The Autobiography of QUO, Skidmore Hip-Hop Artist
Filmed and edited by Lorenzo Brogi-Skoskiewicz '20
“I’m gonna start off talking to you guys. Come get closer. We’re gonna vibe tonight.”
Cristian Fernandez ‘19 opened his Saturday night set intimately, asking the crowd, full of Saratogians, to gather around him as he spoke about globalization. Cristian, who goes by the stage name of QUO, writes music the same way people tell stories -- with vivid imagery and life condensed into intricately thought-out songs. Now it is time to tell his story a different way.
Before performing, Cristian began as a writer searching for stories to tell. Through traveling and listening, he wrote about the conversations he was having.
“When I began writing in freshman year, it was kind of just writing about stuff going on in my life. But not necessarily looking through it in a political lens. Around that time, the mainstream music was Lil Wayne and Drake. They kind of dominated the hip-hop sphere, so I would listen to them and was kind of influenced by their styles and their kind of cadence and tried to transform it into my own. But it wasn’t until sophomore year that I started actually listening to different artists, some pioneers of the hip-hop game. And then that was when my writing started to transform,” said Cristian, dressed in his own merchandise.
Since then, Cristian has evolved into an incredibly precise writer and performer -- each word and song has a time and place. Taking inspiration from what is currently popular, Cristian’s music represents a different wave of thought that truly parallels his stage name and what it stands for.
“The name itself, and metaphorically, means breaking the status quo. Me, as a Latino rapper, we don’t have many of those nor the kind of issues I talk about and how I talk about them,” explained Cristian. He later added to this idea of breaking apart the expected with talking about how “The different beats themselves, they do evoke a certain emotion, a different way of going about the song. If I hear an instrumental, or a sample, or a beat, or anything, I think about how are most people going to write to it, then what can I do to change that.”
Watching Cristian perform, I got the sense that as a hip-hop artist, he is truly overflowing with words. He recently dropped his first official mixtape titled ‘The Autobiography of the Common Man’, available on SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/quo-4), where more often than not, the songs are three to four minutes of rapping without interruption.
“I definitely have challenges performing my music live because I can’t take breaks on some of the songs. We see some rappers today where they go and perform, and can relax or ride the chorus. But with me, I have a song that’s three or four minutes straight through of me rapping or the chorus is just a small little part, and it’s definitely hard to always get out there and perform it to my best. You always want to give it your best, so it’s a lot. Some songs are just flowing and flowing and flowing, and it’ll be fast -- I have to practice a lot more.”
This need to write and portray himself and his ideas plays into why his debut mixtape has seventeen songs on it -- an unusually long collection to see produced by a new artist. However, Cristian had a vision and a theme in mind, not let any fitting song go.
“The songs are very interconnected [and] all add to the theme I was trying to convey. I didn’t want to exclude the songs that are saying exactly what I want to say, and what I want to convey to the people listening to the music. I thought [the songs] tackled different issues while still staying interrelated. Some of the songs talk about my life, certain points in my life, I have certain songs about my family, about being introduced into the hip-hop culture. And I also tell the stories of different people. It’s to show the main idea that I really want to get across in this project which is that there isn’t much of a divide between me and the person who is listening.”
One of my personal favorites, for example, is Sunshine Snippet, track fifteen on the mixtape -- a combination of traditional R&B feels mixed with QUO’s quintessential identity. The song is dedicated to Cristian’s mother as well as the rest of his family. In the words of Cristian himself, “It was basically a piece showing thanks and gratitude.” Within the song, he thanks his mother for seeing the potential in him as an artist, and thanks her for always supporting him.
The project itself took Cristian about three years to completely finish and produce. Despite being able to write about three to five songs per week if lucky, having exterior obligations led to a prolonged process. However, this allowed Cristian to really take time and experiment. More specifically, it allowed him to form an interest in multiple producers.
“Some of the different producers are people I’ve met in NYC. We’ve kind of established a connection through some of the hip hop programs I have been a part of. Some [of the producers] I’ve never actually met, we just talked online and worked on getting something together. I would send them the lyrics to a song I was working on and ask them if they were on the same page. [If they were], we would try and work something out.”
The mixtape is now available on SoundCloud, but will be distributed elsewhere in the near future. As for any upcoming projects, Cristian said he is constantly writing, drawing inspiration from this incredibly dynamic world. Cristian very adamantly added that whatever he does come out with next, it will not sound like ‘The Autobiography of a Common Man’ -- that sound is done now, and he is ready to move on to new ideas.
Along with that, Cristian has a bold goal of one very special performance.
“I would love to do a show in Zankel down the line. I think that would be a huge turning point in what a lot of people expect. You know, this is Zankel, we hold performances for a certain type of music and sound. But then boom, you have a hip hop performance and all of a sudden, things start to change.”
Cristian is not only incredibly driven and knowledgeable about where his unconventional project is going, but he is also incredibly kind and excited to discuss it. If you search out good music created by good people, there is nothing you will not like about ‘The Autobiography of a Common Man’. Not only is it a polished, well-crafted mixtape, it has a personal air to it without being too personal for a diverse audience to enjoy.
At his performance, Cristian moved about the stage easily, commanding attention in the same manner. His songs are powerful and precise, and the words seem to flow effortlessly out of him, each powered by a passion. QUO tells stories -- not simply just his, but those of anyone who is willing to share.
You can listen to Quo's album here: