8 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 16, at The Warfield. $40; thewarfieldtheatre.com
Blending old-school, feel-good soul with modern wonky funk, Nao sounds unlike any other R&B artist working today — and she’s perhaps one of the most exciting new musicians within the genre. Born and raised in East London, Nao has been musically active from her youth, playing piano as a child before taking her singing career seriously in her early teens. After graduating from the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama where she studied vocal jazz, Nao spent time as a music educator and performing background vocals for heavyweights like Jarvis Cocker on tour before taking her own music career seriously. Through her Soundcloud account, Nao quickly gained attention, and released her debut EP So Good in October 2014 through her own label, Little Tokyo, with some production help from the mysterious A.K. Paul. 2016 saw the release of Nao’s debut studio album For All We Know, an electrifying yet silky-smooth collection of funked-out R&B with flourishes of jazz that cemented Nao as one of the boldest creative forces within her genre, and perhaps others. Last year, Nao followed up For All We Know with the release of Saturn, which expands upon the singer’s experimental tendencies with heavy attention to the album’s moody atmosphere and emotional lyricism.
9 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 10, at New Parish. $25; thenewparish.com
Born in Alabama but raised on the South Side of Chicago, Mick Jenkins may be one of the most underrated rappers active today. The MC’s sharp-tongued lyricism matches with unorthodox beats and intense yet focused delivery, setting him apart from the typical rappers of this decade. Inspired by his parents’ love for neo-soul and gospel, Jenkins became interested in making music of his own after discovering his hidden talent through a rap-battle competition while attending college. In 2012, he began releasing a series of mixtapes online, which garnered him attention throughout Chicago’s hip-hop scene, leading to collaborations with fellow Chicago artists like Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. Jenkins would soon gain national attention with the release of 2014’s The Waters, a jazzed-out, ambitious effort that lyrically revolves around the symbolic meaning of water. Last October, Jenkins released his sophomore studio album Pieces of a Man, an homage to the Gil Scott-Heron record of the same name, to ecstatic critical acclaim, complete with appearances from the likes of experimental beat producer Kaytranada and Wu Tang’s Ghostface Killah. The album is a calculated and carefully constructed effort that highlights the strengths of Jenkins’ poetic lyricism, as the rapper soberly reflects on his own self-worth and an existential anxiety that listeners can easily relate to.