Listening to Kali Uchis is like receiving a slice of each part of the world. She brings in so much diversity within her musical tastes and inspirations. The first time I heard of the Colombian-born singer happened to be on Tyler, the Creator’s critically-acclaimed album, Flower Boy. The other time she popped up on my playlist was for her fantastic appearance on Daniel Caesar’s “Get You.”
Finally, Uchis announced her much anticipated debut project on The Tonight Show, Isolation. While her past features have been mainly for R&B purposes, the Colombian-American uses a wide variety of sounds in her repertoire to challenge the typical genre norms.
She experiments with summery production, but also capitalizes on intelligent lyricism. Her intro song, “Body Language,” presents the idea that Uchis is not here to play. She starts the track off expressing her desire to be in this relationship, but then decides to pack her bags and leave when things don’t work out (“Now I’m packing all my bags, and I am leaving it behind.”).
Kali has her first of many highlights on the very groovy and irresistible, “Miami.” Her storytelling is impeccable on this track, as the very electric percussion and guitar piece work well with the interesting perspective Uchis brings. Her and Boston rapper, BIA, team up for a tale about drug trafficking and how that’s affected Miami since the 70s and 80s.
Romii Hemnani from Brockhampton makes a production appearance on “Just a Stranger.” The drums and programming even sounds lot more hip hop, which only solidifies her versatile tastes. The song takes a more materialistic and gold digging approach when describing monetary value, and Steve Lacy’s chorus only expresses that notion (“she wants my hundred dollar bills, she don’t want love.”).
Kali is also historically astute when it comes to her songwriting skills. “Flight 22” takes us down a figurative and literal trip. For me personally, I hear a lot of Amy Winehouse in her voice, and even in the jazzy instrumentals. Producer Wayne Gordon appears to take a lot of inspiration from her artistry.
For fifteen tracks, Isolation really moves at a fast and furious pace. Uchis takes pride in getting right to the point with her messages. Probably the most impressive aspect of her debut was her ability to avoid genre commonalities (i.e. talking about love in a one-dimensional manner). “Your Teeth in My Neck” is a laid back hip hop/alternative take on the industry, and how it metaphorically “eats people alive.” Artists don’t usually make a song like this until they’ve solidified their place in the game. Uchis instead does it her way.
She’s able to capture listeners with sticky hooks and catchy baselines. A lot of that has to do with her association with with top flight musicians such as, Damon Albarn of Gorillaz (“In My Dreams”), Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker (“Tomorrow”), and of course, Tyler (“After the Storm”).
She’s also able to acquire big-time features, like Jorja Smith on the vibrant “Tyrant,” and Reykon on the Spanish ballad, “Nuestro Planeta.” Uchis doesn’t shy away from diversifying her sound, and expanding her horizons.
Never in a million years would I think Gorillaz would make a track for her. But the very bouncy and energetic “In My Dreams” works out really well on all cylinders. The placement of one of the lead singles, “After the Storm” is perfect as well, to leave room for her other songs to gain momentum.
Uchis is purposefully going against the grain, and completely abandoning any image an a artist like her should have (according to the industry). Personally, I love it. Without that mindset, she will end up falling prey to industry hounds looking for a quick buck. Aside from a couple of unnecessary tracks (particularly the interludes), Isolation is one of the year’s great surprises.