DJ, Play It Back
In this episode of YR’s Adult ISH podcast, Nyge Turner explores the role of music in developing his world view. Featuring producer Kuya Beats, affiliated with the nationally-known Bay Area hip-hop group the HBK Gang.
It’s no secret that Adult ISH host Nyge Turner is way into music. In this episode, we explore the songs and artists that shifted his worldview – what he used to jam to, what he listens to now. Plus, a conversation with music producer Oliver Rodriguez, aka Kuya Beats, whose work as a member of the nationally-known Bay Area hip-hop group the HBK Gang was part of Nyge’s soundtrack growing up.
Adult ISH is produced by YR Media and brought to you by PRX’s Radiotopia. Be sure to follow all our socials @yrAdultISH!
Dominique: Welcome to Adult ISH produced by YR Media and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX.
I’m your host, Dominique French, teaming up with Nyge Turner this week.
Most people can hear a song, close their eyes and fall back into the exact time and place they first heard the opening chords. From a very young age. Nyge Turner was one of those people. Nearly every moment in his life was musically bookmarked with a track that could take him instantaneously back. The songs he listened to made him the man he would one day become. And this episode is the story of the music that made him, with a special appearance by an idol he met along the way.
When Nyge was just a little boy. At the end of each day, he lay his head down for a night of restful sleep. Cozy and warm, but not too warm. He slumbered until his eyes fluttered open the next morning, ready to start the day anew. Every day that is, except one. The dreaded, cold, no good, very early, deeply rotten Saturday morning. But I’ll let him tell you about that.
Nyge: I’m eight years old and every Saturday morning I wake up to my dad blasting music on his sound system and saying the words that haunt me to this day. That’s right, baby. Get up, get up. Get up. Let’s do it. To most people, this might sound like a happy way to wake up on the weekend, but only a select few of us know exactly what that means.
I spring out of bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, and immediately start sweeping the floor so my brother can mop up after me. Yeah, Saturdays are always for cleaning and I hate it. I sweep up the floor with a mean mug on my face, but keep my head down so my dad won’t see it. After sweeping, I start on washing dishes. And every time, without a doubt, something changes. That mean mug starts to fade away and I start dancing.
Because even though I hate all this cleaning, my guy Prince is on. I love me some Prince, man. So much so that I know every word to the whole album “Musicology.” “Oh, somebody’s not mad anymore,” my dad says, as I stand at the ledge of the fireplace, sing my heart out into a can of Pledge wood polish. I never really fell in love with any music before Prince. Prince just spoke to my soul.
One day I come home from a long day of third grade. They just introduced us to something called timetables. And I got a grass stain on my FUBU jersey. So it’s safe to say things are not going great today, but my mom has a smile on her face, the hallway home, and doesn’t say a word. I don’t know what, but something’s up. I walk in the house and my dad is just standing right by the door. Did you tell him?
Tell me what? I look at my mom who can barely contain herself. Then I look at my brother who can honestly care less. So I know. Whatever it is, it’s just for me. My mom pulls out her purse, a CD from Best Buy and hands it to me. It’s “Musicology.” Yo!! I thank my parents and I run to my CD player. But right as I open it, a single ticket falls out. It’s a concert ticket to see Prince and Larry Graham live at the Oracle Arena, the biggest venue in Oakland. To this day, I don’t know how my little chicken legs held me up because this was one of the biggest moments of my life so far. I start to cry and hug my parents and I can’t stop saying thank you. “Thank you! Thank you! I’m going to see Prince live!”
That concert changed my life. It changed the way that I thought about music, the way that I viewed art and culture, and even the way that I viewed the people around me. I’ve been in movie theaters before and water shows and amusement parks, but seeing someone that I didn’t know at all dancing and singing their heart out to the same songs that moved through my body and spoke to my soul gave me a sense of community and reach I had never understood before. Prince made 20,000 people move and feel together as one. He made time stand still as we all moved together.
