My Page: The Black Pumas’ Adrian Quesada ‘Turn Tables and a Microphone’
photo credit: Rickie Lee Young
Since my formative years, hip-hop has influenced everything that I’ve done, musically. I listened to rock-and-roll and all kinds of other music when I was growing up, but hip-hop was the style that completely blew my mind. There’s so much about it—the whole art form of people sampling records felt almost like folk music mixed with high art. It was like, “Look around, grab whatever you can and make some music.”
When I first started getting into hip-hop, the East Coast sound was probably my biggest influence—especially The Native Tongues, which was A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Black Sheep and The Jungle Brothers. Producer-wise, I was influenced by Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest—Q-Tip is an amazing producer who isn’t always mentioned in the same sentence as these other producers. Pete Rock was also a huge producer who was a big influence on me, and, recently, my band Black Pumas got to work with him. And then, it eventually shifted over to the West Coast. Cypress Hill and DJ Muggs’ production on that stuff was—and still is— a massive influence on me.
When hip-hop started, it was just turntables and a microphone. But, New York, at that time, was the intersection of so many cool things— everything from disco to punk. There was a convergence of all of these styles, and the way that hip-hop was produced—this manipulation of sound, this collage of ideas—felt like one of the biggest musical advancements that had ever happened. And it happened on the streets of New York.
Of course, I didn’t grow up near any sort of hip-hop culture—I had a very different upbringing on the border of Texas and Mexico. I learned about hip-hop through MTV, but I could relate to the idea that hip-hop was a form of “outsider art.”
So hip-hop inspires everything that I do and, of course, has influenced the biggest pop artists in the world. The influence of hip-hop certainly crept into my new album, Boleros Psicodélicos as well. Even though I was making an all-Spanish-language album inspired by old music, I still feel like it came full circle and has a prominent hip-hop influence.
When the pandemic happened, it was the first time that I actually had some free time to start a new project. Black Pumas were supposed to be on tour for most of 2020 and, like everyone else in the world, I suddenly saw my calendar completely clear up. And, during those first few months of COVID, nobody had any plans. We all picked up hobbies, and I started working on this album of psychedelic boleros.
I didn’t have to wake up early to take the kids to school; I could stay up as late as I wanted to, and I just felt super inspired and began cranking out hip-hop beats. And, eventually, those morphed into full songs. When I am working on a new project, having a concept in mind will always help me finish it, and I was listening to a lot of these psychedelic boleros from the early ‘70s. So I started dissecting a couple of them as an exercise. Sometimes I’ll do that—I’ll record a cover of something just to dissect it and build it back up. But then, as I honed that concept a bit more, everything began to feel a little exhausted and I started feeling a bit depressed—just like everyone else probably did around that time. But, eventually, I found that turning back to this project was actually keeping me sane.
While I was working on Boleros Psicodélicos, there were very specific moments where I was like, “Let’s put some hip-hop production on this,” even though hip-hop isn’t something that you’d expect to hear mixed in on a boreros album. My favorite sounding drums are the ones that are sampled, so I always make sure that my drums have that sound. I like to create some of those happy accidents that can happen with sampling. You create a loop and, every time that loop comes back around, there is a chance that a little artifact from the last sound has crept in or that something will loop and cut off. That creates this super unique sound that you wouldn’t normally come up with. It is like with Black Pumas—the goal is to make your head nod like a hip-hop album. Everything has to have that bounce.
Adrian Quesada has worked with Eric Burton as Black Pumas since 2017. His new ATO release, Boleros Psicodélicos, features collaborations with Puerto Rican vocalist iLe, Colombian-American soul artist Gabriel Garzón-Montano, Mexican R&B star Girl Ultra, Virginia-bred singer Angelica Garcia, Guatemalan singer-songwriter and guitarist Gaby Moreno, New York guitarist Marc Ribot and Beastie Boys keyboardist Money Mark.