CupcaKke began her rap career reciting her poetry in church as a child. As she grew older, poems evolved into raps, and lyrics praising God evolved into lyrics praising pussy. Today, one of CupcaKke’s most famous songs is “Vagina.” It’s an aggressive track with a throbbing beat, with lines like “It’s Niagara Falls in this pussy all day” and “Slurp that dick till it cum,” leaving little to the imagination regarding the rapper’s libido. Lascivious songs like “Vagina” are quickly catapulting the 20-year-old musician into the spotlight as an unconventional sex symbol and a hero for young fans who find her forward sexuality and boldness inspiring.
CupcaKke’s 2017 album Queen Elizabitch has many songs that are consistent with these sex-positive themes, but there are also tracks where she voices her opinion on other issues, like poverty and colorism. In her opening song “Scraps,” she drops heavy statements like, “Real struggle been through the trenches / You haven’t lived my life / Eat half the can good in the morning / Then eat the other half at night.” Recalling her childhood — plagued by poverty, racial prejudice, and people’s unwillingness to help her struggling community — CupcaKke demonstrates her prowess at assessing social injustice, and refutes those who pigeonhole her as a gritty, sexual artist.
The rapper’s community outreach is not limited to her lyrics; CupcaKke frequently helps her fans who need financial aid for housing or tuition. “When an artist puts out music, the fans are providing,” she tells Rolling Stone. “That could be the last 99 cents in their pocket to pay for your single. If they are able to give you that and tweet you to say, ‘I’m homeless,’ or ‘I need money for school,’ you should be able to give it back.’ ” Whether in her altruistic generosity off-stage or in her sexually generous on-stage performances, CupcaKke is an artist who is unconditionally giving, filling her music with heartwarming authenticity and charming confidence.
At 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 25, at Eli’s Mile High Club. $5 – $10; elismilehigh.com
Exceptional, phenomenal, extraordinary — the list of adjectives people use to praise Idina Menzel goes on and on, with no end in sight. The Tony- and Grammy-Award winning artist first rose to prominence in her starring role as Maureen Johnson in the original Broadway cast for (and film of) Rent. She portrayed the iconic witch Elphaba in Wicked, and she’s the voice of Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, whose song “Let It Go” won Best Original Song at the Oscars in 2014.
The clarity and brightness of Menzel’s voice are as feminine as they are strong, and her vocals work perfectly in the courageous-heroine roles she is typically cast in. Throughout her work in theater and film, she often portrays a protagonist who refuses conformity and finds her own path, coming to terms with the differences that once set her apart from others. As Elphaba, Menzel declares, “I’m through accepting limits / ‘Cause someone says they’re so.” In Frozen, Menzel cries, “Let it go, let it go / And I’ll rise like the break of dawn.”
In addition to her theatrical exploits, Menzel has a number of original albums, the most recent of which is titled idina. The songs on the record are poppier than Menzel’s usual show tunes, yet narrate the singer’s emotional states with musical-esque storytelling flair. While maintaining Menzel’s typical theme of overcoming hardship, the album also reveals the complicated aspects of her life behind the stardom. Discussing the content of idina. with Billboard, Menzel says “This album in particular, I had so much that I wanted to say. I had been through so much over the last couple of years simultaneously — going through a divorce, and all of the sadness and regret that that brought about, while experiencing this incredible professional success with Frozen and the Oscars and singing at the Super Bowl.” Idina. unveils a vulnerable dimension of the artist, connecting with listeners moments of sadness but empowering them with the strength to heal and grow.
At 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 26, at Zellerbach Auditorium. $63 – $182; greek.theatreberkeley.com
Kings of Leon
Kings of Leon are done with the same tired rock-band story. Made up of three brothers and their cousin, the group formed in 1999, and the quartet is no longer entertained by the drug-fueled recklessness that characterized its earlier tours. Instead, Kings of Leon spend their days with their wives and children, attending PTA meetings and founding the Music City Food and Wine Festival in their hometown of Nashville.
Such a stable, family-oriented lifestyle is a sharp contrast to the band’s fragile state a few years ago. With the Kings of Leon members each feeling suffocated by each other after years on the road and in studios together, tensions had mounted to the point of palpable antagonism. Internal conflicts grew so vicious that in July 2011, lead singer Caleb Followill walked off-stage and disappeared for the remainder of the night at a Dallas concert. In an interview with NME, Followill recalls that during this time period he thought, “Man we’ve become business partners. We haven’t maintained our friendship and our brotherhood, everything that we are.” Fortunately however, this incident pushed the band into changing, not breaking up. “It brought a lot out about the band, between us,” Followill emphasizes to NME. “That was the thing that made us realize [we’d lost our friendship] and gained it back.”
Lately, Kings of Leon are the most unified they’ve ever been, and this cohesion is reflected in their latest album WALLS, a record that manages to balance torrid distress with humble admissions of fallibility. On the fast, drum-heavy track “Eyes On You,” Followill sings with moody bravado, “Out here looking for the good life / Tongue in my cheek and your back in my knife.” But on the subdued “WALLS,” soft piano accompanies Followill as he mournfully confesses, “I can’t get there on my own / You can’t leave me here alone.”
WALLS unflinchingly acknowledges the ugly traces of betrayal and anger that litter Kings of Leon’s past, yet indicates hope for the future with its moments of stripped-down, harmonious sincerity.
With Nathaniel Rateliff at 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 24, at Shoreline Amphitheater. $24 – $330; mountainviewamphitheater.com