have anything to do with music, but I just thought it was cool that we could still try stuff like that. I love that video. We would kind of push it a little bit, quietly put it out, and wait for one of the higher-ups at Complex to be like, "Guys, what the fuck are you doing?" But it didn't happen, so we were like, "Oh, let's take it a little further."
Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins
Oh, man. The dolphin video that everyone likes—I still don't get it. People stop me and tell me about it. And I'm just like, "Jesus Christ, is that my lasting impact in the world of YouTube?"
Jinx’s lasting impact in the world of YouTube will be the dolphin video.
After hitting our goal of 100,000 YouTube subscribers, we scaled back our video release schedule for 2018. Less updates, more short docs. But those first few months were unforgettable, even if it meant late nights working towards a final cut. I still think some of our best work is the dumb stuff like "Jinx Didn't Show Up For This P&P Update" and Jessie Reyez's dolphin interview.
With every video we did, we learned what worked and what didn't work, which forces you to learn quickly and adapt. I think we always knew, honestly, that what we could do best is identify talent and then tell the artists’ story. The Trippie Redd Music Life video was an early success. With each of those short artist video profiles, we got better.
I remember Billie Eilish invited us into her home during her shoot.