What You Should Be Listening To: The Black Pumas

What should you be listening to? The obvious answer is The Black Pumas and their self-titled debut album. If you like soul, R&B, and beats with a little dash of retro, then this is the album for you. Formed in the music hotbed of Austin, Texas, The Black Pumas feature the silky-smooth vocals of Eric Burton and the guitar and production work of Adrian Quesada.  

Why do I love this album? The Black Pumas are expert at taking established ingredients such as gospel, blues, and funk, and then mixing them together in a way that sounds contemporary and fresh, rather than just looking back to the past. The first two tracks—”Black Moon Rising” and “Colors”—will give you a clear taste of what you’re in for. “Colors,” which is the album’s most popular track so far, dips its toes into socially conscious lyrics without being too heavy-handed or preachy: 

With all my favorite colors 
All my favorite colors 
My sisters and my brothers see them like no other 
All my favorite colors 
It’s good day to be, a good day for me, a good day to see my favorite colors 
My sisters and my brothers, they see them like no other 
All my favorite colors

That is a message I am more than ready to hear on repeat. 

Another cool thing about this record? Unexpected covers of well-known songs. The first is a dope and completely unexpected remake of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” Given how unique Chapman’s voice sounds, I have always considered her major hit to be uncoverable. Eric Burton proves me wrong in incredible fashion—if you now the original, you must hear this dazzling version. Next, The Black Pumas verge into Beatles territory, covering the Paul McCartney classic “Elenore Rigby.” I have no words for how good this cover is: it substitutes the mournfulness of the original for soulfulness.  

More importantly, if you need to update your personal theme music—the entrance music that play whenever you walk into a room—there are many options here. (My current choice is “Fire.”) 

This album gets 5 out of 5 chicken wings. 

Dr. Chuck Rybak

Chuck Rybak is the Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he teaches literature and creative writing. He is the cohost of the Canonball podcast.

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