“I could be much bigger right now if I wanted what the labels wanted and what people wanted me to be,” Kali Uchis muses in a Vice interview. “Making pop and getting my hit single, but I couldn’t be bothered. You only have one life.” Given Uchis’ success as a globally recognized pop artist, and the success of her collaborative efforts with Snoop Dogg, Tyler the Creator, and Leon Bridges, it appears that her confidence of making it without a label is well-substantiated.
At 23, Uchis has dabbled in music for the past decade-and-a-half, first with singing and then with saxophone and piano. In 2012 she recorded, produced, and released her first mixtape, Drunken Babble, catching the attention of producers like Kaytranada and Diplo, who would work on the production of her 2015 EP, Por Vida.
It’s unusual, albeit not surprising, that Uchis intrigues musicians from so many different genres. Her minor-key melodies have a somber, stormy quality that resonates with the indie R&B genre, but they’re still catchy enough to be snatched up by electronic pop enthusiasts. Uchis crafts a very specific persona in her music: a desirable but distrustful soul. On her 2017 smash single “Tyrant,” she sings, “Wanna seize the throne, I know you wanna, I know you wanna / But what would you do with all that control?” Similarly, on “Only Girl,” she insists to her lover, “Imma make you work for it like you’re on commission / Want to take me out, you better ask permission.” Solidifying Uchis’ powerful, don’t-fuck-with-me attitude is her voice, which undulates throughout her songs in a sultry, unperturbed fashion. Uchis’ music is perfect for the fun, late-night party as well as the introspective and brooding car ride home.
At 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 10 at the Rickshaw Stop. $20; rickshawstop.com
“Quedarme contigo hasta el amanecer,” Nicky Jam implores in “Hasta el Amanecer,” begging his partner to stay together with him until dawn. With his upbeat track about the intrigue of a new lover, Nicky Jam catapulted himself to the top of the reggaeton heap in Colombia — where he currently resides — and all over the globe. Citing Shakira and Enrique Iglesias as musical influences, Nicky Jam writes and records songs ideal for Latin-American pop crossover that are neither inane nor formulaic in their chase for international stardom.
Nicky Jam was born on the mainland United States but spent his adolescence living in Puerto Rico. After a music executive happened to overhear the artist freestyling, he was signed on to a label and became a local reggaeton star at 14. As unbelievable as this chance discovery was, it was only the beginning of an unpredictable, one-of-a-kind career path. He was the unofficial music partner of Daddy Yankee, until personal differences caused the duo to separate for many years. Afterward, he struggled for a long time with alcohol abuse, depression, and financial crises. For many artists, such issues would torpedo their careers permanently. Instead, Nicky Jam sobered up, reconnected with Christianity, and had one of the largest resurgences in the music industry in the last decade. This past year, Nicky Jam released Fenix — his first album since 2007 — got nine nominations for the Billboard Latin Music Awards, and starred alongside Vin Diesel in xXx: Return of Xander Cage.
Nicky Jam is best known for his song “El Perdón” with Enrique Iglesias, a dancey yet sentimental track about asking for a chance at redemption. Intimate vulnerability appears in the singer’s other recent songs, but for the larger reggaeton genre, such a theme is still fairly rare. “The mentality always in reggaeton was ‘I’m the man,’ ” Nicky Jam explains. “I made that cool to say, ‘I messed up, I’m not the best.’ ” Songs like “El Amante” and “Pensandote” emphasize respect for women and communicating honestly, while lighthearted drums complement the artist’s clear, sincere voice. Nicky Jam’s comeback may have been his attempt to save himself, but he’s saving and redefining reggaeton along the way.
With Plan B at 8 p.m., Aug. 11, at the SAP Center. $50-$151; sapcenter.com
Action Bronson’s origin story is unlike any other present-day rapper. Born Arian Asllani, he spent his childhood working in his father’s Mediterranean restaurant in Flushing, Queens. As a young adult, he graduated culinary school and began a career as a chef in New York, rapping as a side hobby. But after breaking his leg on the job one day, Bronson decided to pivot from the kitchen to the studio, and, to quote his conversation with Interview, “go fucking balls to the wall with everything I did.”
Today, Action Bronson has four mixtapes and three albums under his belt, with a fourth set to drop at the end of this month. He holds a reputation for body-slamming his fans at concerts when they come on stage. (Google search: “bronson body slam.” You won’t regret it.) Outside the music industry, Bronson hosts the show Fuck, That’s Delicious, a video series by Vice’s Munchies wherein he eats, cooks, and proclaims things to be tasty. Bronson’s trajectory as a rapper and culinary persona shows no signs of slowing down in the near future. When friend and fan Jonah Hill asked the artist how he stays unique as his success flourishes, Bronson simply stated, “I want to be totally different. I am totally different from everybody else already, so I just have to be myself. You can’t follow the pack in this game.”
Tune into any Action Bronson track, and it’s immediately obvious that he is not shy about being himself. Honoring his past life as a trained chef, Bronson is the champion of food connoisseur lyrics. In his song “Twin Peugeots,” the rapper shouts, “Now every meal is calamari and boudin blanc.” And on his track “Tapas,” he brags that, “I’m known to eat expensive lunches / From the farm right to the table / Aired straight from the plate I doubt you could relate / Figs at the peak of their ripeness.” This is not to say that Bronson is limited to meal-related topics in his songwriting: Some of his most popular songs, such as “Baby Blue” and “Terry,” center around less palatable themes, such as distrust in relationships and bitter break-ups. But regardless of whether he’s rapping about his feelings or his appetite, Bronson straddles the line between frivolity and swagger, making music that is worth savoring.
With Marty Grimes at 10 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12, at The Independent. $35; theindependentsf.com