Now I’m in the ninth grade and I’ve fallen in love with many albums since “Musicology.” And by this point, I’m even trying to make my own music. Every Wednesday and Thursday after school, I run to my friend Miguel’s house to make music in his basement. He has a whole studio down there with thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and I don’t know why I never ask how he got it before. But one day it finally occurred to me that this wasn’t normal. Ask Miguel how his family got the studio down there, and he explained that his dad was in a really famous band and he built the studio himself. I thought that was dope, but I figured I had never heard of the band before by the way he said it. But a couple of days later, his dad came to help us engineer a session and give us a few pointers. We ended up having a three hour jam session down there, and in the middle of writing a verse I looked at the wall and saw an award Miguel’s dad won with his band from back in the day. His band was The Revolution. Like Prince and The Revolution! This whole time, I’ve been making music with Prince’s band member and didn’t even know.
Dominique: Prince was only the start of Nigel’s musical influences over the years. There was Lauryn Hill, of course, and Chance the Rapper. Erica Badu. Andre 3000. Anthony Hamilton. Childish Gambino. And many more. Most of them I would never meet in person. But there was one musical influence he’d grow up to not only meet, but work with and eventually befriend. That person is Oliver Rodriguez, a.k.a. Kuya Beats. He’s a member of the Bay Area hip-hop group HBK Gang, which was part of Nyge’s soundtrack growing up. Kuya has worked with artists like Ty Dolla Sign, and now he works at YR Media with Nyge.
(Poss music break)
Nyge: So, Kuya, can you introduce yourself and what you do in your own words?
Kuya: My name is Kuya. I’m a music producer and a noisemaker.
Nyge: I like that. Noisemaker is very cool. The first time I ever heard your music, Kuya, I was in the seventh grade and a lot of it was really pivotal for me. Then fast forward years later, I start working at YR and I get the pleasure of working with you every day. But when I first started working here, that was wild for me, like getting to know you because I knew you as Kuya Beats. Was that weird for you? Or like, when I walked in or when I knew about your music and stuff like that, were you like, “Oh, here we go. Another fan.”
Kuya: Just being a music producer and just being a musician, your mind is always focused on the next project. It’s kind of a very, ‘what have you done for me lately’ type situation. So I kind of forget that some of the stuff actually happened, you know? And I’m just like, “Oh, yeah, I remember that,” because I’m so kind of like, you know, zoomed in on the next thing. It’s just, it’s amazing that, like, I get to, like, make music that people connect with. And it’s always fun to like — I always really like to talk to folks who, like, enjoy my music, cause I just want to know. Really I’m longing for connection. And when people connect with my music, it’s just really awesome to, like, talk to them and get to know what their story is, get to know who they are, because it gives me a better like scope of how to like, make music. It’s always funny because it’s like it always comes back to like, just connection. It always comes back to me just wanting to, like, genuinely know people that I interact with.
Nyge: On this episode, we’re taking a look back to the music that shaped us and a lot of our early life. What music would that be for you?
Kuya: I grew up in a Filipino household, so karaoke was the thing that we, you know, we just embraced so many different genres of music. I think some of my favorite memories are singing songs like The Stylistics and early, early 80s music to like late 70s music like the Bee Gees. You know, my mom, my my dad, they came from the Philippines and they brought to them, you know, the gaze of the American music scene at that moment. So me and my brother are sitting in back seats like listening to like the Bee Gees and listening, you know, and really singing our hearts out, you know. You know, P-Lo will attest to that as well. But my, my parents were big fans of music. That’s probably the most visceral experience of music that I’ve had.
Nyge: Who was like, who was that one artist for you that you like kind of really cling to? That shaped a lot of the way that you look at music. Because like for me, it would probably be Prince. That was like the first artist I really connected to, the first person I was like, “Yo, I need to go to Best Buy and cop that album” was Prince.
Kuya: Oh man. This Jon B. album was like such a pivotal album for me. It kind of blended all of like the different elements of music that I really was clinging to at that moment in time. And, you know, but I remember the song here with Tupac and like, it’s subconsciously in my brain. Something clicked and I was like, “Oh, snap. Like, this is amazing. This is like R&B music!”
Nyge: Can you describe Jon B. for people who don’t know who Jon B. is?
