Pablo The Don dominates our fyp and I wouldn't have it any other way. They've carved out a space for Black and Queer voices on the app talking all things music and their new podcast The Back Catalog details the careers of musicians you need to know and the ones you already love. We talked to Pablo about the podcast, career detours, and of course, Tik Tok.
I want to know how did you get started in music in general? What is your first memory of being like, "Oh, this is my thing?"
Pablo: I majored in broadcast journalism, and I had a professor in my intro to journalism class. And I told him that I really loved music, and I felt like music journalism was something I wanted to pursue, but little did I know that he had actually been a writer for Rolling Stone for 20 years before he became a professor. So I was sitting in his office hours, and I was just telling him like, "I don't know what to do about it. I don't know how to pursue it, but I love music a lot." And he was just like, "I don't know what exactly it takes, but I know when I see someone who has the it factor." And he was like, "You have that, and someone else saw that in me when I was coming up. I was a journalist, and they hired me at Rolling Stone to write for them. And I don't know what it is, but you have it, so you should pursue it in any avenue you can, and it'll work out eventually. You'll be something in this space." And from that moment on, I was just like, "You know what? I think this is what I want to pursue." And I ended up taking a couple of detours before everything happened on Tik Tok, but that's pretty much where it started where I knew that this was something-- whether I had to come back to it or just pursue it outright, it was something that I wanted to do for forever.
I feel like people don't understand that there are so many detours to getting to where you are in your career, and it's not like you graduate college, then you just get your dream job. I feel like everyone's like, "Yeah. I'll graduate college, and then I'll just get the job that I want."
Pablo: No, I've done so much other stuff that literally is nothing that I want to do. What people don't know is, right before TikTok took off, I was reporting on homicide in D.C. and doing hard news and was talking about music on the side. I worked at so many different publications where I contributed for free that now are defunct. So I had to legit start my entire music career over, and that's why nobody can really see anything that I've ever written because all those platforms are just gone. Just not even existent, or they've pivoted so hard that they deleted all the old content. I had to start fresh brand-new, and over from that point after, I started writing about homicides and stuff.
I worked for this company writing 12 articles a day on music news, and they went bankrupt and didn't pay us for the last month that we were working there. So I definitely get that. Tell me how your Tik Tok started. How did that take off?
Pablo: I was just poking around during the pandemic, just seeing what was out there. I saw music commentators, but they were all white men. And I was like, "Man, there's a space for me being Black, being Queer. There's a space for me here where I can offer many different perspectives on music and just give my opinion based on all the intersections that I feel like I have in the world." And so I spent a long time poking around, trying to get everything together. I studied so hard about how TikTok worked and the algorithm, and how to get pushed, and what kind of content I need to make, and how to make it as interesting and as engaging as possible. I downloaded TikTok in March. I didn't get on the app until November and then I posted some videos. I would post every day, five times a day, just random things trying to see if it worked. But I picked music as my niche straight off the bat, and I think that's what honestly changed it for me. I struggled for a while, and then I had one video just absolutely blow up where they were ranking a bunch of random women who sing and I got a bunch of followers. Then I made the stupid mistake of taking a three-week break after that. So nothing happened for me for a long time. Then back in February, I stitched this video that asked people to name their no-skip albums. I think within that one minute that I had, I rattled off over 50 albums that I thought had no skips. And I just blew up from there, and then it kept going more and more viral. I've had periods where I just don't grow for a couple of weeks or months, and then it'll just keep exploding at random points in time. That's pretty much how it all happened. It was a happy accident, I supposed, but also calculated at the same time.
I think that's the video where I found you too. It was the no-skip albums one, now that I'm looking back on it.
Pablo: I think that's the one that most other people who made music commentary followed me from.
It's such a great app, but it is so annoying how you have to post every day. I just think there's going to be this whole weird wave, especially for younger people who are having to post every day on Tik Tok. I think it's going to be really self-destructive later.
Pablo: It is. It has definitely taken a toll on me, which is why I'm trying to shift over to podcasting. I think that the way that it has affected me-- it's not necessarily negative, but it's made me realize how much of a vacuum that Tik Tok is at the same time.
It really is kind of to me, the epitome of social media because the highs are really high, and the lows are really low.
Pablo: I don't know how to put it. Because there definitely is a science to the algorithm. But at the same time, it's so random in what it decides to allow people to see. I suppose you could say it is random but not like-- you can post the same video on three different days, and they will have three wildly different reactions.
Back to what you said about seeing mostly white male music commentators. And I think I saw one of your Tik Toks about how. And that's always been kind of to me as the industry norm. It's always been like the Pitchfork boys. It's so refreshing to see all of your takes on music because I know I comment this on your Tik Tok all the time, but you never miss.
Pablo: I think that's probably one of the most pressure-filled things. Because well, it really is, and I don't mind people saying that, but I just know there's going to be a day that I do. But on the bright side, I think the key to that is I run a lot of my content through people that I trust to clock me before I post it. If I know it might rattle some feathers or shake some people; then I ask people to take a look at it first before I just post it out there. It's not that I don't ever want to be wrong because I have to hold myself accountable on that app. But at the same time, I just want to put it in a way that gets people to understand it the most. Even though I know people are going to misconstrue it no matter what, I don't want to have it's so wrong that my platform gets taken away. Because I know that also with all the intersections that I have, if people decided that they wanted to cancel me, I would be gone in two seconds. I'm not a white man. So, I try my best to make sure I'm only posting things that I am very staunch in my opinion on, and I've gotten people to review it first. But I mean, I'm not going to lie. I feel like I really haven't missed yet.
Well, and music is subjective, so I think it's definitely like people see where you're coming from.
Pablo: I hope people do see where I'm coming from. I know not everyone will because trolls exist on the internet. I do think as long as one to two people really understand and learn from what I'm saying, then I'm truly fine and happy with that. I really am.
Tell me how you shifted into the podcast and why you wanted to do that.
Pablo: I ended up being in TikTok purgatory for a while. I think it's weird because as much as they push a lot of creators that educate on social issues, they also restrict us to especially for Black people. I think for a minute there, I had spoken out too much on pressing issues, which sucks because those are also my opinions. I feel like they're important for people to hear from me, especially on certain things, because I do realize that I can't just be silent on a lot of things. But because of that, Tik Tok really hit me hard with the shadow banning. I just was kind of over it. The funny part is, I don't think people realize that when I made that-- when I said I was possibly leaving the app and I was making the podcast announcement, and it was coming out that Monday, I had no idea what I was going to do. I didn't have any of the content planned. I didn't have a name. I had made none of the artwork. I kind of just did that. I put the pressure on myself and bet on myself to come up with a name or concept and artwork and the Instagram all in a day and a half. And I don't know how I did it, but it worked. I spent the next two weeks just perfecting everything, starting all the accounts I needed to start, and really just going hard on nailing down the content. When I say, I really had no idea what I was going to do when I made that video, that 15-second video, I had no clue. I was just talking.
I kind of like that. It's like high-pressure situations kind of make you work faster sometimes.
Pablo: It does, and I do sometimes think some of my best content-- and some of the content that does the best actually come through me giving myself a time restriction. But I also hate the feeling that it brings along too. The anxiety that comes along with it sucks, but it's always all that content that ends up performing the best.
Tik Tok's great, but you only have so much time to dive deep into something that has so many layers. And I feel like podcasts just are so much better for you because you can go in-depth, which is, I think, the whole point, right?
Pablo: Yeah, it is. And I realized that a minute was so restrictive to what I wanted to accomplish. And so because of that, I felt like-- really, the podcasts have not been long at all. They've been like 20 minutes tops of all of them, which is actually something I'm trying to make longer, but I just talk fast. I do feel like I can get out more complete and more nuance talks. Because that's the whole point of my page is to provide a lot of nuance to music that people are not providing to it.
I'm not mad at shorter podcasts. Do you know what I mean? I feel like so many podcasts I listen to; they're so long. And I'm like, "I want a shorter amount of this."
Pablo: That was my goal was trying to find that perfect balance. If I can get all of my information that I need to and express my opinions out in 20 minutes, there's no reason for it to be an hour. But if I do a deep dive into someone's career like-- Brandy was short because Brandy doesn't have that many albums, and I just didn't have as much to say. Someone like Britney or Aretha Franklin, that's going to be a longer podcast, one, because so much of my life as a kid was consumed by Britney Spears. And also, Aretha Franklin has like 20 albums. It's going to be a lot longer than Brandy, who has seven albums, and after album three, she just wasn't as big in the pop culture sphere anymore. I definitely want to keep it shorter because I know attention spans. I'm coming from Tik Tok, where you have to say everything in a minute or less. So I wanted to make sure people's attention spans were not challenged, and also, it was something you could listen to passively while you do other activities.
I think that's the beauty of podcasts, in general, is you can listen to them while you're cleaning your house. What do you see as the future of The Back Catalog?
Pablo: I wanted it to be a pioneering podcast in terms of really platforming Black and Queer and nonbinary people, specifically, simply because there's just not a lot of me out here in media. I hope to provide a platform where people will learn more about perspectives from other people, get a lot more information and just expose themselves to new types of music. I think that's one of the reasons why I am so staunch on not liking K-pop, is because I just feel as though if you like K-pop, you should be supporting the Black artists that power it, at least in conjunction with, if not, you should just be supporting the Black people who made K-pop first. But, the least you can do is support both as vigorously. So, I'm just hoping to provide people more context. I want the podcast to become the biggest thing in music if I can, and hopefully, springboard me into taking Zane Lowe's job because that's really what I want.