Kuya: Jon B. is like — man, he’s like Baby Face’s prodigy. Baby Face is like one of the best songwriters/producers out there. For some reason, it just — it clicked with me and it was just such a weird — I mean, I’m in the sixth grade with this, maybe fifth or sixth grade, at this moment. And I’m resonating with somebody who’s talking about like the most grown subjects. And I’m just like, “Man, this is so cool.” Like — and I don’t even know why it was cool, but it was just like it appealed to all of my senses. Like, sonically, you know, emotionally. I’m like, dang, this is crazy. I think that was — I think the album might have been “Cool Relax.” But I remember wanting to buy that album so bad.
Nyge: When did you start taking music seriously? Like, when did you realize I could kind of turn this into a career?
Kuya: Hmm. You know, it never dawned on me, you know, that that music could have been like an option. I grew up in an immigrant household where your, your level or your marker of success was really, you know, being in the medical field of some sort, whether you’re a nurse or a doctor or being an engineer or some very sort of utilitarian experience as a, as a person coming to the United States.
And I think that was very much shaped by my mom’s experience and my dad’s experience coming to the U.S. For me, thinking of music as like an actual way of like, making money and a living was just like the furthest thing from my, from my purview. I think it was interesting because, you know, when I went – I actually started attending Youth Radio back in 2004, I started making music there and I kept making music throughout my — the other jobs that I held as an educator. But I never really thought of music as one of those things that could be the main thing that I’m doing. And lo and behold, that’s the thing now, you know. And it’s the thing that people are like, looking to me for. Taking it seriously, man – it really happened probably around 2011, 2010.
Nyge: Okay. Your first, your first placement is the song called “Reached the Top” off the album, “Nerd’s Eye View” by a big artist from the Bay named Kevin Allen, formerly known as Erk Tha Jerk. How did that happen?
Kuya: Oh, man. At the time, I was producing for a friend of mine named Sudan Williams also YR alum. And well, we had known Erk for a couple of years because he had produced for a couple of our friends named The Diligence. He’s a little — Erk was a little older than us and he was doing it huge. You know, and still is doing it big. He had reached out to us, I think. I think he had heard Iamsu!’s “Young California.” And for some way, we got connected with, with Kevin through just being around and just, you know, he was from Richmond. We were — the majority of HBK was from Richmond. Yeah, it was, it was one of those things where he was just like, “Yo, I need help finishing up my album.” And we were just like. “Man. That’s cool, man. Hopefully you find some producers that like, really, you know… You really don’t, you know, you’re not asking us to do this.”
Kuya: But he was, you know, and it was it was such a cool experience working with him.
Nyge: Kevin Allen was one of the — was one of the first rappers from like Richmond at the time that even rapped like that to me. Like when, when “Nerd’s Eye View” came out, I was like, “Yo, like this dude is from where I’m from, he’s actually talking about it, but like actually talking about all these things. And music I can really connect to.”
Kuya: Mm hmm. I’m really emotional. I’m really introspective. And I usually try to make those kind of records for artists. Whenever I produce, it’s usually a really introspective perspective of like, what I’m really trying to get people to talk about. Like, usually you’re not coming to Kuya Beats for, like, the most — you’re not coming to me for the radio hit. For the most part, whenever people come to me, it’s because they want to kind of get a little deeper. (Nyge: Some soulful.) Yes. You know, some stuff that you really can kind of, like, talk about. And to me, like, all the like, the songs that I’ve placed, if they’re not like super introspective songs, they’re songs that really try to address the feelings of folks. But that record in particular, people were like, “Yo, bro, that just hit me differently.” Then that sample is just so infectious. As soon Erk I heard it, he was like, “Man, like, I need this. Like I want this.” Like, I remember he wrote a whole record that night. And it was, it was such a cool experience for me to just see somebody be so inspired. And usually I try to come in as inspired as I possibly can. But for the most part, I’m really trying to inspire the artist to go into a different spot. Like, “Yo, I want, I want to go into this back room of my mind that I, I never went to.”
Nyge: Now, this is, this is a song and an artist you probably get asked about a lot. Can you tell me about how the, how the Ty Dolla Sign song ended up working out?
Kuya: This Ty Dolla Sign song I heard this Tweet record that I really just was like blown away by and I was like, “Man, like, we should just — I just want to loop this and just, like, have people write rap over this.” You know, I just looped it. I think it was like an eight bar loop. And I was just like, “You know, this is just, like, immaculate. Like, I could just loop this forever and this could be just an entire song. And, you know, I’d be happy with my life.” Playing it for Su and he just went into this bag of just like, you know, like he just wrote this the most meaningful record about his girlfriend at the time. Me and Su actually can’t swim. So it was like a running joke that whenever we would go on vacation or anything like that, like, “Yo, You know, like get life jackets for me and Su because you can’t swim!” You know? And then it ended up being a line that, you know, on the record that really kind of like stamped that record and kind of like gave people the, the metaphor for, like, trusting somebody. We, we cut the record that night. We cut it in Pinole and we had sent over a bridge section. He re-interpolated the bridge section and he just added his verse to it. And we were like, “Who’s that playing the sax at the end?” And he’s like, “Oh, that’s just Terrace Martin.” And Terrace Martin is known for working with Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly.” You know, all these just incredible like projects — like happening right around the same time. So it was just like super awesome for that to kind of come about. And Su and — Su and Ty were really locked in at that moment, like we had been kickin it with them at South by Southwest, you know, shout out to Ty Dolla Sign and Su, man.
Nyge: Another, another one of your songs that that really stuck with me too – the “09 Outro” of “The Miseducation of Iamsu!” That song really just felt like a — it was just a really pivotal, pivotal song for me, for sure. What inspired you behind that? Behind that beat?
Kuya: I remember making that beat during one of my class breaks. I remember playing it for Su and Su heard the beat and was like, “Yo, I need that.” And it’s funny because it’s like at this point, Su was really trying to prove himself as a rapper. He was kind of — he kind of had the radio hit, and then we were like, “Okay, we’re going to like completely throw people for a loop and just drop an all-rap mixtape.” So it was like “Miseducation of Iamsu!” was kind of like the proverbial middle finger to like everybody who was trying to, like, box him in as like a one-hit wonder. We really wanted to show his lyrical acumen at that moment. Like we weren’t tripping off, like having, you know, or being the most poppin’. We were just making music just for creativity and just trying to push ourselves to the limit.
Nyge: For sure. Do you think that technology and TikTok is affecting the music industry now?
Kuya: I think it’s — You know, I like TikTok because it just gives an opportunity for a song to go viral. It kind of takes away the gatekeeping of some of like — of what kind of existed back in the day. Like, you know, where it’s like you kind of had to have a label budget or you had to have a radio budget. You can have a song go viral on TikTok and you not be cognizant of it going crazy. But it is — it does make the pool so much wider, which, you know, kind of makes it hard for folks to break out. There’s, there’s a little bit of that double-edged sword where it’s just like, “Yeah, you get trapped in TikTok hit.” Or you are — you’re so concerned about trying to break through the TikTok hit that you don’t actually go through your creative iteration because you’re so concerned about like, “Okay, let me get the next viral thing.” Or instead of sort of creating from the space of just like vulnerability in the space of just like, “You know what, let me just go out there.” Like, I think it kind of focuses a lot more on the utility of of creativity versus just like the idea of creativity being just this form of expression for yourself.
Nyge: Do you think people’s music tastes can shape life paths or vice versa?
Kuya: Can, can music shape life paths?
Kuya: I believe so. I don’t know. I think music is such a weird form of escapism. Like, not escapism in the way that it’s just like, “I’m just trying to, like, not deal with my issues.” It’s a way for you to, like, re-imagine things, like just reimagining what a business person looks like, listening to a Jay-Z album or a Nipsey Hussle album. Like listening to that and hearing the business acumen in their raps was always kind of like an interesting way for me to think — rethink about what business people look like. You know, you think business people, you’re like, “Oh, you know, white picket fence, you know, suburban home.” You listen to somebody like Jay-Z or somebody like Nipsey, they’re talking about ownership. They’re talking about cutting out like expenses in your, in your budget, you know. So to me, it’s just like, it makes sense for me to re-imagine music for how I approach my own experience. And it’s deeper than just dancing. It’s deeper than just getting out the frustrations of the day. Sometimes music really allows you to understand the world around you.
Nyge: I know we’ve been talking about a lot of, you know, lighthearted questions this whole interview. But I probably have one of the like deepest, heavy-hitting questions for you. (Kuya: Sure.) As the final question. (Kuya: Sure.) You’re a dad. You’re a father of two. (Kuya: Mm hmm.) I was wondering your thoughts on artists like The Wiggles (laughs.) Or any other kid music. Like, who’s your favorite? Like, is Baby Shark like, one of your — one of your favorites? Like, what’s your go to?
Kuya: No, you know what it is?
Nyge: What your kids go to?
Kuya: You know, my, my son — particularly my son, James. He’s really into Daniel Tiger. And I really, I really love Daniel Tiger, too.
Nyge: Daniel Tiger.
Kuya: Mm hmm. And it’s, you know, it’s the spin-off of — shout out to PBS, but it’s the spin-off of Mr. Rogers. But Daniel Tiger is kind of the main character instead of Mister Rogers. But his, his parents come up with a song for every situation. It’s amazing. So, you know, when we — you know, when parents got to go to work; you know, if you’re feeling frustrated, I can just sing and I get to sing it to him. And it’s great because he loves music and I’m just like, you know, one of the best ones is like, “Man, you can choose to be kind.” That’s so dope. Like, instead of me yelling at him, I’ll just be like, “You know what, man? Remember, you can choose to be kind. Daniel Tiger tapped in and told you, man, you can be kind.” And he just goes back to doing it. And I’m like, “Oh yeah.” (laughs)
Nyge: But he thought about it like, “Yo, he did say that…”
Kuya: “But he did say that. But I’m still going to continue to do this!” Daniel Tiger is probably — oh and Backyardigans. You know, when Castaways kind of went viral, me and my son went down the rabbit hole of Backyardigans music. I love it because he, you know, he gets a different taste of all kinds of music.
Nyge: Backyardigans have been having hits for a minute now. (Kuya: For a minute!) Like they – Backyardigans are – they are the truth.
Kuya: And the thing is, I missed that. I was you know, I’m a 90s kid, so I kind of wish I would have grown up with the Backyardigans, bro. They were getting crackin in the backyard, bro.
Nyge: Thank you. Thank you for coming on the show. It’s always, always a pleasure, Kuya. We got to catch up outside of this. (Kuya: We’re done??) Yeah, I know.
Kuya: We’re finished? That’s it? No needles. Okay, cool. We’re good. Shout out to the Adult ISH squad!
Dominique: To this day, Nyge’s connection with music flows through his everyday life, creating an orchestra of much needed cheer, a sonic shoulder to cry upon or a familiar friend chiming in for a celebration. Nyge, Kuya, and so many of you carry the songs of your parents,,, ancestors and even friends with you in your heart, beating, rumbling, making you who you are.
Adult ish is produced by YR Media, a national network of young journalists and artists creating content for this generation. Our show is produced by Georgia Wright, Nyge Turner and me, Dominique French.
Our executive producers are Ray Archie and Rebecca Martin.
Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR:
Christian Romo, Anders Knutstad, and Jacob Armenta.
Music direction by Oliver “Kuya” Rodriguez and Maya Drexler.
Art for this episode by Brigido Bautista. Art direction by Marjerrie Masicat. Creative direction by Pedro Vega, Jr.
Special thanks to Eli Arbreton (Are-burr-ton), and Galnadgee (gahn-uh-dee) Joe-Johnson.
We are also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX, an independent listener-supported collective of some of the most amazing shows in all of podcasting. Find them at Radiotopia.fm. And if you haven’t reviewed our show on Apple podcasts, please be sure you do. Five stars is much appreciated.
You can follow us on all the socials @yradultish and on that note, we will see y’all later.